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MASI'S ITALIAN SUPERIOR BAKERY [pictures]

MASI'S ITALIAN SUPERIOR BAKERY [pictures]
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  • MASI'S ITALIAN SUPERIOR BAKERY [pictures]

    Post #1 - February 25th, 2005, 9:29 am
    Post #1 - February 25th, 2005, 9:29 am Post #1 - February 25th, 2005, 9:29 am
    Italian Superior Bakery
    Masi's Western Avenue Bread


    © Antonius F. Volcinus de Montibus


    If posed the question 'What is the main street of Chicago?' I suspect most people -- be they natives or knowledgeable visitors -- would think first of downtown and the Loop and suggest either State Street or nowadays especially Michigan Avenue as the most appropriate answer. The reasons for choosing one of those streets are obvious and correspond roughly to the criteria which incline people to think of Broadway or Fifth Avenue as the principal street of New York, or the Kurfürstendamm of Berlin, the Champs Elysées of Paris, the Dam of Amsterdam, Princes Street of Edinburgh, etc. Beautiful, even monumental architecture, fashionable shops and expensive eateries, proximity to major institutions and location in the city centre or downtown area. On all counts, Michigan Avenue from the Loop to the Magnificent Mile deserves its place alongside the other great streets of the world's major cities. But as much as I can enjoy the fashionable, the monumental and the cosmopolitan attractions of downtown, the most interesting and in a sense the most important street in all of Chicago is to my mind Western Avenue.

    That Western Avenue is the longest street in the city, extending all the way from the northern city-boundary to its southern counterpart, is fairly widely known and I would guess that it must be one of the longer city streets in all the world. Given its central location, it forms a north-south axis that crosses all three of the major interstate highways that serve Chicago and so it functions as a crucial artery in the city's traffic patterns, a rôle which seems to be reflected in the presence of so many car dealerships and auto repair shops along virtually its entire length. But in between all of the car lots and muffler shops, one sees on this great avenue an amazing array of reflections of the history and current ethnic complexity of the city. Western Avenue is at once a Mexican street, an African-American street, a Polish street, a Puerto Rican street, a Pakistani street, a Korean street, an Irish street, a German street and an Italian street. And that list is likely incomplete.

    ***

    Like New York, Chicago once had a sufficiently large Italian population that it had not just one but several sizeable Italian neighbourhoods. On the northside, in the area where the Cabrini-Green projects were later built, was a predominantly Sicilian neighbourhood known as 'Little Hell', of which to my knowledge nothing remains. Over on the near northwest side, in West Town on Grand around Racine and Ogden, there is a now much diminished yet still quite visible Italian presence, which includes a number of restaurants and shops. Further west on Grand, around the intersections of Grand and Huron with Western Avenue is another and particularly little known Italian neighbourhood, primarily to the west of Western but represented on that street by a couple of funeral homes and other Italian-owned businesses. About four miles directly to the south of this enclave, down in the Heart of Chicago neighbourhood, on the east side of Western and more especially on Oakley, is the well-known northern Italian community with its cluster of restaurants.

    The largest of the old Italian areas in Chicago was the one centred on and thus generally referred to as 'Taylor Street'. Back at the height of its expansion, this 'neighbourhood' -- really more an amalgam of many contiguous, smaller neighbourhoods -- extended across a narrow but long band between Harrison and Taylor running from around Halsted in the east all the way out past Western and, according to one older resident of the area, on to California and even Sacramento. That was in the 1920's and 30's and 40's, before the socioeconomic and demographic changes that came on the heels of World War II and, perhaps more importantly, the Near West Removals that were initiated under the auspices of Richard Daley Senior. Already in the 1940's, some of the Taylor Street Italians had started to move out of the Near West for places further west, such as the area around Grand and Harlem, and as they moved out, Mexicans began to move into parts of the Taylor Street corridor. Then, with the 'Removals', that is, the series of massive building projects of the highway circle, the University of Illinois Circle campus, the development of the Illinois Medical District, and the building of low-income housing projects, the core of the Taylor Street neighbourhood was swept away, with the displaced Italian population again heading westward to the Harlem Avenue area and beyond to the western and northwestern suburbs. Many of the Mexicans of Taylor Street moved a little ways south to the already strongly Mexican Pilsen neighbourhood.

    Ultimately remaining of the Italian Taylor Street corridor are just two small enclaves which frame the intervening medical district, both of which have seen some rough times in recent decades but now are on the upswing. Indeed, the eastern enclave, which stretches from Morgan to Ashland and is now commonly referred to as 'Taylor Street' or even 'Little Italy', has a thriving and still expanding (through increasingly less Italian) cluster of restaurants, as well as an expanding and ever more valuable real estate market: houses in the neighbourhood which sell for well more than a half and now even well more than a whole million dollars are increasingly common. Though a certain noteworthy portion of the old Italian population of the area still resides there, the neighbourhood can hardly still be considered an overwhelmingly Italian one, despite all the restaurants that seem to indicate that. But it is to a certain degree still an Italian neighbourhood and the presence of some Italian businesses such the salumeria, Conte di Savoia, Chiarugi's hardware store, and Scafuri's bakery, even if a good measure of their customers live elsewhere, bears witness to that fact.

