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Dec 11, 2008 08:08 PM

Acme vs Tartine vs Thorough Bread

For those of you who have are familiar with these bakeries, how would you rate and compare Acme's pain epi and Acme's sourdough to Tartine's country bread and a comparable bread at Thorough Bread?

On Christmas Eve, I plan to purchase a bushel of oysters from Hog Island Oyster to take down to my family in Orange County on Christmas Day. If decent crab is available at Alioto's fish company (thanks for the great tips, Big Al!), I'll drive from the FB to Fisherman's Wharf to purchase 6-8 large crabs. Last but not least, I need to purchase four large loaves of bread to go with our oysters and crab.

I've never tried Thorough bread, but my favorite bread by far is Tartine's country bread with Acme's pain epi a distant second and Acme's sourdough much further down the list, but significantly above Boudin's sourdough. The sourdough got thrown into the mix b/c sourdough reminds my parents of the Bay Area which they've always enjoyed visiting. They liked Acme's pain epi in the past, but have never sampled Tartine bread.

To make things even more complicated, I'd probably have to p/u Tartine's bread the evening of 12/23 since it's not available until 5pm and either move the oyster and crab p/u to 12/23 or purchase the bread at Tartine on 12/23 and return to S/F on 12/24 to pick up the remaining items. Not a fun trip since I live in Castro Valley in East Bay. Ideally, I'd pick up the seafood as close to our travel date, to minimize their time in our ice chest outdoors.

Of course I could just take the easy way out and purchase Acme's pain epi and maybe a loaf of sourdough when I get my oysters at Hog Island or drive to Church Street from FW, but dedicated Chowhound that I am, I want only the very tastiest and best for my family. Especially since many members are traveling from Houston and NYC.

Care to share your thoughts and/or advice?

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  1. I say go for the Tartine country bread. Short of what they serve at Tadich it's very, very, very similar in texture to an old sourdough bread even if it's not sour... so that way you're getting your favorite bread, and also something that will be nostalgic for your parents.

    I think Thorough's sourdough is much better then Acme's... in fact, the last sourdough I got from Acme at the FB about a month ago shouldn't have been called a sourdough at all. I asked for a plastic bag because it was drizzling out, and they informed me they didn't offer plastic because it effected the integrity of the bread. Wouldn't their Acme paper sleeves protect the integrity from the plastic? How absurd. How about the integrity of soggy bread from the weather, darnit? Worse, the stuff didn't taste so fresh by the time dinner rolled around. Not to mention, it's just not a sourdough.

    25 Replies
    1. re: sugartoof

      I can see where Acme's coming from in general. If you put sourdough in plastic, the crust softens pretty quickly, and that does change the character of the bread. Makes no difference if you leave the paper on -- the plastic still screws up the crust. Of course if it's raining out, that can't be good for the bread either.

      1. re: sugartoof

        I love Tartine's country bread, but (as you said) it's not sourdough and it sure doesn't remind me of SF sourdough. If your parents want SF sourdough, that's not it.

        I've never heard of Thorough bakery. Please someone say more about it.

        1. re: Mick Ruthven

          Thorough Bread, on Church near Market. I am confident in suggesting that the OP go with Thorough Bread, which is owned and operated by Michel Suas' SF Baking Institute. He is a demigod in the world of artisanal bread.

          Thorough Bread and Pastry
          248 Church Street, San Francisco, CA

          1. re: Atomica

            Atomica, I trust your taste completely, as I've enjoyed reading your numerous posts on this board. Which bread(s) would you recommend from Thorough Bread? I'm sure they're all very good, but given that you know I like Tartine's country bread (I've tried Tartine's sesame, walnut and olive breads, but always go back to their country) and Acme's pain epi, which breads would you recommend from Thorough?

            Also, does Thorough Bread sell out early in the day and/or have any strange quirks like Tartine (i.e., call ahead and reserve if you want a loaf at Tartine after 5:30pm, since they tend to sell out early)???

            Thanks so much for your help!

            1. re: cvhound

              Thorough Bread tends to not have a line, and the fresh day's bread is available after 8 or 9 AM usually, though you could call first. It's very calm and easy to shop there--not at all like Tartine, which could take you 30 minutes from parking to paying.

