To get to Gusto Bread, the Long Beach bakery that specializes in breads made with whole grains and natural levain, knock on the door of an old wooden house on a leafy, residential street, the front porch filled with cozy chairs and the earthy, nearly primal perfume of baking. Arturo Enciso and Ana Salatino will welcome you inside, where a long table is set up as a counter, loaded with crusty loaves and fruit pastries and a baguette-filled basket like an umbrella stand.
When the couple moved into the house a year and a half ago, this was their living room. Now it’s outfitted like a rustic village bakery that opens to the public only on Sundays, from mid-morning until early afternoon — or until the bread sells out, which sometimes happens in under an hour. The rest of the time, Enciso bakes in the same space where he’s now taking orders — thanks to a Cottage Food Operation permit — selling wholesale to neighborhood restaurants, and on Wednesdays at a nearby farmers market.
Trace Enciso’s floured tracks and they’ll lead to an outdoor earthen oven at the house where he lived in since 2013 before relocating nearby. Enciso became obsessed first with the oven and then with the bread he taught himself to bake in it. He picked up a copy of Richard Miscovich’s “From the Wood-Fired Oven,” (“It was my bible.”) took workshops with San Francisco’s Josey Baker, and made a pilgrimage to Spain and Vermont to learn from regional bakers.
Enciso did bread pop-ups until last fall, when he moved to a stand at the farmers market and then, a month and a half ago, he and Salatino opened their own door. Recently they extended their Sunday operation into the garden, where, on another long table surrounded by a small forest of kale and clover, persimmon and peach trees, they set out their own cultured butter, plus local cheese and jams — all gratis — for folks to slather on thick slices of just-bought bread and torn nubs of pain d’epi, the hard-to-find crunchy long loaves that are snipped into the shape of wheat stalks.
Enciso uses only organic flour and grains, which he sources from Central Milling in Petaluma, Pasadena’s Grist & Toll, Bluebird Grain Farms in Washington, the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project and other California farms, grinding his own flour in a small mill near the proofing table. He uses natural levain, or sourdough, for his breads — loaves shaped in the fabric-lined baskets that fill many of the available shelves and counters. Wooden peels and rolling pins, some antique, a red wine vinegar barrel (another project) and more proofing baskets fill more shelves, along with Cambros and brushes and a catalog of bench scrapers — the place feels like a well-stocked Old World bake shop.
The California loaves, hefty, deeply burnished bread built with grains grown in-state, are decorated with floured bear stencils fashioned by a local artist (other loaves are stenciled with gorgeous, stylized eyes). Miches in various sizes use hard red wheat, spelt and rye, while the skinny baguettes — prettily slashed, their darkened tips as thin as felt pens — are engineered with a hard red wheat and spelt dough that’s been aged for 30 hours.
Lately, Enciso has been extending his menu, making seeded fougasse in the shape of sand dollars, delicate apple and pear galettes and a focaccia-like bread that he calls “pan pizza,” which he wants to feature in garden pizza parties. “Sometimes I do biscuits.” He’s also been experimenting with the traditional breads of his heritage: Though he grew up in Lebec, a small community near Tejon Pass in Kern County, his family is from Chihuahua, the state in northern Mexico, while Salatino’s family is from Argentina. Enciso made pan de muerto for Dia de los Muertos, and has been playing with conchas and bolillos.
“I look at all the breads I grew up with, and I experiment,” says Enciso. “It’s unfolding for me, that future. But that’s what I want to do.”