    To the west of 'Taylor Street' and the medical centre is, of course, more of Taylor Street and the other enclave that continues to have direct ties to the old, massive Italian neighbourhood that once stretched across Chicago's Near West. This somewhat isolated area, as product of forced removals that took place under old man Daley, had no traditional name and so was given in more recent years the appellation, perhaps by inventive real estate agents, 'Tri-Taylor', which is intended to denote the triangle based on the commercial stretch of Taylor Street and formed by Harrison, Ogden and Western.

    Unlike the eastern Taylor Street enclave, the enclave by Western Avenue developed and still has a strongly Mexican character, though some blocks are home primarily to African-Americans and now, with the real estate boom of the inner core of Chicago in the last ten years or so, a first, albeit still small, wave of 'young urban professionals' has taken up residence there as well. Of the old Italian population, a small measure remains scattered throughout the neighbourhood, though it would be easy to overestimate their strength if one were to judge by the eateries on Taylor Street, where there are several Italian owned and/or oriented places that cater primarily to the lunch business from the nearby correctional and medical institutions, including two pizzerias. Perhaps the most interesting indication of the degree to which this once was a predominantly Italian area is the fact it contains not one but two Neapolitan bakeries, namely, Ferrara's, the pasticceria on Taylor by Odgen, and Masi's, the panificio by the intersection with Taylor on Western Avenue.

    *******

    The roots of Masi's Italian Superior Bakery go back to the village of San Vitaliano, near the town of Acerra and just a short way north of Naples within the provincia bearing that city's name and within sight of the mighty volcano, Vesuvius. From there to the United States came Salvatore Masi, who in 1912, at the age of 19, immigrated to this country, settling first for a time in Chicago, before moving back east to New York. There he opened his own bakery in the Ozone Park section of Queens, New York, in 1926. After but a few years, however, Salvatore moved along with his growing family back to Chicago where a number of his close relatives were settled and in 1933 he opened the original 'Western Avenue Bread' bakery in the building that still stands at 915 South Western Avenue; Salvatore moved the bakery one more time in 1940, but then just a few doors to the south and into the present location at 933 South Western. In its early days, 'Western Avenue Bread' filled a function for the immediate, predominantly Italian neighbourhood much like that of a village or neighbourhood bakery back in Italy, preparing basic baked goods for the community but also providing oven facilities for those who made their own dough but lacked a home oven.

    Out of the ten children in the Masi family, three of the sons still keep the business going: the eldest of the children, Sam, the youngest, Joe, and Frank, who is the man in charge of the actual bread baking. Of course, Frank grew up in and around the bakery but really started to step into the central rôle of baker after returning to Chicago from a stint in the army in 1953. During the 1950's and 1960's, despite the departure of many of the Taylor Street Italians for points west, Western Avenue Bread did a brisk business based in part on the remaining community, in part on sales to suburbanites who would return to the old neighbourhood to stock up on bread, and also in part on deliveries of bread to some of the Italian enclaves to the west and northwest, including all the way out to the Abruzzese community by Irving Park and Cumberland. Given the volume of business, an upgrade in the oven became necessary and in 1960 Frank Masi had a new one, with a capacity of roughly 300 pounds of bread, custom built for the bakery by the Faulds firm of Chicago.

    Thanks to the business from loyal customers who have left the Taylor and Western neighbourhood -- in some cases, long ago -- but still with religious regularity return to buy their bread from the Masis, the business, which at some point was given the name 'Italian Superior Bakery', has been able to survive the gradual but steady dwindling of the local Italian population and the onset of some tough times in the area. The worst period lasted from about 1970 to 1990, when 'Tri-Taylor' struggled as a shrinking middle class enclave surrounded by aging industrial sites and patches of full-blown urban blight. Drug dealing along Western Avenue was rampant and violent crime, including murders, was hardly unknown. But the Masis persevered and even experimented with expanding the business to include a salumeria in the late 1980's. Unfortunately, the expansion failed and one suspects that the state of the fringes of the Tri-Taylor neighbourhood and the reputation of the area may have played a part, for in the same period Conte di Savoia moved from their Roosevelt Street location to their current site on Taylor Street in the established restaurant row to the east of the Medical District; in that well-travelled setting, that store has thriven. But in the course of the 1990's and the first years of the new millennium, the rough surroundings of the Tri-Taylor island have been largely pacified and increasingly renewed and the whole area seems to be a likely target for full-fledged gentrification. But meanwhile, Frank and his brothers have seen business slacken a bit, as old customers die off and potential new ones either follow the Atkins diet or else unthinkingly settle for the baked goods produced under industrial conditions.

    After 71 years of essentially continual, full time operation, the Masis cut their days of baking production down to just four per week in January, 2005. It appears that the end of an era grows nigh, though in the meantime, the residents of Tri-Taylor and those who travel there can still enjoy on most days the pleasure of eating freshly baked bread made by a single master baker who clearly and genuinely loves his work.

    ***

    Given the location of Masi's Italian Superior Bakery, casual walk-in customers are not very numerous; most of the people who come into the store are in some sense regulars, either from the neighbourhood or from a family that used to be in the neighbourhood or in some cases just people who are willing to go out of their way for good Italian bread: To whatever degree the first-time visitor doesnt feel embraced, they should bear this fact in mind. For me, I felt recognised and welcome and appreciated as a customer after a second visit and have since found both Joe and Frank, the two brothers who almost always are present during business hours to be genuinely friendly, not offering the trained smile and politesse of the modern food industry, but a smile or grin of dimensions appropriate to the moment and a verbal greeting, often but never formulaicly by name. And this basic genuineness of the Masi brothers is very much reflected in the products that they make in their bakery.