              Thorough Bread doesn't really have a house style, it's more like they're aiming for platonic ideal representatives of various breads...they make:
              whole grain
              sesame spiral rolls, which are big enough for a large sandwich

              I'd get 2-3 sourdoughs, 2 baguettes, and 1 ciabatta. The sourdoughs last well, due to the sour dough itself (slows staling), the baguettes may need to be refreshed in a warm oven if you're eating them a day or two later, but they're so good you'll probably eat one on the drive down. Same story with the ciabatta.

              1. re: SteveG

                Steve, thanks so much for posting such great info! I really appreciate the detailed suggestions.

                1. re: SteveG

                  >[Thorough Bread] The sourdoughs last well, due to the sour dough itself (slows staling)<

                  Wow, one of the things I always noticed about SF sourdough was that it got stale quickly. This must be a different animal.

                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                    Yeah, I didn't experience any stay fresh super powers with the bread I got from Thorough.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Sourdough or other bread? I wasn't making any special claims for Thorough's sourdough as far as stay fresh super powers, just pointing out that sourdough stays fresh longer than a straight yeasted bread. Everything about Thorough's tells me it's real sourdough, not fake sourdough like I always had growing up from local supermarkets.

                      Don't take my word for it, google it...there are plenty of studies:

                      "Compared to the bread produced with Saccharomyces cerevisiae 141, the chemical acidification of dough fermented by S. cerevisiae 141 or the use of sourdoughs increased the volume of the breads. Only sourdough fermentation was effective in delaying starch retrogradation. The effect depended on the level of acidification and on the lactic acid bacteria strain."

                      1. re: SteveG

                        Just sharing my experience with Thorough's sourdough, I wasn't trying to debate the science.

                        That said, unless you're on the younger side, you might recall SF supermarkets did used to sell real sourdough.In comparison, this isn't going to taste that much more authentic, real or more sour then other breads being sold as sourdough right now, it's just a better version, and actually has some sour. Otherwise, the crust is too thin, and the bread isn't soft, spongey enough. A sourdough should have a pretty unique texture, which is nothing like a baguette.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Wow. Are you sure they gave you the sourdough?

                          The bread I bought had a thick crust... it is actually all about the crust.

                          While I froze most of my sourdough yesterday, I left two slices for breakfast today. The Raymond needed to be toasted to be edible (it did toast up nicely though, better toasted than plain). The Thorough was good enough to eat untoasted. Not as stellar as yesterday, but it was a cut slice. The crust lost its crisp but that was due to me storing it in tupperware.

                          Maybe someone made a mistake and gave you something other than sourdough?

                          1. re: rworange

                            >Maybe someone made a mistake and gave you something other than sourdough?<

                            I think he was talking about the sourdough. I bought a loaf from them today, the first time I've been to Thorough. I really liked the place and the staff, and most of the several things I either had there or brought home. OK, the sourdough. It's a beautiful loaf of bread, I love the crust, and it has a nice sour taste. Compared to real SF sourdough (from the past, currently from Tadich, and maybe somewhere else), I think the crust is thinner (but I like it better than the crust of the "real" stuff), the inside bread not as dense, and the taste not as sour. It's a great loaf of bread, but I don't love it like I love(ed) real SF sourdough.

                            1. re: rworange

                              It was their version of a sourdough round.

                              Like I said, it's a better variation then most places are offering up as a sourdough, but it's still not exactly a sourdough, and it's not going to give anyone flashbacks to the breads of yesteryear. A traditional sourdough shouldn't have that bubbled, crackly unevenly colored crust you see in the new era sourdoughs.

                              So there you go San Francisco. Sourdough is almost dead.

                              1. re: sugartoof

                                >A traditional sourdough shouldn't have that bubbled, crackly unevenly colored crust you see in the new era sourdoughs.<

                                It may be heresy, but I like the crust on Thorough's sourdough better. But the inside just doesn't do it for me for sourdough. Not dense enough and not sour enough. I'm going to have to go to Tadich soon just to remind myself what real sourdough is supposed to be.

