Man does not live by white bread alone. Or by rye bread. Or even pumpernickel. The staff of life is much more varied in restaurants than it once was.
Let the customers eat lavosh, foccacia, ciabatta, brioche, Marie Antoinette might say. Or, restaurant bread has become an "experience," if you prefer to use the patter of the 21st century.
Sure, plenty of dining places still exist where only one kind of (usually soft and squishy) bread is offered, but many restaurants now offer choice, too.
At Oliver's on Delaware Avenue, for instance, up to six different types may fill the bread basket. Olive bread, cheese bread, crisp flat bread -- the list changes from day to day.
At Faso's on Niagara Street, cute round garlic rolls are offered, often sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. At Prosit, on Main Street in Williamsville, Sausage Bread turns up. The list could go on and on.
This is one time when once-dreaded carbs don't seem to matter.
"Customers' tastes are much more sophisticated and demanding than they used to be," says Don Spasiano of the Food Service Administration and Restaurant Management Department at Erie Community College North Campus. "It's no longer the cattle feed mentality."
And, on a more practical note, he adds: "Everything on the table is extremely important. Anything a restaurant can do to bring guests back again and again."
Often, the specialty breads are made right in the restaurant kitchen. At Oliver's, pastry chef Cynthia Riccio is responsible for the ala carte Spinach Loaf, which has been a signature in the restaurant for many years, as well as olive bread, brioche and cheese bread. Not to mention the highly seasoned unleavened flat bread, a customer favorite.
"It's not really hard to make, but it is time consuming," Riccio says. "You have to roll the flour and water dough thin like phyllo. You top it with seasonings like caraway seed, sesame seed, poppyseeds and/or kosher salt, spread oil on top and bake it right in the pan.
A bread basket is presented at Oliver's as soon as diners sit down, and the idea is to make that basket look exciting.
"Bread is the first thing you see," Oliver's owner Henry Gorino says.
In other restaurants, the house bread is especially designed to complement the menu specialty. Faso's is an Italian restaurant, so those garlic rolls go well. Pat Fuller makes them from scratch every day.
"It's a white roll, and I spread garlic oil on top before I bake them, and sometimes I sprinkle parmesan cheese on, too," she says.
"Sometimes people do ask for plain roll, but it's very very rare."
At Prosit, Janice Schlau finds that her Sausage Bread complements the Polish/German menu. She buys her dough from DiCamillo and flattens it. Then she fills it with sauteed finely ground pork, sundried tomatoes and onion flakes. Sometimes she even skips the meat and uses sauteed vegetables.
"I add a little garlic, pepper and some cheese," Schlau says. "Then I fold the dough and bake it seam side down, brushed with egg white and more grated cheese and more onions. I bake four or five loaves a day, but every day they might be different."
As a former pastry cook, she thinks bread is all important.
"The first thing you judge a restaurant on is its bread," Schlau says. "If it's good, then the rest of the food will be good, too."
In some restaurants, the bread is baked elsewhere, but it's adapted to fit the menu. At Brodo on Elmwood Avenue and on Main Street in Williamsville, customers are delighted with the bread sticks that are served standing upright in a cup.
The restaurant's specialty is soup, so the sticks are a perfect match. But they are also easy to make.
"We buy flatbread from Luigi's that's about three-quarters of an inch thick and then simply cut it in strips," partner Elaine Greco says.
At Chris' N.Y. Sandwich Co. on Delaware Avenue, owner Chris Vendetti uses 12 different kinds of bread as bases for his concoctions.
"I've been in business for 17 years, and when we first started we only used a couple of breads. A seedless rye and a pumpernickel.
"Now we've got marble rye, seven-grain, organic wheat, cheddar cheese, Tuscan bread [soft white, crust exterior], croissants, pitas, country white . . . People's palates are pretty sophisticated now. They want us to take a sandwich up to another level."
Vendetti's breads, he says, are baked everywhere and anywhere. His seven-grain bread comes from Wegmans.
"To me," he says, "it's not so much about the varieties of bread but its freshness. We get bread every day.
"We serve no day-old bread here."
Maura Crawford of Le Metro has another take. She's a baker and a restaurateur who owns Sole, muse and Le Metro at Williamsville's Walker Center. People look for variety because, she says, they are also much more health conscious than they once were and seek whole grains. Supermarkets extend their repertoire, offering more types of bread and dough than they once did, too.
Also important, according to Crawford: "The world has become a smaller place and people travel more." Their food choices are more extensive and more adventurous.
"Just think," says Crawford, "of what we were eating 20 years ago."