    The bulk of the business is in basic Italian bread, which they make in a range of sizes and shapes. These days, most of the bread produced comes in an elongated (but not long and narrow) form, the filone, with the commonly produced sizes being the half pound ($1.00), pound ($1.90), one and a half pound and two pounds. If one wishes, one can place an order ahead of time for round loaves and Frank will make them, and custom ordered loaves can conceivably be even larger than two pounds; in the old days, some families would order -- and a few occasionally still do -- round loaves or filoni of three or even six pounds. Similarly shaped and sized loaves of whole wheat bread are also available.

    Aside from the staple Italian white and whole wheat loaves, the Masis also make pan loaves, that is, white sandwich bread. Long loaves of 'French' bread, which undergo an especially long second rising, are made on the weekends and on special order. Small rolls can also be ordered. Also very much worthy of note is the completely unsweetened cornbread that they occasionally make in small long loaves, another item one should probably order ahead of time. The Masi's make freselle, the double-baked rusks that come in the form of rings, that one must soak in broth or sauce and which are especially great accompaniments to dishes such as escarole and beans; the freselle are made with regular and whole wheat dough. Last of the basic bread products are bread crumbs which are sold in large bags and which I particularly appreciate precisely because in each bag their is a range in crumb size, from very fine to quite coarse, allowing the cook greater flexibility.

    Some other baked products that the Masis make are square pan pizzas, the basic version of which is dressed with tomato sauce and mozzarella, but the pizza can also be had with spinach, ricotta, or excellent Italian sausage that is supplied to the bakery by the people who run Fontano's over in the eastern part of the Taylor Street neighbourhood on Polk (1058 W. Polk). Following a tradition that I grew up with, the Masis make their anchovy pizza with no cheese whatsoever; just the tomato sauce, some oregano and pieces of the little fish.

    The only sweet item produced at the Italian Superior Bakery that I know of are the lemon flavoured taralli, rings of cookie-like dough made with butter, eggs, sugar and lemon oil. These are quite delicious and bear the unmistakeable mark of Italian culinary restraint; they are only barely sweet, just enough so that the sweetness offers a balanced counterpoint to the flavour of lemon.

    As to the quality of the basic bread, I think it is excellent. But I must add that my appreciation of it has grown greater over time, as I have discovered the particular virtues and best applications of the various sizes and shapes. Be advised, it is not sourdough bread and with regard to texture it tends slightly toward the denser crumb; the crust is crispy and properly substantial and, if one so desires, one can request a loaf baked lighter or darker. I must also add that I am often faced with the not too tragic dilemma of having to decide between getting a basic white Italian loaf or a loaf of the whole wheat bread, which I believe to be the best I've had in town. On the weekends, I am wont to opt for also buying a French loaf; these traditional Italian takes on the French baguette have a more delicate and airier crumb than the filoni and make beautifully light and crispy and very tasty platforms for sandwiches. The corn bread is also quite delicious as well as unusual.

    With regard to the pizza, Masi's product is a fine version of my favourite genre of pizza in Chicago, the basic, humble, simple bakery-style pan pizza, made with bread dough and dressed soberly and simply. At $2.50 for a very large slice (large enough that it warrants being cut in half and packed folded over for ease of handling), this item has become a regular lunch item for my family. But beware, the pizza is popular and often sells out quite early.

    One last aspect of the Italian Superior Bakery must be mentioned here. I indicated above that at one point, the Masis had tried to expand the business to include a full salumeria but ended up closing that side of operations. Yet, as an added bonus to those who buy their bread at the store, the Masis also sell a number of basic Italian packaged goods and do so at quite remarkably good prices. The offerings are limited to a few brands of olive oil, canned tomatoes and beans, jarred items such as giardiniera, canned anchovies and tuna, and a range of Don Peppe pasta products. Large cans of Nina brand pomodori pelati for $1.27 is an excellent bargain and litre bottles of Oro di Sicilia for $5.25 keeps our household well stocked with a fine basic extra virgin olive oil at less than the cost of lower grade oils in most stores. For those who live here in the neighbourhood, this aspect of the bakery is a wonderful convenience.


    *******

    In Paris today millions of pounds of bread are sold daily, made during the previous night by those strange, half-naked beings one glimpses through cellar windows, whose wild-seeming cries floating out of those depths always makes a painful impression. In the morning, one sees these pale men, still white with flour, carrying a loaf under one arm, going off to rest and gather new strength to renew their hard and useful labor when night comes again. I have always highly esteemed the brave and humble workers who labor all night to produce those soft but crusty loaves...
    Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870).

    The neighbourhood bakery is in most parts of the United States a thing of the past. Admittedly, in strongly ethnic areas they survive -- one thinks of the Mexican panaderias -- and in upscale urban settings and wealthy suburbs, the recently discovered 'artisanal' approach to bread making is coming to be increasingly represented. But for the most part, Americans have for many decades now consumed primarily bread that is made in large-scale factories, which are typically well removed from places where pedestrians pass by.