                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                  Ya know, I was just thinking of giving Tadich's a visit.

                                  What do you guys think of Raymond sourdough?

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    I've only had the Raymond's from Molly Stone's in the plastic bag, so I feel like there must be a different Raymond's sourdough people keep talking about. What I had didn't have any flavor, let alone sourness. I'd rather buy a Trader Joe's sour instead.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Faletti's has it in a paper bag. I didn't check to see if they had extra sour. I just grabbed a round the same size as the Thorough round ... yeah ... where did extra sour go?

                                  2. re: Mick Ruthven

                                    >I'm going to have to go to Tadich soon just to remind myself what real sourdough is supposed to be.<

                                    I had lunch at Tadich's yesteday after not having been there for a few years. I ate at the counter, had their Chilean Sea Bass special which was just "the best". And of course the sourdough. OK, maybe (probably) it's my failing taste memory, but the bread, although still with the great crust and texture of the inside, didn't have the sour flavor that I remember from before at Tadich's and also from Parisian and Larraburu in the past. Do I (and my possibly faulty taste memory) stand alone on this?

                                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                      It used to be we could by sourdough and extra sour sourdough. Are you recalling the extra sour stuff?

                            2. re: SteveG

                              >just pointing out that sourdough stays fresh longer than a straight yeasted bread<

                              I don't know about the chemistry, but I know that my experience always was that SF sourdough got stale faster than other breads.

                      2. re: cvhound

                        cvhound, I'm happy my cranky demeanor hasn't put you off. My favorite Acme bread is pain de mie. It makes the best tasting toast and smells incredible when it's toasting. I bought a bunch of it to make toast points for some Thanksgiving hors d'oeuvres. Oh, how much easier that would have been if I hadn't had to slice it myself. But I digress . . . I couldn't pick the other Acme breads out of a line-up. The majority of Acme I've had (other than pain de mie) has been in nice restaurants. Is that country bread?

                        I second what Steve G says. I bought 2 baguettes there today. The place puts out spectacular bread and pastries and is flying under the radar. If you're used to Tartine, you will be shocked by the low prices. Thorough has a list of holiday items to pre-order. I'll put that in the dedicated Thorough thread.

                        1. re: Atomica

                          Atomica, would love to see the list of Thorough Bread's holiday items when you have time to post. Thank you!

                          1. re: Atomica

                            I'll "third" what Steve and Atomica said. I recently did a side-by-side baguette comparison between a baguette I bought at Acme (ferry building) vs. a Thorough baguette. There was no comparison. The Thorough bread was superior in every way. Much better crust and the crusty chew to soft middle ratio was much more pronounced.

                            That being said Atomica I think the approaches to pastry are so different between Tartine and Thorough (and I enjoy both). Tartine strikes me as just a much "heavier" pastry whereas the Thorough are much more delicate and subtle.

                            If you don't want to wait in lines though, Thorough's below the radar nature is handy on weekends when Tartine's line winds around the block.

                            1. re: Atomica

                              And oh! Atomica's toast points. They were to die for, I gotta tell you.

                        2. re: Mick Ruthven

                          Reminds me of it a lot. The thick crust, with really soft, but not too soft bread inside.
                          Of all the breads we're talking about, the Tartine country is the closest to the Tadich sourdough.

                      3. Are the epi and the sourdough the only two Acme breads you'd consider? My favorite Acme bread by far is the Upstairs bread - I think Tartine's country bread is a bit better, but not so much better that the extra driving would be worth it.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: daveena

                          Daveena, I'm open to suggestions. Please tell me more about this Upstairs bread. I've never tried it before. Is it served at any restaurants?

                          1. re: cvhound

                            I am not Daveena, but the Upstairs bread used to be served at the Chez Panisse Cafe. (A long time ago) It has white, whole wheat and rye in it. A larger loaf would keep better than the thinner ones you are considering. I love Acme's pan epis and sourdough but they do not keep overnight well.

                            1. re: wally

                              And the Acme wheat walnut tastes good, keeps very well, toasts great and then makes a great, dense turkey dressing.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                I found Acme's wheat walnut keeps a really long time and crisps up quite nicely in the oven. I think I've kept it out on my counter for up to 4-5 days and it was still fine. It also freezes well.

