From the day it opened three years ago, Elm Street Bakery has been on a mission: Make bread, pizza and more from the best ingredients available. It blended rustic – soups and sandwiches on homemade bread beside a massive wood-fired oven – with sophisticated, like house-made croissants. Elm Street Bakery doesn’t just make the bread, it makes its own butter. ¶ In March, it started serving dinner. The tiny menu includes oven-fired dishes, pizzas, others built on bread, and fresh plates like salads and oysters. ¶ Going from a grab-and-go bakery to dinner service, cooking meals for waiting customers, is a quantum leap. It’s like going from pushups to standing back-flips. When I visited for dinner recently, Elm Street Bakery didn’t quite stick the landing, but showed impressive moves. A new star is rising in East Aurora, and the season is just beginning.
Owners Jay and Kim DePerno returned from Paris with memories of a bakery. Opening in 2011, they built a former office supply store into an East Aurora mainstay for bread and pastries, breakfast and lunch.
Chef Brad Rowell, the former sous chef at Park Country Club, was hired to create dishes using the oven, and the best stuff he can find. The mission goes beyond using local meat, vegetables and fruit. The place makes its own crème fraiche, ricotta, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and preserved citrus, and roasts its own coffee.
Executive pastry chef and kitchen manager Luci Levere made her bones as a pastry chef for Geoffrey Zakarian in Manhattan. She’s a friend, so apply as many grains of Amagansett sea salt as you like. The fact remains that when people ask for the most interesting meal in the Southtowns right now, I send them to Elm Street Bakery. And I’m not the only one.
We dined undetected in the upstairs dining room, a space Martha Stewart would love, with lots of windows and wood. It was the day before Mother’s Day, and we eventually were joined by families with kids. A couple of chairs got knocked over, but noise wasn’t a problem underneath the peaked ceiling.
The menu listed 19 choices, among cheese and charcuterie plates, tartines, small and large plates and pizza. There’s a wide-ranging selection of bottled and draft beer, cider and wine.
We ordered a bread basket ($4), oysters ($15 for six), Surryano ham ($11), tartines of preserved swordfish belly ($13) and spring vegetables ($12). There were three large plates, grass-fed New York ribeye ($34), swordfish ($26) and pork chop ($26), and we said yes to those. Two small plates, too, of macaroni and cheese ($8) and burrata salad with roasted beets ($11). Then a Margherita pizza ($13).
The bread basket was an elegant retort to the notion that restaurant bread should be free. Its tangy caraway rye and three-seed sourdough – nutty with sesame, sunflower and flax seeds – boasted crunchy-chewy crust and a tender crumb. The butter was sprinkled with crunchy crystals of sea salt, and its silky tanginess made me understand why Elm Street makes its own.
Surryano ham, from Virginia, is the American answer to the famed Serrano ham of Spain. We got five big fat-rimmed slices, half a sliced baguette, and more butter. Ideal simplicity, from the crackly baguette to the delicious butter, and the savory ham. The oysters, served with mignonette, were fresh and briny.
Tartines are topped slices of bread. The vegetable dish was on chewy vollkornbrot, topped with creamy house-made ricotta. It was crowned with a jumble of the best vegetables of the day: fresh fava beans, foraged fiddleheads, snap peas, artichoke hearts, radishes and radish greens, faintly scented with lemon oil. It was beautiful, fresh and delicious.
The swordfish belly tartine was pretty, too, decked with slices of watermelon radish. Four bites of fish rode a toasted baguette, with capers, celery leaf and anchovy aioli. It was the most luxurious tuna fish sandwich ever.
The burrata and beet salad included watercress, arugula, pistachios and roasted red onions, but its star was baby beets, halved and given a caramelized crust in the oven. “I hate beets,” said Matt, reaching to spear another one.
Macaroni and cheese arrived bubbly and browned in a cast iron dish, crowned with herbed breadcrumbs. Firm elbow pasta was lightly sauced with cheesy béchamel, no Velveeta here.
Our pizza was classic, with charred, puffy edges and a paper-thin, floppy center. It tasted of fruity tomato, fresh bread, milky mozzarella and fresh basil. Scorched in spots, it was delicious cold the next day.
Grass-fed rib steak, sliced into hunks and topped with horseradish cream, was an off note. It was medium rare, as ordered, around the edges, but rare at center. My tablemates reminded me that grass-fed beef is an acquired taste, chewier than ordinary beef, with a venison note. Four pieces of fingerling potato, a couple of ramps and mushrooms, wasn’t enough vegetables for all that beef.
A bone-in pork chop, big enough for two, hid a layer of beluga lentils and spinach. It was adorned with more fiddleheads and a whole-grain mustard jus. The meat was terrific, well seared yet tender inside, and mustard sauce added piquancy. The earthy tones of the lentils were a fine companion, but they were undercooked, crunchy instead of creamy. I love fiddleheads, the asparagus of the woods, and greedily wanted more.
Swordfish had been seared in cast iron and plated over roasted fennel bulb and farro grain, with a few picholine olives and a dab of Meyer lemon aioli. The fish was firm and moist, the fennel caramel brown at the edges and tender enough. The foundation of grain made the dish feel more substantial, a satisfying plate.
Desserts were each exemplars of their form, yet too simple to serve as a fitting end to such a meal. They were cookies and milk ($5), a lemon tart ($6), chocolate-dipped baguette crisps with caramel dip ($6), and panna cotta with strawberry rhubarb gelee, served with pistachio shortbread ($6).
The tart was perfect, vivid citrus curd in a coconut sable crust and a stick of anise meringue. The brookie, a brownie-cookie hybrid, maximized brownie crust pleasure.
Service was solid with a few moments of disorganization. Our main server was knowledgeable, and our waters never went unfilled. But sometimes plates arrived with no room on the table, and it took a while to get the check.
The flaws in my meal are relatively simple to fix. Elm Street Bakery has already done the hard part. It’s on its way to becoming one of Western New York’s destination restaurants.
Elm Street Bakery - 8 plates
Tiny menu, simple yet sophisticated, expands definition of local dining.
WHERE: 72 Elm St., East Aurora (652-4720, www.elmstreetbakery.com)
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Dinner is 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations for six or more only.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and small plates, $4-$13; pizzas, $8-$16; large plates, $25-$34.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.