    During the several years I lived in Belgium and during my many long visits to France and Italy, all countries where bread is taken very seriously, neighbourhood bakeries have survived far better than they have in 'Middle America' and my first real exposure to such small bakeries was in fact in Belgium. Like almost everyone in Leuven, the Flemish city where I lived, I had certain favourite bakeries for specific kinds of bread but also could rely on a small bakery within a relatively few steps of my front door for fresh basic bread and rolls on any and all mornings. But an especially vivid memory of bakeries in Leuven involves not the buying or eating of bread but, in an odd way, the making of bread: After a long evening and night of drinking Belgium's mighty brews with fellow students and ne'er-do-wells, wending my way home through perfectly silent and deserted cobblestone streets in the hours before dawn, I would every now and again pass by a building with one or two basement windows lit up and emanating from these windows were muffled sounds of activity and, if it were a little closer to dawn, the wonderful smell of baking bread.

    Perhaps the Parisian bakers of Dumas' times were more vocal than those of nearby Belgium, for I never heard any wild-seeming cries, but otherwise I very much concur with the sentiments Dumas expresses in the citation above. But in addition to admiring those who produce the 'soft but crusty loaves', I have also long been curious about just how professional bread bakers go about their work. Now, these days I am infinitely more likely to be waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. to go to my desk and work than I am to be walking home well-sated from a café, and so I asked Frank Masi if I could come to his bakery and see how he and the others produce the daily bread. The following pictures were all taken at the Italian Superior Bakery over the course of a few visits during which I observed and minimally got to help with the process.

    At 3:30 a.m., having just tumbled out of bed and into the frigid January cold of Chicago, I am greeted by this poster for 'La Dolce Vita' hanging near the bakery's front door; an ironic reminder that while some may frolic barefoot in a fountain in the middle of the night with Anita Ekberg, others are setting to work:

    Image

    The process of making the bread actually starts with a short session the preceding evening; at about 6:30 or 7 p.m., the dough is made, with mixing of the basic white bread dough taking place in this large machine. After mixing, the dough is cut and weighed and rolled into balls, which are then set into wooden 'boxes' for the first rising. For an average size bake, this stage takes something on the order of an hour and a half to two hours.

    Image

    When the second session starts, one of the first steps is to take the risen balls of dough (pictured below), knock the air out of them, shape them into loaves and return them to the boxes for the second rising.

    Image

    The actual baking or, as Frank Masi says, 'cooking' doesn't start until the first of the shorter rising loaves have had enough time to rise a second time; thereafter, baking and loaf-making co-occur for a time. Herebelow are some of the first Italian loaves, filoni, already well along in the 'cooking' process:

    Image

    Below are pictured some whole wheat loaves which have finished their second rise and are now being placed in the oven:

    Image

    Frank, who does all his work with that curious mixture of focus and seeming nonchalance, here scores the loaves on the peel:


    Image

    In a commercial setting, a considerable amount of attention must be spent on the logistical organisation of all the steps of the baking process for all the various items being made that day; all the different tasks have to be integrated into an efficient plan. And one of the factors that a baker must keep careful track of is how the items are arranged inside the oven. For an oven with a capacity of 300 pounds, which has its quirks with regard to hotter and cooler spots, a considerable amount of experience and expertise is required to get the job done well. Here Frank is checking and rearranging loaves as they bake:

    Image

    A nicely filled bin of freshly baked 2 pound filoni:

    Image

    Four hours into his work, as customers are really starting to come into the shop to pick up orders, Frank is still carefully checking and rearranging loaves as they cook:

    Image

    A still bubbling pizza dressed with sausage rests for a moment beside the oven:

    Image

    The last breads to be cooked are the pan loaves and the French loaves, which are baked last because their second rising takes longest:

    Image

    As the baking is almost complete, the task of cleaning up and putting all the boxes and wrapping sheets in order for the next day's work still lies ahead:

    Image

    The Italian Superior Bakery still has its old fashioned counter, complete with the roller for wrapping paper at the far end. On the counter are displayed a pizza (one slice has already been cut out), the delicious, lemony taralli, and in the foreground bags of bread crumbs:

    Image

    The colourful (though slightly faded) sign of Masi's Italian Superior Bakery has become a familiar and very welcome sight to me, with its combination of the Italian tricolore and the outline of the 'boot':

    Image

    The bakery occupies two spaces, though all the baking tools and the main counter are in the more southerly space. This last picture, looking north along the eastern side of Western Avenue, also looks back in time, in a sense, for in the distance, the next to last building visible (white, just before the blue awning) is 915 Western Avenue, the first site of Salvatore Masi's Western Avenue Bread bakery and shop:

    Image

    Italian Superior Bakery
    933 South Western Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois 60612
    Phone: 312-733-5092
    Open: Tuesday-Sunday
    Fresh bread baked: Thursday-Sunday.



    Antonius
    Chicago
    January/February 2005

    Typos corrected. Post site-move character problems fixed.
    Last edited by Antonius on August 14th, 2005, 1:32 pm, edited 6 times in total.
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #2 - February 25th, 2005, 9:46 am
    Post #2 - February 25th, 2005, 9:46 am Post #2 - February 25th, 2005, 9:46 am
    Great report from one of the long-mysterious places along Western (at least I remember people talking about having a hard time finding it open, or finding it with any food left, etc. when we were planning the long-ago Westernathon). Very atmospheric photos, you're picking that up pretty quickly.

