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Run, Don't Walk -- Orwasher's Corn Rye, Only Available in March

I have been nursing a grudge against the buyer of Orwasher's bakery -- Keith Cohen -- for several years now. It started when they stopped using wax paper bags, and it escalated when the salt sticks seemed routinely to change consistency, and then it reached hysterical proportions when they discontinued selling the corn rye bread that I grew up on, but basically it came down to the fact that his last name wasn't Orwasher, and that the neighborhood bakery of my now distant childhood had become just another yuppie foodie establishment.

I was pretty infuriated when the new owner started doing things like adding a line of wine breads, and when he crowed that he had devoted himself to replicating a Parisian baguette … why would he try to do that??? It's a bakery with Austro-Hungarian roots and Kayser's pod landed just a couple of blocks away on Third Avenue.

But I have to admit that to my tastes at least, I think he's got the baguette nailed and that it is in fact the best replica available in Manhattan of what used to be ubiquitous in Paris … and it's better than by far the majority of what passes for baguettes now in Paris.

I was thrilled to see a sign this morning that announced what Wilma, the salesperson at Orwasher who used to work next door at Mr. Nemeth's bakery (when there used to be a Mr. Nemeth's bakery next door; the two co-existed without competing because they were both in their respective Hungarian traditions of separating pastry bakeries from bread bakeries -- Nemeth was a cukraszda or patisserie and Orwasher was a pekseg or bread bakery) had not lied … Wilma had intimated that they would be stocking corn rye again near Easter.

And there it was. Except it didn't look anything like what Orwasher had sold as corn rye; and tasting a small piece from the samples bowl made it clear that this was a very different recipe -- far less dense, an entirely different crumb, a smaller loaf with a slightly different shape … a kind of crown … and a somewhat different crust.

I bought a loaf, but I was spitting bullets and feeling betrayed. It's one thing to yank it from sale, quite another to return it by name but with a newbie's recipe.

I stewed, I fumed, and I walked uptown to meet my wife for a cup of tea at Pain Quotidien, whose bread is pretty pallid and not tempting enough to lure me off the wagon of my diet. I ordered an iced tea, but that corn rye was searing a hole in the stupid non-wax-paper plastic bag on the floor next to me, and I started snaking my hand into the bag and smuggling the Orwasher contraband up to my mouth, pausing momentarily at table height to smear on a bit of the butter from the bread that came with my wife's soft boiled egg.

The first few bites from the heel mellowed me, the second slice made me grudgingly admit that this was not a bad bread even if it wasn't Louis Orwasher's corn rye; by the third I had to admit that it was a hell of a bread, possibly, in some ways, better than the master's; and by the fourth I was alternating between recognition that it was actually channeling all that was best in the Orwasher corn rye into a loaf that is, if anything, even better than what I was weaned on, on the one hand, and fuming about the gross injustice that this wonder of old-meets-new won't be available after the month ends.

This is a bread's bread. If you are a corn rye fanatic, it's a killer. If your roots, like mine, tendril back into Austro-Hungary and Central Europe, it's your DNA. If you are skeptical about the way contemporary artisanal bread making has diverged from adherence to traditional recipes, it may be enough to make you born again. This is subtle stuff, lighter and slightly different in sourness (neither more nor less sour, but differently sour, owing to the addition of rye stout to the starter, as I was told by a salesperson who was younger than some loaves of bread I have stashed away in my freezer but who seemed to know whereof he spoke), more intensely caraway-ish (from a different seed the counter guy said…black caraway? but there seems to be standard caraway in there as well). Not as dense, but pleasingly dense nonetheless, more assertively different from the standard sandwich rye than its forebear was, but less as a matter of texture and more as a result of the lingering sour rye taste under one's tongue.

Truly worth a detour.

