Lodge Bread in Culver City: What you can accomplish with three guys and an Italian deck oven

The artisanal bread movement has been slower to gain traction here in Los Angeles than, say, in San Francisco or New York. There are as many variables to a great bread scene as there are to the great bread itself: climate and flour, neighborhood and economics. Because as simple as bread may be, the making of it — consistently, wonderfuly — is not so simple. But this has been changing lately, with more bakeries opening, and more restaurants devoting space and talent to baking, finally, really good bread. 

Last month, in a tiny storefront in Culver City, three young guys — all chefs — opened a bakery of their own, making whole-grain loaves (no baguettes!) in a tiny kitchen built around a giant Bassanina steam injection deck oven. Lodge Bread is the project of Or Amsalam, Alexander Phaneuf and Alan Craig, all of whom met when they were working at Goldie's, a farm-to-table restaurant on 3rd Street.

"We started pushing breads and putting tartines on the menu," said Phaneuf recently, taking a break from loading bread into that Italian oven. "A couple light bulbs went off."

The friends kept baking, built a bakery in Phaneuf's Culver City backyard, then started a company "on a whim," selling bread to their chef friends. "We were baking in a carport for a year."

Phaneuf says they built that ad hoc bakery with a convection oven, a giant stack of cast-iron pans, three steel tables — and a 1973 yellow Frigidaire to retard the dough. "It was pretty bootleggy," says Amsalam. 

So Phaneuf, who has also cooked at FarmShop in Brentwood, at AQ in San Francisco, and for noted chef Dominique Crenn, and Amsalam, whose resume includes Mezze and Spago, decided to find a more, well, legal space.

"Actually," says Phaneuf, looking around Lodge Bread now — all 940 square feet of it — "this baking space is smaller than the carport."

You will not find country white loaves or baguettes at Lodge Bread, but rather whole-grain, long-fermented, high-hydration loaves that are baked very dark — so dark that Phaneuf says that some customers unfamiliar with the more European technique of baking high-moisture loaves until they have a thick, brown crust, complain that they're burnt. (They are not.)

The flour is sourced from Central Milling, but there are plans to start using flour from farmer Alex Weiser's Tehatchapi grain project, and from noted San Francisco baker Josey Baker, whose presence is felt in the Culver City bakery — his books are on the shelves above the tables, and his advice has helped guide the new bakery. 

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For the Record
July 18, 2016, 12:54 p.m.: This article misspells Tehachapi.
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The men say that they all kind of fell into baking. They credit the various threads of recent food movements: Slow Food, the recent interest in fermentation and growing local grains, and the "evolving" bread scene in Los Angeles, which has always kind of had a DIY component. 

In addition to those loaves of spelt and rye, whole wheat and red quinoa bread, there's plenty of toast — a food trend seemingly designed just for artisanal bakers — including specials such as caraway rye toast with cream cheese and carrots; toast with nut butter, banana and honey; avocado toast with radishes and olive oil; and lunch tartines. Their butter is cultured in-house. And if you order your toast with honey, it will likely come from a jar made by Craig's parents in Gorham, Maine. 

There is also pizza night on Sundays (from 5-8 p.m.), with recent iterations such as pizza with fresh mozzarella, roasted tomato and charred spigarello. And there are cookies and granola, pies and coffee cake, and trays of cinnamon rolls the size of small hubcaps. 

All the breads are made with whole grain flour and Lodge's own levain — in other words, everything is sourdough-based, including the pizza, the brioche and those cinnamon rolls.  

"It's not city bread," says Phaneuf.

Unless, of course, you are in this city, right now, and have been waiting a long time for more of our bakers to bake precisely this kind of bread — Old World bread, bread that takes days to make rather than hours, bread that tastes of the grain that builds it and the levain that rises it and the fire that burnishes it. And, of course, of the skill and devotion that goes into not only the bread itself, but opening a bakery for it in the first place. 

Lodge Bread, 11918 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (424) 384-5097, www.lodgebread.com.

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