    Another bit of history for Western Ave.-- the wide, car-oriented streets made it not only an early magnet for car dealerships in the growing city but really for any business related to trucking. One of these was, interestingly enough, movie production in the pre-WWI era, before the industry consolidated in Hollywood. (Incidentally, as a New Jersey native do you know what town was the first movie capital?) Just south of Irving, kind of behind a car lot on the east side of Western, there's an old buff-colored building that's gone condo, and if you turn off Western to look at its entrance, you'll see an elaborately carved S over the entrance-- the logo of the Selig Polyscope studio.
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  • Post #3 - February 25th, 2005, 9:52 am
    Post #3 - February 25th, 2005, 9:52 am Post #3 - February 25th, 2005, 9:52 am
    Wow!

    Thanks for worming your way inside! Is this the result of fasting?

    I hope ReneG adds his somewhat contrasting story of "earning" a bread at Masi.

    Rob
  • Post #4 - February 25th, 2005, 11:16 am
    Post #4 - February 25th, 2005, 11:16 am Post #4 - February 25th, 2005, 11:16 am
    Antonius,

    That is really a wonderful writeup. Amongst a number of other things, it has piqued my interest in Chicago's own Faulds Oven Equipment. In the photo, above, one can clearly make out the lining of the bread oven. Were you able to learn of, or discern its composition? Is it stone? Is it a composite material?

    This reminded me that the oven in the picture that I took at Larsa's was manufactured by Faulds Oven Equipment.

    Poking around the web, I came across this writeup on a small bakery operation in Amherst, WI, with a very special Faulds Oven.

    Regards,
    Erik M.
  • Post #5 - February 25th, 2005, 11:17 am
    Post #5 - February 25th, 2005, 11:17 am Post #5 - February 25th, 2005, 11:17 am
    Wonderful.

    While James Ward is not Antonius, here's some decent information about the two D'Amato's

    http://abclocal.go.com/wls/news/ward/08 ... amato.html
    Last edited by JeffB on February 25th, 2005, 11:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #6 - February 25th, 2005, 11:35 am
    Post #6 - February 25th, 2005, 11:35 am Post #6 - February 25th, 2005, 11:35 am
    A,

    What a piece of documentation: a jaw-dropping combination of scholarship, jourmalism, and love.

    "Given the location of Masi's Italian Superior Bakery, casual walk-in customers are not very numerous; most of the people who come into the store are in some sense regulars" -- I have a sense that, after LTH readers get a hold of this report, there may be some irregulars walking into Masi, and I'll be one of them (though I won't expect a smile right off the bat).

    Thanks for the historical and insider perspective on Masi.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #7 - February 25th, 2005, 3:07 pm
    Post #7 - February 25th, 2005, 3:07 pm Post #7 - February 25th, 2005, 3:07 pm
    Outstanding write-up. Wonderfully informative.

    For what it's worth, I recall years ago seeing a factoid that Western Avenue is indeed the longest street in the world within one city -- about 24 miles from north border to south.
    Where there’s smoke, there may be salmon.
  • Post #8 - February 25th, 2005, 4:00 pm
    Post #8 - February 25th, 2005, 4:00 pm Post #8 - February 25th, 2005, 4:00 pm
    Thanks for the report on Masi's, I look forward to checking it out.

    Were you able to gleam from them what temperature they operate their oven? I assume it's a natural gas oven, which limits them.

    Any tasting comparisons out there with Masi's bread?
    there's food, and then there's food
  • Post #9 - February 25th, 2005, 4:12 pm
    Post #9 - February 25th, 2005, 4:12 pm Post #9 - February 25th, 2005, 4:12 pm
    Antonious,

    Simply an incredible post and one that I will reread a number of times.

    Picture wise, what the hell happened to the learning curve with the new digital camera/post pictures to the internet? You seem to have skipped ahead to very damn good.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #10 - February 25th, 2005, 4:33 pm
    Post #10 - February 25th, 2005, 4:33 pm Post #10 - February 25th, 2005, 4:33 pm
    Some responses to posts concerning Masi's:

    ***

    Rien:

    I don't think their bread is available in any other shops or groceries around here but I will check and find out for certain.

    ***

    Jonah:

    I too grew up near and in New York and the bread you describe is widespread out that way. Also fairly widespread is the semolina bread (bright yellow crumb thanks to the semolina used in making the dough, and usually also with sesame on top). Neither of those seem to be common out in this part of the country, though as JeffB notes, D'Amato's does make loaves with sesame.

    My guess is that those are traditionally 'special occasion' breads that just happened really to catch on in the New York/New Jersey area and more and more of the bakeries felt they had to offer them. I wouldn't say categorically that I've never seen that sesame-encrusted bread in Lazio or Campania, but it certainly isn't an everyday sort of bread, as you indicate.

    To my knowledge, the Masis don't make that style of bread but I bet you might get Frank to do it for you.