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  1. Zabar's sells a Corn rye year round which they claim is from Orwasher. It is much as you describe the one you bought directly from them. I bought 1 about a year ago at Orwasher and they told me at the time they were considering adding it as a regular item which it seems they have done.
    I prefer the Corn Rye without seeds which was called Lithuanian Rye but is a dense Corn Rye made by Sterling Bakers in Queens and sold in Lithuanian and Polish and at one place near Columbia U. The problem was the quality was inconsistent, sometimes delicious other times over baked and dry. I haven't had it in awhile.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hoi lai

      I haven't bought the Zabar's corn rye from Orwasher in several years, but the last time I did was when it was still routinely available at Orwasher's as well, and it was essentially the same bread in both places and essentially the original Orwasher recipe. If they've been selling this new variant at Zabar's since then, I feel as though I've lost a year of my life…

      Have you tried the Black Rooster Latvian rye? http://www.blackroosterfood.com

    2. best post of 2014.

      and not just because it put me in the mood for both corn rye and salt sticks.

      1. Yes I've samples it a couple of times. It is a very dense, rich tasting bread. Not something I want everyday. I am going to try the Orwasher Pumpernickel this week which is also available at Zabar's. Have you tried the Pumpernickel?

        1 Reply
        1. re: hoi lai

          no, i'm generally not a pumpernickel fan, though Black Rooster and to a lesser extent Ruebschlager are kind of seductive … i think it's their insanely dense texture and hint of caraway that get to me; but only once in a great while.

        2. Many thanks for posting this corn rye info. I grew up on Long Island loving the dense corn rye from the local Jewish-style bakeries. No one makes it anymore. I live 2 blocks from Orwashers, will definitely visit there this week.

          1. It had always been my favorite. I think it was even available at the New Amsterdam Market during that run, and I know the Whole Foods Bowery sells a few Orawasher's breads.

            Breads Bakery also makes a very nice rye in our Jewish rye depleted town. As does Hot Bread Kitchen.

            1. This is my favorite post on Chowhound, possibly ever.

              I had no idea Orwasher's stopped making the corn rye. This is a shop that set up at the New Amsterdam Market with just their corn rye. Why would you buy it and phase it out.

              1. Gosh-I thought I was reading a Jackie Collins novel ! I was really getting into it.

                1. Somewhere along the meander that constitutes my lifetime, Yorkville melted down into being a zipcode rather than a neighborhood, but for me it is still alive with the Hungarian smells and flavors and rhythms of speech of my childhood -- a time when almost all the shops had Magyar accents, whether the tailor or the printer or the travel agent or the hardware store. But the glue that held the area together was food: restaurants to be sure -- the Budapest and Emke and Mokka, and a steam table that must have had a name but that I recall only as two ladies in white with ladles, and a largish place on the ground floor of a postwar building on 79th street with a large garden out back -- but the restaurants were nowhere near as fundamental to the sense of immersion as the other food-related shops: Paprikas Weiss doing battle with H Roth (Lekvar By the Barrel) in the paprika wars; the Joseph Mertl Pork Store, a tiny, bustling butcher shop that managed to draw far more Hungarian jewish customers than any place called a Pork Store had any right to expect; Rigo Pastry and Orwasher next door to one another, real artists compared to Mrs Herbst's strudel shop (the Third Path of Hungarian baking being strudel -- retes -- distinct again from pastry and from bread).

                  The thing was that each of these places is associated in my memory with people not just products, with characters and a sense of welcome and of unstated artisanal devotion. I recall watching the butchers at Mertl's cut down a shoulder of pork into stew, studiously, swiftly, methodically, a lesson for me in Zen, though i didn't realize that that was what i was learning, before archery or motorcycle repair. I remember my parents chatting at length with Eddie Weiss at Paprikas Weiss while I wandered around the tables and barrels and cartons of specialty items like goose feather basting brushes and spaetzle machines and chestnut puree presses and goulash pots, as well as Ed's mother's recipes put up in cans ... ranging from stuffed peppers to rendered goosefat; hanging 'Hungarian Brand' salamis -- made then and still made by Bende in Chicago, far better to my tastes than the smokier drier salamis from Hungary then or now. Kolbasz and Debrecen sausages, headcheese and Krakauer; Liptauer spread made from Bryndza cheese and butter and paprika and anchovy paste. Hungarian slab bacon, thick with a paprika so vividly red that it tasted of the color as much as of the peppers from which it was produced.

                  These are the memories that Orwasher's incumbent has to nudge out of the way in order to establish his own neolog beachhead in my soul ... but I have to say he's doing a far better job of it than I dreamed possible when the store first changed hands.

                  1. for those looking to secure a loaf of this lauded loaf, be aware that the google results showing an Orwasher's location on Franklin St. are inaccurate.

                    1 Reply
                    1. As a visitor from SF, where would I find a loaf of this precious commodity if I were to be in NYC from April 1-3?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: RichInMV

                        You might call Orwasher's and see if they're still selling it for a few days after they said they'd stop. If not, Zabar's might be a worth a shot, based on the earlier posts.

                        1. re: squid kun

                          Knowing Dean & Deluca, you can guess they'll start stocking if they don't already.

                          1. re: squid kun

                            Unless they are lying about it's provenance Zabar's has the Famous Orwasher's seeded Corn Rye everyday. They only have a few loaves each day so the race goes to the swiftest.

                        2. I likely should not have taken it for granted that everyone would just know intuitively where Orwasher's storefront is and has been for as far back as I remember: it's on 78th Street just a few buildings east of Second Avenue, on the south side of the street. It's a small brownstone-sized storefront, white and tile ... filled with breads and baked goods. Unless you live on the block, it's basically a place you have to be treating as a destination; you won't stumble across it accidentally and I doubt they do much trade from passers-by.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: farago

                            i knew the original location was on the UES, but i'm rarely in that neighborhood. the former tribeca location was within blocks of Terroir, where I happened to start my weekend. that corn rye would have made for a better breakfast this morning.

                            1. Great post - but since when is rye bread seasonal?

                              1. Note: it is not available at the Orwasher's stand at the Greenpoint greenmarket. When I asked about it today, the dude behind the counter told me it's too much trouble to make and they haven't made it in years!

                                1. A return to the scene ...

                                  I'm on my third 1-lb loaf, eating this bread solo, partly out of covetousness, partly because my spouse is out of town, and partly because she's not really a bread person to start with. It has taken me an average of 6 days to get through a loaf, and the loaves have done very nicely indeed even at the end of the 6 days (if one is flexible about what counts as an acceptable crust). Keep in a paper or wax paper bag, slice as needed cutting away a thin bit of any hardening edge

                                  I keep the bag in a bread box; you don't have to.

                                  If they are serious that this will be heading into oblivion at the end of the month -- a genuine disaster if true -- then I should have made it through 5 loaves by then. Maybe six. After that, I will have to return to the only other source I know of for decent corn rye in NYC: Moishe's Bakery on Second Avenue (usually available Tuesdays, I think, and typically sold out by Thursday).

                                  I'm a gourmand, not a gourmet; a nosher not a connoisseur, a fresser not an ester if one follows the German distinctions (human beings use the verb form 'essen', animals take the form 'fressen') -- basically, wheel me up to a trough, throw in the fodder and leave me alone.

                                  So the fact that I am smitten with this bread may not amount to much of a kudo. Still, with the passage of time I become increasingly impressed (perhaps because I have started to chew on it more slowly and without butter, some of the time -- just bread for bread's sake). It's one complex, unfolding, deep yet subtle set of flavors, closer to a main course than a medium or an enclosure for cheese or meat. To be honest, it actually was my main course two of the last three nights.

                                  I keep expecting that I have talked myself up into some sort of self-induced euphoria that the bread won't measure up to when I come back to the table (that's possible, you know: LSD was first isolated from ergot, a fungus or something that was growing on rye bread in Switzerland; they say it's what explains outbreaks of St. Vitas' Dance), but each time I do, it has remained the same quietly self-assured bundle of breadness. Very Platonic; not merely the shadow of bread on a wall. The real thing.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: farago

                                    The corn rye at Moishe's is good stuff too, but I have to think there's a world of options hiding in Brooklyn too, you know, in case the world ends at the end of the month.