Triumph and heartbreak with Cali-based La Brea Bakery.
“Cathy, I have found your new favorite gluten-free bread!”
Normally, I would delete any email that used my first name in the subject line, but gluten-free bread that tastes good is like ice cream with no calories, wine that won’t get you drunk and a Harrison Ford who isn’t stubbornly in love with Calista Flockhart. I want to believe. Odds are, it isn’t going to happen. Still, there I am, waiting outside his mansion, with my bowl of chocolate ice cream and glass of wine.
The email was from a PR rep for La Brea Bakery, who’d offered to send me some sample loaves to try. Sure, I told them, thinking, “What the hell… we can try in on our podcast and, if — when — it sucks, it’ll be fun capturing people’s reactions.”
When the big box of bread arrived, David and I decided to take a sneak taste, to know what to expect when we made everyone eat it during the podcast recording. So sure were we that it’d taste like crumbly bits of potato, wood fiber and sadness that we hesitantly split a piece.
Now, I have no choice. If I want to eat bread, it must be gluten-free, and I’ll be the first to tell you, gluten-free bread is not, technically bread (everyone saw my last #BecauseGluten column, right?). You need gluten for it to be bread. The whole point of bread is the way the gluten binds the molecules of flavor together — and, apparently, kills the lining of my duodenum. David, though, is a live-on-the-edge kind of guy, by which I mean he eats more than beef, shellfish and lunch meat (work in our office for a day to realize how rare that is, because we are a gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, non-beef-eating, why-would-you-eat-something-with-a-face, I-only-eat-yellow-foods-on-Tuesday, I’m-fasting-until-4-o’-clock, how-can-you-eat-commercially-farmed-vegetables, is-that-kale-dolphin-safe type of office). However, his husband, Larry, does not eat gluten, and so every morning David and Larry feast upon slices of gluten-free cinnamon raisin toast. In short, David knows the pain of bad gluten-free sliced bread, which, really, is most of it.
Watching us eat the La Brea white bread was like watching a commercial. As we chewed, time slowed down. Our eyes met across the counter; we smiled in pleasant surprise.
“This…” David floundered, grasping for words. “This… tastes like real bread.”
And it does. This bread is the best gluten-free bread I’ve ever tasted (and, if memory serves, better than a lot of gluten-filled bread I’ve eaten). The next day, our food editor, Meaghan, made some toast and some happy noises.
“Don’t put the bread away,” she said. “I’m probably going to want to make more toast.”
I sent El Cap to work with some, and he texted me and told me how much he loved the bread.
Almost everyone at the podcast tasting agreed: They would eat this bread. One holdout, our food intern Alex, said she’d eat it, but not on purpose.
Now, the heartbreak. While Publix does sell bread from this California-based bakery, it doesn’t sell the gluten-free variety. No one within 100 miles of the CL offices in Ybor City does, actually. And, unless you have Amazon Fresh in your town (we don’t), you can’t mail order it.
So what do you do? You march into Publix and take advantage of the grocery giant’s generous customer-service policy that allows you to ask them to order it for you. Seriously. It’s about $5 a loaf, more than reasonable for gluten-free bread. I confirmed this with Meaghan, whose family has some sort of shrine to Publix in the living room (everyone in her family works there, I think). All you have to do is go to the customer-service desk and ask them to special-order La Brea Bakery gluten-free bread, and they’ll do it (at least I’m hoping).
You won’t be sorry. Pinky swear.
This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing.