Op: Bread

Colette Combs, Editor

The year is 2016. Dom Garofalo ‘19 , Katie Doherty ‘18, and myself are sat around a computer during newspaper. We are looking at a meme of an enthusiastic Oprah Winfrey proclaiming “I LOVE BREAD.” This meme sparks a conversation with a lasting legacy. “Panera bread is so good.” Doherty proclaims. “Yeah, but Not Your Average Joe’s bread? The best.” I add. Garofalo interjects, “You’re forgetting about The Cheesecake Factory.”   

Needless to say, we love bread, just like Oprah. On that fateful day, we made a vow to someday write an op-ed comparing breads from our favorite restaurants. Now, in Doherty’s last weeks at Pingree, we have finally made this vow a reality. We settled on four restaurants: Not Your Average Joe’s, Panera, Bertucci’s, and The Cheesecake Factory. These elite four were chosen based on the convenience of their location, and variety and quality of their bread.    

Prior to the test, my hypothesis was that Not Your Average Joe’s has the best bread. It is dense and chewy, and the olive oil has a light heat from the red pepper flakes. Garofalo hypothesized that Bertucci’s is the best, because the bread is warm and he likes the presentation. Doherty agreed with Garofalo because Bertucci’s rolls are the perfect size and are her imagined epitome of a perfect white bread roll.

On Katie’s birthday, we embarked on our journey and headed to Bertucci’s. As predicted by Garofalo and Doherty, the bread was delicious. We were impressed by the presentation of soft white bread rolls piled into a twisted wire basket. Garofalo couldn’t wait, and grabbed a roll before we could even take a picture. How well bread tore, something he called “tearability,” became an important bread grading category for Garafolo. Bertucci’s received a 5/10 on the tearability scale, and Garofalo commented that the bread seemed like it was made hours ago and reheated. Doherty enjoyed the smell of the rolls, and was particularly enthused with the accompanying oil. “It has [red pepper] flakes, so you know it’s legit.” We agreed that the bread was dense and chewy, was both soft and crunchy thanks to the contrast between exterior and interior, and the oil had great flavor. In concluding comments, Garafolo mentioned “This will fill you up. This is like a meal.” Doherty chimed in, saying that she enjoyed that the outside was lightly toasted but not burnt. Lastly, we agreed that there was not balanced ratio of bread to oil. By our last roll, we had no oil left. However, our waitress was super friendly and fine with us just sitting and enjoying bread.

The next stop was Panera. We couldn’t avoid paying, so we ordered two pieces of French baguette. Doherty immediately noted that the presentation left something to be desired. Digging into the bread, Garofalo was quick to assert that Panera scored a mear 1/10 on the ripability scale. Doherty added, “the inside in pretty stellar, but it’s too chewy on the outside.” On a more positive note, we agreed that the bread had fantastic flavor, and we did not really miss the offer of butter or oil that most other restaurants provide. Overall, we were not super impressed by Panera, but it is difficult to hold a fast-food restaurant to the standards of sit-down restaurants. Kudos to Panera on the flavor of their bread, but not on much else.                         

At Cheesecake Factory, we were seated immediately, and after explaining to a slightly confused waiter what we were doing, served Cheesecake Factory’s classic sourdough and brown breads. Doherty was excited by the variety of bread, something that no other restaurant we visited was able to offer us. We tried the sourdough first, which we enjoyed. However, the brown bread, which is usually soft and warm, was hard and flaky and stale. Despite our disappointment in the stale bread, we still gave The Cheesecake Factory a solid review. We were all excited that The Cheesecake Factory offered butter, an option that could not be found at our other stops. While Garofalo was dismayed at how messy the flaky brown bread was, and Doherty was upset by how hard the bread was, we did not leave the restaurant feeling totally dissatisfied.          

Our final stop was Not Your Average Joe’s. We were taken by the atmosphere, which had a lot of seating and natural light. We explained to our waitress what we were doing, and although she laughed, she was enthusiastically accommodating. Moments later, we saw her cutting up a brand new loaf for us. The bread had sweet onions, and was dense, chewy, and flavorful. The oil had parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes, but did not deliver on the heat flavor profile that we were expecting. The dense bread acted like a sponge in the oil, incorporating the delicious flavors of the oil into the bread. Garofalo was quick to note that the bread had great tearability, and Doherty added that “the cheese in the oil was bomb.” We came to an easy agreement that Not Your Average Joe’s was our favorite stop of the day. Our waitress even offered us a second serving of free bread, and as much as we wanted to accept, we were all full from our several stops.    

At Not Your Average Joe’s, as we laughed and reminisced about our shared  years in newspaper, we gave our final reviews. We all agreed on the ordered ranking of the restaurants, but differed on individual grades. Garofalo, our harshest judge, gave Panera 3.5/10, Cheesecake Factory 5/10, Bertucci’s 8.5/10, and Not Your Average Joe’s 9.5/10. Doherty gave Panera 4.5/10, Cheesecake Factory 6.5/10, Bertucci’s 8.5, and Not Your Average Joe’s 10/10. My rankings were closest to Doherty. I gave Panera 4/10, Cheesecake Factory 7/10, Bertucci’s 8/10, and Not Your Average Joe’s 9.5/10. My hypothesis was closest to the results, but Doherty and Garafolo were not far off. In the end, the experience was about so much than bread. It was about three friends enjoying a celebratory end to three shared years of dedication to The New Columns.