                              2. re: wally

                                Adding to wally's info - it's a boule, with a good, rustic crust, slightly sour tang, great texture. I think they serve it at Oliveto as well. I buy it at Rockridge Market.

                                1. re: daveena

                                  Daveena, thanks for the tasting notes for Acme's Upstair's bread. We're heading out to Hog Island tomorrow to taste oysters and will pick up a loaf of Upstairs bread to take home. I actually prefer the bread at their San Pablo location the best, but we don't want to drive all over town on Christmas Eve.

                                  We may also try to pick up bread at Thorough Bread if we decide to drive tomorrow. I know we could take Muni to Thorough Bread from Embarcadero, but we haven't had much success with Muni. We always end up going in the wrong direction, especially since we're not familiar with the routes. Plus, we can never quite figure out where get on and off, lol!

                                  1. re: cvhound

                                    Just take the above ground trolley going away from the Ferry Building, and get off at Church Street, right at the Safeway. You'll see a Ritz Camera/Jamba Juice sign as you're approaching.

                                    By Muni underground, you also want to get off at Church Street station. Embarcadero is the last stop for most of the trains. Avoid the T shuttle.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Thank you so much for posting this info! I told hubby that we were taking Muni tomorrow and he groaned, b/c our previous Muni outings haven't been too positive. Hopefully, we'll have a better outcome tomorrow thanks to your your tips!

                                      1. re: cvhound

                                        Have you ever used the Muni Trip Planner?

                                  2. re: daveena

                                    getting lost on muni??? just plan a trip on its planning site to get to chow joints. it is pretty basic.


                            2. >>> To make things even more complicated, I'd probably have to p/u Tartine's bread the evening of 12/23 since it's not available until 5pm and either move the oyster and crab p/u to 12/23 or purchase the bread at Tartine on 12/23 and return to S/F on 12/24 to pick up the remaining items.

                              There's your answer. The timing is just off. Why have two day old bread for Christmas?

                              I am just reading this thread, so you'll probably read this respose after you have tried Thorough. I love that bread. I did a taste off tonight between Thorough, Boudin and Raymond (which has gotten a lot of praise on this board) and Thorough was just the out and out winner.

                              When you mention Acme sourdough are you talking about the levain? Or do they sell an actual sourdough? I had Acme sourdough at FW on Thanksgiving at The Franciscan (yeah, long story). It was nice and crusty but had no tang. I don't consider the levain as sourdough.

                              Haven't tried Tartine's bread yet, but IMO the timing is just wrong. Save it for when your parents visit or on another trip down there.

                              I don't think much of Acme's pan d'epi. I actually prefer Bay Bread's more. Last week I had the pan d'epi from Model Bakery in Napa and it just blew Acme's version out of the water (I know you aren't traveling to Napa, I'm just saying that the Pan d'epi at Acme ain't all that.

                              As to Alioto-Lazlo. As I said in another post, the crab is now coming from the Pacific Northwest. However, the crab I bought today was really impressive. I'm not a big Dungeness fan, yet I really enjoyed it. I was going to save half for tommorrow but scarfed it down. The fresher the better.

                              I really regretted freezing the rest of my Thorugh bread. I wanted more with that crab. I think if this is the taste your parents are looking for, they will be really happy with it.

                              So 12/24 ... Hog Island to FW to Thorough and on to LA. Keep it simple.

                              pain epi

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: rworange

                                If the crabs in NorCal are coming from OR or WA, you might as well pick them up in SoCal because they'll be the same. 99 Ranch has live ones for $3.99/lb down there and they'll most likely be open Xmas. You can also get Boudin in SoCal, not that you want it.

                              2. Thanks to everyone who took the time to post and share such great suggestions. I really appreciate it!!! After our Hog Island oyster tasting today, we purchased Acme's Uptown bread and a small Acme sourdough roll. We then took the F-line outside the Ferry Bldg and got off at Church & Market. We walked down Church to Thorough Bread where we purchased sourdough bread, a small sourdough baguette, a small ciabiatta, two small slices of foccacia and six diamond (shortbread) cookies, plain and chocolate.

