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Mar 26, 2012 03:58 PM

SF-Style Sourdough in Durham

We had brunch yesterday at Vin Rouge in Durham. They gave us a little tin bucket filled with sourdough bread slices. As a transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area, I didn't expect much... I've tried many sourdoughs at many places around the Triangle and none are "San Francisco style" - or taste.

But imagine my astonishment to see the proper thick crust, air pockets, and slightly chewy texture I had been missing, along with a good sourdough taste. I asked where they sourced their bread and my waiter said it came from Vita.

A quick GPS search, and in no time I was at Vita Cafe and Restaurant next to Parizade in Erwin Square Plaza on Main St.

30 seconds later I was walking out the door with a big loaf of sourdough for $4.

If I wanted to be a total snob and nitpicking jerk, I could say the crust was just a bit hard and thick, making for difficult slicing. And that the loft was just a bit low. But that would be silly, given that this is the only source I have found around here for a sourdough loaf with the qualities I remember from California. Recommended to those with a hankerin' for a bite of San Francisco.

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  1. This is a great tip klmonline, thanks. I'd never even heard of the place.

    1. Have you tried the sourdough at Rue Cler? That's where I get my sourdough, mainly because it's a nice stroll from my office. I think Loaf around the corner also has sourdough on occasion.

      5 Replies
      1. re: bbqme

        I luv Rue Cler breads (baguettes and batards). They are the best I've had in the Triangle. But there is narrow window of time they are available -- only from 1 to 3 pm.

        1. re: TerryG

          Go around the corner to Loaf. They're open Tues-Fri from 7am to 6pm and Saturdays from 9am to 3pm. Follow them on facebook and you'll get updates as to what they have available each day. And bonus: their pastry is amazing.

          1. re: TerryG

            Terry, that used to be true when Rue Cler supplied bread for other restaurants but now that they are no longer doing that they are selling their bread earlier in the day.

            I like Loaf too but they are a good bit more expensive. For example, a baguette at Rue Cler is $1.75 and $4 at Loaf. To be fair Loaf's is a good bit larger but I like the smaller size because it's easier to finish before the bread gets hard. That said, Loaf's pan au raisins is crazy good.

          2. re: bbqme

            Haven't tried either. I'm not in Durham all that often, but maybe I'll have to do a special sourdough shopping trip for comparison purposes!

            1. re: klmonline

              Throw Weaver Street Market into your mix if you're comparing. I think they have fantastic bread.

          3. Go to the Durham Farmers Market and try the whole wheat sourdough from Wild Scallions Farm. I like to call it the small loaf with big flavor.

            1. Sourdough is not hard to come by. I'm not sure what makes SF Sourdough different (taste aside). As far as taste goes, sourdough will be somewhat different because the wild yeast in the air is different and the levels of acidity may be different as well. I don't know about thickness of crust. I would imagine that depends on several factors.

              2 Replies
              1. re: burgeoningfoodie


                Sourdoughs are actually extremely different from place to place. Differences in starters are huge, with several distinct major groupings. Old established bakeries (such as traditional ones in San Francisco, where the bread is a major part of the cultural heritage) can trace their starters back a hundred years or more.

                Then there are differences in ingredients and baking processes, just as there are with any bread. It influences everything from the density and chewiness/flakiness of the bread to the thickness/darkness of the crust.

                And environmental factors do seem to influence sourdough starters and their development because of the heavy dependence on the little critters in the mix.

                I'm not saying that there is an objective "betterness" of one sourdough bread over another. Everybody has their own preferences and I acknowledge and celebrate them. I'm just saying that if you grew up in the San Francisco area with a certain profile of sourdough bread standing strong in your mind, you can easily tell the difference from all the other sourdoughs that are "not hard to come by."

                I was simply trying to share this discovery (new to me) with others who might possibly share my background and be interested in the find. If you get interested enough in the subject to read further, Wikipedia has a long page on the subject with 42 reference citations. This simple bread does stir a passion in some folks! :)

                1. re: klmonline

                  Oh I wasn't trying to say your discovery wasn't invalid. Just bringing to light the factors that may make it hard to find SF Sourdough in these parts to those of the readers who enjoy buying bread but may not know much about the influencing processes. Outside of flavor, I wasn't sure if there was something that made SF Sourdough what it is. You mentioned something about the thickness of the crust among other things which I was not familiar with.

                  I always thought the chew and crumb was part of any sourdoughs character based on the fermentation process, but I guess that can be changed based on the hydration of the final dough.

                  I've not tried to create a mother starter for sourdough, but have with a rye starter.

              2. Update on my report from last year. Bakatasias has moved the bread baking operations from Vita to his new Greek restaurant in Chapel Hill. Vita now only gets a few loaves daily for use in the restaurant. To buy retail loaves you need to visit Kipos Greek Taverna at 431 West Franklin Street. That's down near the Carrboro side of town.

                I have not tried the restaurant, but I did score a loaf of sourdough today.

                1 Reply
                1. re: klmonline

                  The restaurant is pretty good and considering there isn't what I would call standard greek fare in the area.. it is definitely a good option. The pastitsio is quite enough but I enjoyed the octopus salad as well.