Elm Street Bakery
Jeff Biesinger visits Elm Street Bakery and samples its ever-growing offerings
Steamed mussels share a cazuela with toasted slices of sourdough bread.
Photos by kc kratt
Elm Street Bakery
72 Elm Street, East Aurora, NY 14052
One of the not-so-best-kept secrets in the sleepy little town of East Aurora might be the nightly transformation of the Elm Street Bakery into a fashionable bistro. The kitchen crafts food worthy of the most refined white tablecloth tables in town, but it’s served in the casual, relaxed atmosphere of the warm, open, barn-like space. Mix in some of the best wood-fired pizzas in town and a counter full of exceptional cookies, sweets, and pastries, and this is a destination every Western New Yorker needs to visit.
Plan ahead and book a reservation. Dinner is popular and, as we discovered, gambling during a peak hour on a Friday can mean a lengthy wait. Service ends at 9 p.m., which also compresses available tables.
Elm Street Bakery is best known for its enormous wood-fired hearth that, by day, churns out some of best loaves of bread around. The oven also comes into play during dinner service. Live fire cooking is high risk, high reward, and not something many restaurants attempt, but it is approaching its third year at ESB, running five nights a week and helmed by second chef, Jen Boye, formerly of the Mansion on Delaware.
Boye has adapted well to her new setting. She and her small staff make good use of the wood oven and take masterful advantage of seasonal produce from surrounding farms. As a result, the menu is dependent on seasonal availability, so chances are your Elm Street experience will be considerably different from mine. Every dish displays uncommon restraint and maturity. Don’t expect towering presentations or excessive garnishes: this is honest food.
A prime example is the light and delightful French onion soup. As anyone who’s had a mediocre bowl can attest, things can get briny fast with excessive amounts of boullion and gobs of mozzarella. At ESB, the soup is more of a blonde than a brunette, built from clear yet full-flavored stock and lightly caramelized onion. The choice of provolone for the gratin is a masterful way to keep the soup from ending your meal after the first course.
Interesting vegetable treatments continue throughout the four-section menu, which comprises pantry, vegetables, shared plates, and pizzas. Cauliflower and barley come in a shallow bowl filled with chilled crunchy bits of cauliflower lightly dressed with lemon and tossed with herbs and the plumped grain. The salad conceals a center of stracciatella cheese, completing the white on white composition. An unusual anchovy toast features dainty wedges of gem lettuce braised until just tender—the inventive composition absolutely steals the show. The lettuce is perched atop toasted sourdough bread and smeared with a spread made with white anchovy, its vinegar tang prominent. This recalls everything there is to love about Caesar salad in a single bite. An actual Caesar salad is equally successful. All the key components are there—lemon, garlic, anchovy—well balanced and punctuated by shaved Parmesan and hearty croutons.
Caesar salad and Red beet soup with creme fraiche and dill
Given the restaurant’s name, expect bread to find its way into most ESB dishes. Steamed mussels share a cazuela with toasted slices of sourdough bread. They come in handy when one finds an excess of exceptional cooking liquid at the bottom of the clay dish. Almost creamy from the generous addition of garlic confit, the offering demands to be mopped up. Delicately cured salmon is served with an “everything” baguette and dill-spiked, thickened yogurt. It’s a play on breakfast that hits all the right notes. Boye’s salmon is one thing that always finds a home in some iteration somewhere on the menu, and should never be skipped.
And, as you’d expect, the wood-fired oven produces exceptional pizzas. Elm Street’s pies routinely and rightfully win awards. The foundation of the dough finds the right balance of crunch and chew, and the pleasant charring of the crust is provided by several tons of brick reflecting wood-born 700-degree heat. The menu features several styles of pizza, and there’s usually a daily special. Except for the classic pepperoni, the mixes of toppings seem geared toward more sophisticated palates. The white pie is a masterpiece in contrasting and complementary flavors with mint, rosemary, orange, roasted garlic, and green olives making sure every bite is different and interesting.
While ESB does not serve spirits/cocktails, it has a nice, tight list of craft beers and ciders on tap and in bottles, and ten different wines available by the glass. And its pastry team, led by Luci Levere, provides a tempting dessert list, as well as additional items at the retail counter, smartly positioned on the way out.
Jeff Biesinger is Spree's fine-dining critic.