    ***

    MikeG:

    I was aware of the role Jersey played in early film-making but thanks for the link to the book, which I'd like to take a look at. Fort Lee is just a short way up the road from the town I spent my childhood in. I should mention too that I went to grad school in Ithaca, New York, which was also an important place in the early history of American cinema. I believe a number of silent films and later also at least parts of many talkies, including the Tarzan films, were shot in and around the forests and steep glens and waterfalls of the area. But I had no idea Western Ave was also part of early cinema history.

    By the way, thanks to you and all the Westernathon participants who helped increase my awareness of the treasures of that amazing avenue long before I ended up living but a block away from it.

    ***

    More anon.

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #11 - February 26th, 2005, 2:08 pm
    Post #11 - February 26th, 2005, 2:08 pm Post #11 - February 26th, 2005, 2:08 pm
    I suspect (and hope) I was not the only LTH-er to find my way to Western Avenue this morning. The service could not have been friendlier. I picked up a loaf of white and another of whole wheat--both crunchy and delicious. The pizza choices at 8:10 were anchovy, spinach, and cheese. I mentioned "Antonius" and he said "oh, yeah, Tony. He was here a long time. Do you read that stuff?" He was clearly pleased though. He asked where I lived and when I said Oak Park, he said that wasn't far and said "you've probably driven by here a million times before and not stopped in." I said sure, of course, though I honestly can't remember ever being on that particular stretch of Western. But it was a great discovery and I'm looking forward to hearing about the rest of the interesting-looking neighborhood spots.
  • Post #12 - February 26th, 2005, 9:14 pm
    Post #12 - February 26th, 2005, 9:14 pm Post #12 - February 26th, 2005, 9:14 pm
    How funny, Ann!! I was there at 9 am... Picked up a loaf of white bread, breadsticks, two slices of pizza, and the lemon "cookie" (his words not mine...) Total = $8 bucks and change...

    Driving away from there, I decides to try the lemon cookie, and felt something warm in the bag. To my delight, the bread was warm. There is nothing like freshly baked bread. I was in bread heaven... Finished the whole loaf as I was driving home. My car still smells like frshly baked bread.

    I was tempted to buy some olive oil and pomodori pelati that was mentioned by Antonius, but decided to leave it till tomorrow.
  • Post #13 - February 28th, 2005, 4:26 pm
    Post #13 - February 28th, 2005, 4:26 pm Post #13 - February 28th, 2005, 4:26 pm
    Erik:

    I tried to find out some more about Fauld's and the oven at Italian Superior Bakery (ISB) but so far haven't come up with that much. The interior of the Masi's oven is lined with bricks that have a special texture and surely heat-retaining qualities but Frank Masi couldn't say what the specific materials used to make the bricks were.

    From what I hear, the Fauld's name was sold and nowadays the company is no longer in the business of manufacturing ovens but rather in servicing them and dealing in other sorts of bakery-related products. I would like to find out more about this company. I'll post if I have success.

    Nice picture of the oven at Larsa's...

    ***

    Rich:

    Obviously I like ISB's bread a lot and sufficiently so that I would put it together with D'Amato's at the top tier of local Italian bread bakers. The Masi's basic bread is different from what I regard as D'Amato's main or best type, the sour dough (filoni or double-bubble loaves) and at this point I'm very happy having Masi's as the nearby, everyday bread and, when the spirit moves me or if I run out during the days when ISB is closed, Conte di Savoia is pretty near by and I can easily get the D'Amato's sour dough for a change.

    I mentioned above that I think ISB's whole wheat bread is my favourite I've had around here. The cornbread (pan di granturco) I haven't seen anywhere else and the French-style loaves (N.B. this is not the same style as classic baguettes such as one buys at Medici or Fox and Obel!) are very different from ISB's basic bread in texture and form. But for them, I don't have any recent point of comparison.

    I still haven't been to a few of the far-west suburban bakeries but so far none of the ones I've tried match up with ISB and D'Amato's. Turano and Gonnella are industrial products and not worth considering in this context.

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #14 - February 28th, 2005, 4:52 pm
    Post #14 - February 28th, 2005, 4:52 pm Post #14 - February 28th, 2005, 4:52 pm
    We're still working on our loaves of white and whole wheat from Saturday and I have to say they're still both very good. We made steak sandwiches with the white Saturday evening and have been having grilled cheese on white or whole wheat for breakfast every morning. A neighbor mentioned Sunday morning that she'd just bought the Great Harvest franchise at Lake and Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park. My first [unspoken] reaction was "why can't you make bread like Italian Superior bakery?" It really is excellent bread, made especially distinctive by the great crust. I like Freddy's (in Cicero) bread a lot, but although Freddy's tastes great and is very satisfying to chew, the crust isn't nearly as wonderful as ISB. I'm sorry they don't have the whole wheat in anything but one pound loaves, since the slices are so small. The slices from the pound and a half white are better for sandwiches, but I think next time I'll try a two-pounder. Thank you again Antonious, for your scholarship, eloquence, and enthusiasm.
  • Post #15 - February 28th, 2005, 4:57 pm
    Post #15 - February 28th, 2005, 4:57 pm Post #15 - February 28th, 2005, 4:57 pm
    Antonius wrote:I still haven't been to a few of the far-west suburban bakeries but so far none of the ones I've tried match up with ISB and D'Amato's. Turano and Gonnella are industrial products and not worth considering in this context.