                                The grand total at Thorough Bread was $8! Just a dollar more than what we pay for a single loaf of Tartine country bread!!! Granted the sourdough bread at Thorough Bread was much smaller than our Uptown Bread from Acme, but the prices are definitely better at Thorough than at Acme and Tartine.

                                We took our bread home and I made hubby do a blind taste taste of Acme's Uptown bread, Acme's sourdough roll, Thorough Bread's sourdough and Thorough Bread's sourdough baguette. I didn't include the ciabatta in our tasting, but decided to freeze it to eat at a later date. We ate the breads plain, so we could really focus on the bread withouth any distractions. Hubby quickly selected Thorough Bread's regular sourdough as his top pick. I tried the breads in the kitchen before hubby tasted his samples, and that was my assessment as well.

                                We repeated this test a few hours later, but this time, I warmed our breads in our toaster oven at 325 degrees, on the convection bake cycle. We found less of a disparity between our top three picks after the breads were heated in the toaster. While we still preferred Thorough Bread's sourdough to Acme's sourdough roll, we found the taste (along with the texture of both the crust and insides) was vastly improved after warming in the oven.

                                Thorough Bread's sourdough and sourdough baguette had good crust and the inside had good texture, but neither made us swoon with delight like we do when we chow down on Tartine's country bread. Acme's sourdough roll was a distant third. Sorry, Daveena, but the Uptown bread tasted too much of rye (to us) and didn't have the chewy texture we prefer in our breads, so that one came in dead last. It also had the thinnest crust of the four.

                                We also really liked the foccacia from Thorough Bread. The parmesan cheese topping reminded me of Acme's cheese roll, but the foccacia was much less greasy than Acme's cheese roll and unlike Acme's cheese roll, the foccacia had a nice chewy texture with lots of big holes. I find the Acme cheese roll way too hard and dense. Thorough Bread's foccacia went really well with our shrimp and crab topped grilled asparagus that we split as a late afternoon snack at Woodhouse Fish Company, just around the corner from Thorough Bread.

                                We also really liked Thorough Bread's rich, buttery diamond cookies. I actually preferred them to Tartine's shortbread which are ridiculously expensive, but hard for me to pass up. I regret not buying more pastries and other non-bread items from Thorough Bread. I was tempted to pick up some croissants (has anyone tried their ham & cheese croissant), but our bags were already bulging with bread. Oh well, now that we know how to get there by Muni (thanks for the great Muni travel tips!), I'm sure we'll be out that way more often. We really enjoyed Woodhouse and would like to try their lobster rolls and fried clams next!

                                So which bread will we take with us to Southern California? I still don't know. I'm going to call Tartine and ask about their Christmas Eve hours. Everyone I spoke to today said they were planning to close early on Christmas Eve, so maybe they'll have bread available before 5pm on Christmas Eve? Otherwise, we may just take the easy way out and pick up Acme's large sourdough rounds, olive bread and pain epi at Acme's San Pablo location before heading to the FB for our oysters. Hubby thinks traffic will be really bad on Christmas Eve. We have a lot going on that day, so if possible, he'd like to be done with all our various pick-ups by 9 or 10am on Christmas Eve, before traffic gets too bad.

                                Thanks again to everyone who responded to this post. I really appreciate it!!!

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: cvhound

                                  >has anyone tried their ham & cheese croissant<

                                  Yep, during my (first) visit there yesterday. It was really good in a "compliment the very good croissant with some ham and cheese" way. If you prefer a "substantial sandwich" type of ham & cheese croissant, this isn't it. I liked it a lot and still had stomach-room for much more food :-)

                                  1. re: cvhound

                                    Glad you got to try the Uptown bread, even if it wasn't what you were looking for... I'm thinking I should get to Thorough sometime soon.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I think Uptown Bread comes from the Downtown Bakery

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          Oops, my mistake. Yes, I meant to say Acme's Upstairs bread. Sorry for the confusion.

                                    1. FYI, Tartine will have bread available for sale at 1:30pm on Christmas Eve. They're planning to close at 3pm that day. Pre-orders are strongly encouraged.