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Best Bread Baker DC/NOVA? (for sale by loaf, not restaurants!)

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Have been tasting A LOT of "artisan" breads from DC and the Durham/Cary/Chapel Hill area lately. I've read through other boards and Breadline, Marvelous Market, Firehook, Cenan's, Best Buns, and Baguette Republic seem to be the local favorites for places to buy. Can anyone rank these places comparatively? Exclude pastries in your decision-making.

For a basis of comparisson: I have tried both the olive and the walnut raisin loaves at the Breadline, thought they were okay. Weaver St. Market in Chapel Hill makes a far better Walnut Raisin and olive loaf, and Guglhupf's olive ciabatta is better too (though different). Have not had the other DC-area places at all or recently enough to compare. Marvelous Mkt and Cenan's are at the top of my list for next to try.

For those who've been in NC, in general I prefer Weaver St. breads a little more than Guglhupf's (except I LOVE Guglhupf's Pumpkin Seed & Cheese). I also like La Farm's cheese-flavored loaves.

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  1. Sorry, haven't found one myuself in the area with the exception of some pretty good ciabatta at Wegman's near Fairfax Corner. My solution has been to order on-line from Zingermans.com. I'm hooked as are my friends and clients when they receive it from me over the holidays. My favorite is Paesano (typical peasant Italian bread with large airy holes and Parmesan Pepper Cheese with big chunks of Reggiano Parmesan. You schedule the date you want it to arrive and it's always there! Great for freezing with fun, easy dircetions for heatup and serving. Let me know if you get a chance to try it.

    1. My favorite so far is Baguette Republic, followed by Cenan's and then Marvelous Market. Cenan's has the most interesting variety of breads, while Baguette Republic's texture was more my taste. Marvelous Market has an uninspiring and overpriced selection. I was not impressed.

      I have not yet tried Best Buns, Breadline, or Firehook. As a carb fanatic, will have to hunt those down!

      1 Reply
      1. re: jennwenn

        I agree that the best I've tried is Baguette Republic. Marvelous Market is okay, but not as good as it once was. Best Buns is okay, I don't think it's half as good as Baguette Republic. Firehook is excellent. Breadline is good too. But Baguette Republic is young and trying hard. Their croissants are fantastic too.

      2. My family is big fans of Firehook. They offer about 5 varieties of incredible rye breads, Swiss farmer, olive, Tuscan grain, multi-grain, pain au levain, seven grain, a terrific baguette and a sourdough batard among other selections. Not everything is available everyday at every store. Some stores will slice the bread for you on request. You can call the main office and order exactly what you want sent to the nearest store for pick-up.
        This is incredibly good bread. They have fresh H&H Bagels on weekends.
        The pastries and cakes are also excellent.

        1. Give Sweet Surrender in the Pentagon Row shopping center a try. They had some really good mini baguettes last time I was there, even thought they seem to emphasize pastries.
          I've also been impressed with Heidelberg Bakery on Lee Highway.
          Get on the schedule for the fresh bread from My Organic Market too -- I go to the one in Arlandria on Mt Vernon Ave.
          For what it's worth, the Russian Goumet Market gets fresh bread from NYC and whenever I pop in, there is always a small crowd poring over the different loaves and then in the deli case for things to eat with them.
          For 'ethnic' breads - try some of the Korean, Latino, Vietnamese and Chinese bakeries. Sometimes they sell them in the international section of grocery stores. I am addicted to Chinese buns and Vietnamese baguette sandwiches.

          1. For the record, Lightfoot in Leesburg has a bakery next door and they make some good breads.

            Also, if you're in the Chapel Hill area, we were there a week ago and a friend took us to the cafe in Pittsboro. The bread was a highlight of the meal and my friend said it is baked down the street in Pittsboro - sorry I don't know the name of it. In "downtown" Pittsboro, the cafe is to the right of the courthouse as you look at the front of the courthouse - hard to miss.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Dennis S

              There is a very good Swiss bakery in Southern Fairfax county that has a lot of interesting breads you won't find anywhere else (especially Wuerzelbrot).

              1. re: ChewFun

                Love this place! Great to see it mentioned. It's called The Swiss Bakery and it's in a strip mall in Burke near the intersection of Lee Chapel and Old Keene Mill.

                1. re: ChewFun

                  I haven't been impressed with the Swiss Bakery. I know people who swear by it and maybe I've had bad luck when I've been. The bread was okay, the only cake we've gotten was dry and partially frozen (the person my husband complained to was nice and told him to bring it back, the person accepting it back was not friendly at all and we got a couple of loaves of bread that we didn't want in exchange), cookies not great, coffee terrible. We're at that strip mall a lot which is why we end up there more often than I'd like.

                  1. re: chowser

                    It depends what you get. I've had a good carrot cake but am not familiar with the other cakes. It's not a 'go to place' for cakes as far as I'm concerned. I should have mentioned that (although I do get the fancy cupcakes for my kids sometimes).

                    The things I really like there are the swiss cheese bread and this other very dense basic one (name escapes me - farmers bread or something like that). Also, we really like their hot cross buns, yummy strudel/danish kind of things, and Yule Log at Christmas. This is also a good place for German specialties like weisswurst which are hard to find.

                    Would I drive from DC for it? Probably not. But heck, for the suburbs, it's interesting and the staff are super friendly.

                    1. re: baconjen

                      That's what I was thinking is that I don't get their specialties which is why I haven't liked what I've gotten. I've heard good things about it from others. I haven't had any of the things you've recommended so I'll look for them. They are very friendly, except for that one person when we returned the cake. I'm in the area so it's not a drive and there really aren't many bakeries nearby. Thanks!

                  2. re: ChewFun

                    I drive 15 miles one way to get one particular bread from the Swiss Bakery http://tinyurl.com/33yugd : the standard German Mischbrot, mixed grain with a substantial body and cut in chunks [or sliced for you] from immense loaves.
                    I believe the only place in the DC area you can get this bread fresh [not frozen Dimpfelmeyer's]. STRONGLY recommend this bread from the Swiss Bakery

                2. I'm a big fan of Best Buns (in Shirlington Village)...you can sample their breads at Carlyle (it's the same owner). I also like the bakery that is in the Penn Quarter farmer's market on Thursday afternoons. Sorry--don't have his name, but have tried his challah (the best I have had), as well as a potato-based bread and a wheat bread with currant and nuts.

                  1. Not exactly Northern VA, but my favorite bread is from Hunter's Head Tavern in Upperville, VA. It's served hot and is so good that it's hard to pay attention to your meal, and best of all, you can buy loaves to go and re-heat at home.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Meg

                      I believe as far as quality and flavor that Breadline is the best in the area. Is it expensive? yes. Is it worth the price? not sure. Is it the best? I believe it is.

                    2. Have you tried the Heidelberg Bakery in Arlington? They make fabulous German/Eastern European bread, with flour imported from Germany. It's the real thing. I have given loaves of it to friends from Eastern Europe/former Soviet Union, and they have been thrilled. One friend reported back that her teenage son burst into tears when he tasted the bread because it was just like back home. High praise indeed.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: eam531

                        Somewhat off-topic but Heidelberg has my husband's and father-in-law's favorite cake--it has a thin layer of marzipan between the fondant and cake, and between the layers. It's really phenomenal.

                        1. re: eam531

                          Nope, I will have to give it a shot. Though I don't really want shortening/margarine in my breads, some of the ones they make w/o either sound delicious!