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Dec 31, 2003 06:06 PM

French bread in Chicago?

  • b

I'm rather surprised to find that after searching, I cannot find a source in Chicago for genuine artisan French bread. Not generic "European" bread, or Italian bread...I'm looking for a real baguette.

I called Vanille, and was told they only sell chocolates and other pastries.

Any ideas?

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  1. The top breads, generally, in the bread tasting a month or two ago, were the baguettes from Fox and Obel and Medici Bakery. This is excluding Melissa's outstanding homemade loaves.

    Fox & Obel Food Market, (312) 379-0146, 401 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611

    Medici On 57th, (773) 667-7394, 1327 E 57th St, Chicago, IL 60637

    1. they bake their own baguettes. at 3 for $1, it might be worth a try

      5 Replies
      1. re: annie

        Bale is wonderful for all sorts of things, but the bread is not great bread. For all the French influence on vietnamese culture and cooking, they don't seem to have made much of an impression in the bread department. The bread at all the Viet stores seems to be similarly crustless, soft and cottony. Fine for Bahn mi and the uses they put them to, but no substitute for the western idea of great bread. IMHO. In the same vein, their croissants are dense greasy objects combining unappetizing qualities of both brick and putty.

        1. re: mrbarolo

          It should be noted that Vietnamese-style "baguettes" are fashioned with a significant amount of rice flour, in addition to a.p. baking flour.

          Let us compare apples and apples.

          Erik M.

          1. re: Erik M.

            Thanks, I didn't know about the rice flour component. Explains a lot.

            Still, the comparison was apples to apples in the sense that it was built into the original post: would Bale's bread answer the original poster's search for real French bread? Answer: no. Regardless of why. The comparison begs to be made because despite longterm French influence, and the fact that they are clearly imitating french bread by offering a baguette-like object, they are not actually making anything like a baguette. It's not like faulting Irish soda bread or nan for not being a French baguette. Ditto the croissants.

            1. re: Erik M.

              Do you have a citation for your claim that Vietnamese-style baguettes have a "significant amount of rice flour" in them? What's "significant"? 50% by weight? 10% by weight?

              Given that rice flour has no gluten in it, my years of baking bread tells me that using a large amount of rice flour (more than 20%, say) in bread would be a mistake. Here are some real life experiences that back that up:


              1. re: aqn

                The author of "Authentic Vietnamese Cooking" mentioned in this article seems to think that half of the flour should be rice flour:

                These recipes use 20%:

                Others don't use any.

                It would be fun to experiment.

        2. p
          Paul Mollica

          (1) Here's a link to the bread tasting mentioned by Ed below. (2) Sometime ago, the board would have lit up with recommendations for Red Hen on N. Milwaukee, but I sense that Red Hen has entered that distinct category (like Frontera and Trotters) where the outlet has been so thoroughly vetted that alientation sets in.(3) I fear, notwithstanding the good advice you've gotten here, that you will suffer frustration, because you're not likely to find anything close to a baguette like you might find in provincial France. I like making bread and eating it, and I revel in the many great things Chicago has to offer (the afore-mentioned Italian bread is a staple of Chicago bakery trade, and I like it a lot, plus the vietnamese bakeries on Broadway, the various national bakeries on Devon, etc. etc.). But genuine French bread is not on the map here, as far as my bakery cruising has revealed. Add yours to the list (a genuine deli, BBQ brisket, N.Y. slices, etc.) of regionalisms or national cuisines that (for obscure, multifaceted cultural reasons) jsut don't take root in Chicago.


          2 Replies
          1. re: Paul Mollica
            Shannon Clark

            Well a few options to consider:

            Trader Joe's bread is quite good - though I think their sourdough is their best (so San Fran not French but still very, very good)

            Treasure Island carries a brand of breads imported from France - no baguettes, but the rounds are very good (if expensive)

            Not sure what type of bread in particular you are looking for when you say "French bread" - lots of variety to choose from there - are you looking for baguettes? Rounds? What? (and I guess how do you want to use the bread?)

            There are some very good french restaurants here in town, probably worthwhile asking at some of them where they get their bread? I would imagine that Cyrano's for example might sell their bread (the chef has a stand at the CHIC market on Orleans on Sundays - I don't recall if he had bread for sale but he is very approachable and friendly if a tad eccentric in the way that someone who makes his own pate can be).

            Good luck and good eating,


            1. re: Shannon Clark

              I believe Labriola makes TJ's bread for them.

          2. s

            Fox and Obel makes a surprisingly good baguette, also Red Hen.

            Alas, I have never tasted one in the States that compares to the most modest boulangers in France.


            1. Try the Medici Bakery on 57th Street in Hyde Park.