    Antonius


    First, let me say, that us in the Oak Park, Melrose Park, Elmwood Park, River Forest, Forest Park area think of ourselves as the NEAR Western suburbs--far western being Naperville and other counties west.

    Anyways, I'd be curious for you to try La Spiga D'Oro in Elmwood Park and see how you compare it to Masi's or D'Amato's. It is up there with Freddy's as my two favorite Italian breads.

    La Spiga D'Oro
    21 1/2 Conti
    Elmwood Park, IL
  • Post #16 - February 28th, 2005, 5:40 pm
    Post #16 - February 28th, 2005, 5:40 pm Post #16 - February 28th, 2005, 5:40 pm
    Ann Fisher wrote:I'm sorry they don't have the whole wheat in anything but one pound loaves, since the slices are so small. The slices from the pound and a half white are better for sandwiches, but I think next time I'll try a two-pounder.


    Ann -

    Are you slicing the loaf on the bias (i.e. diagonal)? You can usually get a decent sandwich slice if you cut at 45 degrees.

    rien
  • Post #17 - March 1st, 2005, 11:48 am
    Post #17 - March 1st, 2005, 11:48 am Post #17 - March 1st, 2005, 11:48 am
    Ann Fisher wrote:We're still working on our loaves of white and whole wheat from Saturday and I have to say they're still both very good. We made steak sandwiches with the white Saturday evening and have been having grilled cheese on white or whole wheat for breakfast every morning.


    Ann:

    I'm really happy that you a) tried Italian Superior Bakery's bread and b) liked it so much. One of the qualities of the Masis' basic Italian bread (white and whole wheat) is precisely what you comment on here: that it stays good for so long. This was a crucial feature of bread in the old days, when baking would only take place once a week at home or when a family would for monetary reasons be able to buy only one very large loaf to last for several days. Of course, the larger loaves stay better longer but even the one pound and half pound loaves, if stored well (I use multiple paper bags), stay good for a surprising amount of time.

    In this regard, the French-style bread, with its airier crumb, is more prone to dry out but even so, I find it keeps well for a day or so. For breakfast today I just had the last (butt-end) piece of the loaf I bought Sunday and it was still pretty darn good.

    It really is excellent bread, made especially distinctive by the great crust. I like Freddy's (in Cicero) bread a lot, but although Freddy's tastes great and is very satisfying to chew, the crust isn't nearly as wonderful as ISB. I'm sorry they don't have the whole wheat in anything but one pound loaves, since the slices are so small. The slices from the pound and a half white are better for sandwiches, but I think next time I'll try a two-pounder.


    The following point probably got buried in the middle of the long post above but the sizes and types usually available are, at least insofar as I've been able to see:

    white Italian bread: .5, 1, 1.5 and 2 pound loaves
    whole wheat: 1, 1.5, sometimes 2 pound loaves.

    Frank also makes a variant on the 1 pound loaves: 'long loaves', which are allowed to rise a little longer and, instead of the deep cut down the centre, they are scored a few time cross-wise and not very deeply.

    But if you know you'll be going there and want something specific, give a call the day or early evening before and order it. They will make special sizes (3, 4, even 6 pound loaves, white or whole wheat) and will also make round loaves for you, which are nice for giving big slices for sandwiches. For sub-style sandwiches, I find the half-pound loaves perfect in size, sliced down the middle book-style and then cut in half for two normal sized sandwiches or left whole for the mangiatore forte.

    For pizza or French loaves, unless you'll be going fairly early, it makes sense to call ahead and they'll set aside your order.

    Would anyone out there want to try their corn bread? They only make it these days if they get an order and I think I might order a loaf this Sunday.

    Thank you again Antonious, for your scholarship, eloquence, and enthusiasm.


    Thanks to you and others for the very kind words expressed above. It took a lot of time and work to put the above piece together and it's extremely rewarding to hear that the effort was appreciated.

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #18 - March 1st, 2005, 1:35 pm
    Post #18 - March 1st, 2005, 1:35 pm Post #18 - March 1st, 2005, 1:35 pm
    On Saturday at 8 a.m. they told me they only had the whole wheat in one pound loaves. I'd asked orginally for a 1.5 pounder. I won't be here this weekend or I'd join you in trying the corn bread.

    I will have to try slicing on the diagonal next time--oddly enough it never occurred to me, although now that I think about the sandwiches I've encountered over my many years, obviously that's how many of them were done!
  • Post #19 - February 17th, 2007, 12:41 pm
    Post #19 - February 17th, 2007, 12:41 pm Post #19 - February 17th, 2007, 12:41 pm
    Spiga D'Oro: closed for good?
  • Post #20 - July 27th, 2008, 8:32 am
    Post #20 - July 27th, 2008, 8:32 am Post #20 - July 27th, 2008, 8:32 am
    An Update on the Italian Superior Bakery

    Frank Masi and his brothers, Joe and Sam, decided to retire back in late 2006 or 2007 and the Italian Superior Bakery was closed for quite an extended period of time, while Frank sought some serious person or persons who would want to take over the business. The Saccameno family did just that and after renovating the interior of the bakery a good bit, they then worked together with Frank for a time to learn his recipes for all the items that made the ISB such an excellent bakery for so many decades. The Saccamenos reopened the bakery back in late April and have done a fine job both in producing excellent bread, sheet pizza ("pizza bread") and other items and the business seems to have been growing steadily and hopefully soon will be really thriving. They have also added some new items, especially some different offerings of dressings on the pizza: the fresh tomato, ricotta and basil pizza I've had a couple of times recently was especially tasty.

