Harold: Medici Bakery

located firmly in the orbit of the university of chicago, hyde park's
medici bakery has the pleasant feel of a neighborhood place.  most
customers arrive on foot--some seem to be grabbing something (coffees
and pastries in the morning but breads in the evening), whereas others
dally somewhat longer with a newspaper, homework, a book, or
(occasionally) a stack of papers.  however it is hardly an indictment
that much of the clientèle seem either to live or to work within a few
blocks: one can hardly get a cup of coffee without overhearing a
conversation along the lines of

--are you in line?

--oh, no.  go ahead!  i'm still looking...

while i have taken great pleasure in eating bread from the medici
bakery on many occasions, i was disappointed on the day that we
visited to do a more studied if not a more scientific tasting.  my
reason for this qualifying what is to follow is to expose my own bias,
in virtue of having approached the tasting with elevated (in lieu of
neutral) expectations.  be that as it may, i shall attempt to
accurately describe our experience.

first, some items of general interest:

- the coffee at the medici bakery is fair trade, rather strong, and
almost always fresh

- the pastries at the medici bakery are made by a different baker than
the breads

- the medici bakery also handles takeout orders for the medici
restaurant, which is next door

- we purchased a piece of morbier in the market (with the same owner)
two doors down from the medici bakery that was tasty but not unusual

the soft pretzel with which we began our tasting was quite good,
although it was nothing to write home about.  setting it apart from
your standard junk-food soft pretzel was its vaguely bagel-like crust
and its more substantial texture that was somewhere between that of a
bagel and that of a san fransisco sourdough with rather well developed
glutens.  were one to desire a soft pretzel this would satisfy, but it
is otherwise unremarkable.

we progressed to the sesame semolina loaf, which turned out to be the
star of the lot.  the flavor of the sesame seeds (some of which were
toasted by the baking process) was nicely offset by the flavor of the
semolina flour that is in this bread.  the density of this bread's
crust is quite pleasing, making for a crust that is neither overly
crumbly nor overly chewy; while this bread has a fairly dense texture
inside, it is not at all heavy in the way that some multi-grain breads
can be.  all that said, the favor of this bread is mild, making it
acceptable for "normal" bread purposes.

we subsequently tried both a mini ciabatta and a mini olive ciabatta.
both had a pleasant flavor but both were impressively oily, reminding
me more of pizza dough than of bread.

my expectations were probably too high for the seeded baguette because
i was so disappointed when i tried it that i wrote nothing but "dull,
average" in my notes.  working from memory, i will say that the crust
was flimsy and the texture was dry, if not lifeless.  for what aspires
to be a serious bakery for serious bread lovers, this baguette was
impressively mediocre.

we concluded with a whole wheat walnut roll which was rather
inoffensive, if a touch too sweet for my taste.  ostensibly the vision
was of a dense, crumbly, and slightly sweet roll, in which the nuts
and whole wheat flour were balanced by the sweetness; unfortunately
the execution was strikingly average.  while this is not normally one
of my favorite styles, this did not rank particularly favorably among
breads of this style that i have tasted.

as i have enjoyed the medici bakery in the past (and as it is by far
the closest "serious" bakery to where i live) i can only hope that our
experience was an anomaly: it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to speak
ill of their products.