Few words can cause us all to swoon as will “bakery”—a warm place full of the wonderful aromas of yeast, browning crusts, toasted nuts, melted chocolate and cooked fruit. We never lose our childhood affection for going to a bakery, staring through the window and counter, and even if most American breads usually come in a plastic wrapper made in a corporate kitchen, the opening of a bakery with superior breads and desserts is always greeted as joyfully as if a toy store opened in town.
Which is why the opening of the Heritage Bakery across the street from the New York Public Library and Bryant Park has been greeted with both broad smiles and deep appreciation. And the opening of an adjacent restaurant featuring dishes that include the kinds of ancient grains that go into the breads is a double win for that neighborhood. Simply walking by the open door when the ovens are pouring forth their aromas is to tempt being late for work in the morning or to linger in the afternoon and take some items home at night.
The premises used to be the estimable Maison Kayser, whose original opened in Paris in 1996, soon to have 150 locations in 22 countries, but whose U.S. branches went into bankruptcy three years ago.
The new premises have a kind of modular taverna design, with tables set against arched walls of beautiful rough stone of a kind you’d find on a Sicilian quay. Wooden tables are bare, lighting excellent, and the noise level quite congenial, as is the entire staff at Heritage. Next door is the bakery from which come many of the items on the restaurant’s menu. It offers a huge variety of coffees and teas, along with hard-to-choose among like apricot almond rolls, crisp baguettes, ciabatta, einkorn loaf, seeded boule, ham and Gruyère croissant and fudge brownies.
“Our Heritage grains are healthier because we practice time-honored methods of milling flour without chemical additives,” says their website. “This tradition, and technique, using unadulterated ingredients, retains more nutrients, and does not deposit unsafe chemicals into our environment,” which is an added virtue to the wonderful baked goods served here.
Chef Paul DiBari’s menu in the dining room is mostly Mediterranean, beginning with starters like boquerones of marinated anchovies ($12) and arrosticini Abruzzese ($18), grilled lamb skewers with cool tzatziki and a dose of chili oil favored by the people of Italy’s Abruzzo region.
Given its bakery, Heritage was bound to do pizza, and the various thin-crusted selections include a good, spicy alla diavola ($23) with soppressata salami, fior di lattemozzarella, tomato sauce and chili oil.
Going with the flow here, you should have the sumptuous Ancient Grains salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, apples, shallots, toasted seeds, feta and lemon ($16). Of the two pastas on the menu, I loved the spaghetti alla ghitarra amatriciana ($24) with guanciale bacon, crushed tomato, chili and an enriching amount of pecorino.
The wood-fired whole branzino, perfectly cooked, came piled with pistachio chermoula, green beans and the delightful flavor of charred lemon ($29). A fine grilled bavette steak took on further interest from za’atar-spiked French fries and a tangy sauce persillade ($29). The hefty roasted chicken gets its many flavors from Tunisian spices and a salsa verde and fingerling potatoes, for a very moderate price of $27.
All desserts are ten dollars, including a last-of-summer strawberry rhubarb cheesecake ($10), macarons with raspberries and an olive oil cake ($10).
The friendliness of the owners and staff are as much at the heart of Heritage Bakery as serving the kind of comforting food everyone loves to eat. Add to that the commitment to the healthiest of grains, and you have a unique new entry in midtown Manhattan.
8 West 40th Street
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.