    Parking on the West Side of the Taylor Street neighborhood has become a minor hassle in the last couple of years but if one can't find a spot on Western right by the bakery, one often can on a little further up Western or on Taylor Street just east of Western; certainly, it is no major obstacle.

    I very much hope this outstanding family-run bakery will get the support it deserves.

    Tell 'em Tony sent you. :wink:

    Saluti a tuttë 'e viecchi amicë!
    Antonius

    Info:
    Italian Superior Bakery
    933 South Western Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60612
    The old phone number remains in service: 312.733.5092
    New hours: Tues.-Sun. 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    For orders call by 6 p.m. the previous day
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #21 - July 27th, 2008, 11:48 pm
    Post #21 - July 27th, 2008, 11:48 pm Post #21 - July 27th, 2008, 11:48 pm
    Fantastic report, Antonius, and thank you for the pleasure reading this and your Nuevo Leon update. I might stop at the bakery later this week in conjunction with some Tio Luis antojitos.
  • Post #22 - July 29th, 2008, 10:28 am
    Post #22 - July 29th, 2008, 10:28 am Post #22 - July 29th, 2008, 10:28 am
    Santander wrote:Fantastic report, Antonius, and thank you for the pleasure reading this and your Nuevo Leon update. I might stop at the bakery later this week in conjunction with some Tio Luis antojitos.


    Thank you very much for the kind words, Santander... Do check out ISB... if there is something specific you want and have the chance, call ahead and ask them to hold it for you...

    A
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #23 - July 29th, 2008, 3:18 pm
    Post #23 - July 29th, 2008, 3:18 pm Post #23 - July 29th, 2008, 3:18 pm
    Antonius
    I loved that this thread was revived. Otherwise I would have never known of its existence. Anyway, I became your fan when I read your post about an under done hamburger that you just could not be soothed by apologetic management. Somehow that really stuck in my mind.
  • Post #24 - July 31st, 2008, 6:32 am
    Post #24 - July 31st, 2008, 6:32 am Post #24 - July 31st, 2008, 6:32 am
    Great news, Antonius! Do you know if they learned the corn bread recipe??????
  • Post #25 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:20 am
    Post #25 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:20 am Post #25 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:20 am
    Ann Fisher wrote:Great news, Antonius! Do you know if they learned the corn bread recipe??????


    Ann,

    Greetings and apologies for the delayed response...

    Yes, they did learn that as well and will make the cornbread* on request, though I haven't had any since the Saccamenos took over... I think for their sake it might do well if we join forces and order together a small batch, to make it less of a pain for them.

    By the way, I always especially loved Frank's whole wheat bread and a just got a loaf of that yesterday and it was really delicious... up to Frank's standards, to be sure.

    A

    * This style of cornbread is discussed briefly in the long article I wrote about the bakery and again in a thread generated when I organised a bake/buy thereof:
    viewtopic.php?p=25907#p25907
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #26 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:26 am
    Post #26 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:26 am Post #26 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:26 am
    razbry wrote:Antonius
    I loved that this thread was revived. Otherwise I would have never known of its existence. Anyway, I became your fan when I read your post about an under done hamburger that you just could not be soothed by apologetic management. Somehow that really stuck in my mind.



    Many thanks, razbry... I am delighted you enjoyed the long post... Do check out the bakery...

    About the hamburger... are you sure that was me?... I like my burgers medium rare or rare... I also like 'em raw!:
    Image
    :wink:
    viewtopic.php?p=84179#p84179
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #27 - August 2nd, 2008, 1:58 pm
    Post #27 - August 2nd, 2008, 1:58 pm Post #27 - August 2nd, 2008, 1:58 pm
    I'm in on any bread order. I just re-read that thread remembered how superb it was. (The bread, that is, but the thread is pretty good, too).
  • Post #28 - August 2nd, 2008, 4:35 pm
    Post #28 - August 2nd, 2008, 4:35 pm Post #28 - August 2nd, 2008, 4:35 pm
    I would love one, but I have no idea how I would get it since I work in the loop and live in the southern suburbs. Ann, is another impromptu cornbread fundraiser in order?

    Suzy
    " There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life."
    - Frank Zappa
  • Post #29 - August 4th, 2008, 5:25 am
    Post #29 - August 4th, 2008, 5:25 am Post #29 - August 4th, 2008, 5:25 am
    I was hungry for a loaf of bread, but now I have a craving for hackepeter at Laschet's. . .
  • Post #30 - November 5th, 2008, 3:39 pm
    Post #30 - November 5th, 2008, 3:39 pm Post #30 - November 5th, 2008, 3:39 pm
    I wrote a story on the new generation at Italian Superior Bakery (with a touch of the old generation's story - though Antonius certainly tells that story better than anyone - Thanks so much!) in this week's Sun Times food section. Wanted folks to see it, because with the Obama cover, the physical paper is hard to find today...

    Hearth to Hearth
    MJN "AKA" Michael Nagrant
    http://www.michaelnagrant.com

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