located in an area of wicker park that the relentless march of
gentrification has only recently reached, the boutique-like decor and
atmosphere of the _red_hen_bakery_ belie the humble character of its
breads: they are straight-up good. and by good i mean yummy.
i began with a basic focaccia the mere sight of which made me drool at
half-past nine on the saturday we visited. the bread had a quite
chewy crust without being particularly crunchy or excessively oily and
the tomatoes were quite flavorful, especially considering it was
februrary. it was very nicely sized for a light breakfast or snack
and fairly priced at just under two dollars.
the coffee was hot, fresh, and made from beans of an italian brand,
but was otherwise unremarkable. it showed no signs of being
politically correct: viz. it was labeled neither organic nor
we continued our adventure with a mini asiago-black-pepper brioche (a
full-sized cousin with the same flavorings was also available). the
asiago cheese had been employed with a pleasantly light touch and the
black pepper served as a nice counterpoint. while the flavors were
nicely balanced, one who was not terribly fond of black pepper might
not enjoy this brioche. we also tried a full-sized plain brioche
which was not as moist as some brioche but had pleasing saltiness and
a slightly challah-like texture.
the next bread we tried was a full sized loaf called a milwaukee sour.
this sourdough seemed to have some whole wheat flour in it and was
both dense and fine textured. interestingly, the glutens in this
bread seemed less developed than i would expect for a sourdough and it
was also more lightly salted than i would have expected. nonetheless,
the subtle crust and divine aroma made this bread a real winner.
the olive rosemary bread was unusually well crafted: an intensely
flavored and very chewy crust served to balance the powerful flavors
of the kalamata olives and fresh rosemary. the bread has a nice
saltiness to it and is my favorite example of this style that i have
the seeded baguette was not your average baguette: while most of the
good baguettes one finds in this country tend to have quite crunchy
crusts, this baguette had a wonderful chewy crust that retained hints
of crispiness. moreover, the inside of this loaf was unusually
aromatic for a baguette, without seeming at all out of place.