This spring, the bakers at Publican Quality Bread, which produces baked goods for all its One Off Hospitality siblings (including the Publican and Avec) and 75 other shops and restaurants around the city, will be trying something entirely new: they will be serving people face to face.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing people enjoy food again,” says chief baker Greg Wade. Wade has been with the PQB since the very beginning eight years ago, when he was making loaves in the basement of Publican Quality Meats, and it has been a very long time since he had to deal directly with a customer.
While the new PQB, which is 4,200 square feet, will be mostly dedicated to baking (it produces 16,000 pounds of dough every week), there will be a small cafe with two dozen chairs, where customers can eat sandwiches and pastry and drink La Colombe coffee and grab loaves to take home.
The bread itself will not change: it will still require a long fermentation period, and it will still be made from the same flour PQB has always used, a special blend of Warthog, Turkey Red, and Red Fife wheat known as WTF, grown at Spence Farms and stone ground at Janie’s Mill, both in central Illinois.
“Stone milled flour is important because you get all the nutrients in the bread,” says Wade. The wheat berry has three components: bran, germ, and endosperm. Conventional mills sift out the bran and germ — and most of the minerals and fiber — for a lighter and more shelf-stable product. With stone milling, the three components are crushed and emulsified together to produce flour, and eventually bread, that has more nutrients and, Wade says, more flavor.
The counter service operation, though, will serve specialty breads made in smaller batches that will allow the staff of 11 bakers room to experiment. Wade promises more decorative bread work, with fanciful shapes and stenciling. There will also be pastry, and lots of it. PQB has quietly been making croissants and danishes for its wholesale customers for a few years, but now there will be a regular menu of breakfast pastries during the week and decadent creations on the weekend, like caneles and croissants stuffed with hazelnut frangipane and sliced pears or topped with bruleed Swiss meringue and candied lemon peel.
But Wade may be most excited by the sandwiches. Every weekday morning, the bakery will produce trays of Roman pizza crust, which the bakers will cut open and stuff with various combinations of meat (from Publican Quality Meats, naturally), cheese, and preserves. As with Roman pizza, customers will be able to indicate how much sandwich they’d like and they’ll be charged by the pound. There will also be tartines on thick-crust marbled rye toast — perhaps topped with confit garlic, shallots, and pureed mushrooms — and grab-and-go options on croissants, plus salads made with grains and seasonal vegetables.
“I come from a savory background,” says Wade, who won a James Beard award for Outstanding Baker in 2019. “I really fell into bread after doing savory work. This is how I cook almost every night at home.”
The cafe will open sometime this spring, though not in March. “I hate March,” Wade says. “It’s a teaser month.” The bakery, however, is already up and running. There are cooling racks set up in front of the big windows on the western side of the building so that passersby can see and smell the bread. Frequently, Wade says, they ask if there’s anything for sale. As a goodwill gesture, he and his staff have been giving out bread for free and taking down their visitors’ names and email addresses so they can invite them to an opening party.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Wade says. “When you’re wholesale, it’s hard to implement new things because chefs just want to order the same thing they’ve been ordering for the last eight years. And now we have the reward of seeing people excited about what we’re doing.”
Publican Quality Bread, 1759 W. Grand Avenue, Scheduled to open spring 2022.