Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 21
Manresa Bread, Campbell, Los Altos, and Los Gatos
Manresa Bread is a must-stop any day of the week. But come holidays, it shines even more.
That’s what I discovered when I dropped by last week to pick up Valentine’s Day treats. It pays to heed the window for early pre-ordering, too, as popular items will sell out fast.
Pastry Chef-Founder Avery Ruzicka built a reputation for her outstanding breads, made with organic flour milled on site. Those are a must-purchase, especially the profoundly crusty baguette, which quite frankly is a steal for $4, and the oblong levain ($9) with such depth of flavor from a combination of organic whole wheat, organic white, and organic rye flours in concert with a sourdough starter.
Admittedly, I was there for two holiday items in particular: the 6-inch chocolate silk pie ($22), and the Basque cheesecake ($35).
The silk pie sat on a free-form chocolate crust, more oval than round, which gave it a handmade look.
It’s a substantial crust, with its heftiness slightly overwhelming the filling, though, that ratio is probably more on target with the larger-sized version of the pie. When sliced, the crust revealed impressive layers. The smooth chocolate pudding-like filling sat underneath a cloud of whipped cream and a shower of chocolate curls. There’s a delightful old-fashioned quality to it all.
Cupcakes and macarons once ruled, but now, the spotlight these days definitely belongs to Basque cheesecake. Everywhere you turn, everyone seems to be making one of these crustless cheesecakes now. Manresa Bread’s is 6 /12 inches in diameter and weighs in at 2 pounds, 2 1/2 ounces, just slightly heavier than the Bay Area’s famed Basuku Cheesecake. The top is deeply burnished all over while the Basuku one sports a dark outer ring with a golden bull’s eye.
It’s rich as can be, less dense than New York-style, and boasts a dark toffee-like taste. It doesn’t possess the gradation in texture — turning from firm to creme-caramel custardy as you go from rim to center — that the Basuku one has. Instead, it’s more uniform yet still plenty creamy and luxurious.
Although holiday items can be pre-purchased days before, online pre-orders for regular items is allowed only on the day of pick-up, starting at 8 a.m. Since you’re making the trek to the bakery, you might as well stock up on other items, too.
The pretzel ham and cheese croissant ($6) is a fun take on the classic. With barley malt syrup, it does take on a pretzel taste, especially with a hint of salt on top. It’s round with almost a belly-button that offers a peak of the sweet, smoky ham, sauerkraut and cheese inside. The regular croissant ($4) is certainly no slouch, either. It’s shatteringly crisp with a lavish buttery taste.
The irregular top of the sugar-dusted monkey bread ($4) affords even more crispy edges to enjoy with layers of flakiness underneath. The carrot muffin ($5) is gluten-free, but you’d never know it. It’s incredibly moist, with a fluffy crumb, and a wealth of warm spices.
With a whole wheat flour dough, the chocolate chip cookie ($4) might seem like it would taste too healthy. Perish the thought. This sizeable cookie definitely has a heartier, nuttier taste from the whole wheat, and it’s plenty decadent with big pieces of walnuts and chocolate.
Pro Tip: Manresa Bread has three locations, but if you want to enjoy the full breadth of what it offers, head to the Campbell one. Rather than just bread and pastries, this location also serves breakfast bowls, soups, sandwiches, and even wine.
You can’t go wrong with the K-Club turkey sandwich ($15), which of course, comes on toasted slices of that fabulous house-made levain. Moist, thinly sliced white-meat turkey is piled inside with provolone cheese, crisp bacon, and a veritable salad bowl of fresh, crisp veggies, including watermelon radish, grated carrots, onion, and lettuce leaves. A smear of gochujang aioli adds a little creaminess and heat. It’s a satisfying sammy with so much wonderful textures in each bite.
The Local Butcher Shop, Berkeley
Berkeley is often the envy of so many cities, especially when it’s lucky enough to have a place like The Local Butcher Shop.
Husband and wife, Monica and Aaron Rocchino run the type of butcher shop we all wish we had in our neighborhood. It’s a throwback in the best sense — a place that sources whole animals, butchers everything in-house, and uses every inch of the animal. So much so that Monica once told me that the refuse they throw out each week amounts to less than a small bucket.
Only two or three customers are allowed inside at a time right now. Step through the doors of this small shop to peruse the meat case, where you’ll find every cut imaginable, as well as incredible sausages and pates. The freezer holds all manner of bone broths, and soups, including a delicious autumn quail-chicken one that I brought home. It’s packed in a 28-ounce glass jar ($23.75). There are greens in the broth, along with pieces of tender quail meat. It’s homey tasting in the same way that chicken soup is, but so much more interesting.
Each day, the shop also sells one featured sandwich. There’s even a weekly calendar listing each one. The day I visited, it was braised Magruder beef, roasted mushrooms and celery root, and arugula snuggled inside a sweet deli roll with a finish of thyme vinaigrette and aioli.
The beef was a lot like thin slices of roast beef, rosy and supple. The mushrooms enhanced the meatiness of the sandwich while the celery root added a nice sweet crunch. It was a well put together sandwich ($11.50).
Don’t forget to grab a chocolate chip cookie ($2.50). It’s made with leaf lard, giving it a real melt-in-your-mouth quality.
Pro Tip: If you drop by the shop in the hour before closing (6 p.m. to 7 p.m.), the sandwiches are half off. That is, if there are any left. Monica says it’s a rare occurrence, but it does happen from time to time. So, you just might score.
If you want to go one better with the chocolate chip cookies, pick up some leaf lard at the shop and bake your own. The recipe for these amazing cookies is actually featured in my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks” (Figure 1), as well as second Local Butcher Shop recipe, along with a profile of the Rocchinos.
The book is conveniently sold at the shop, too. If Aaron or Monica are around when you drop by, they’d be happy to personally sign a copy to you, too.