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Hot Bread, Right Inside Their Door

Chef Frank Morales with a fresh batch of boules and his first Speakeasy Breads customer in the 'hood, Nelson Eng of Alexandria. (The Washington Post)

7:30 a.m. Friday: Yesss. First in line to buy a $3 boule at Rustico restaurant in Alexandria.

No small feat. I live in Bethesda; not a morning person. I’m here for you, dear readers, and for my colleagues expecting samples at the office.

The sandwich board sign out front says “Speakeasy Breads” and has interested a few passersby and commuters who are lurching toward Buzz Bakery across the street for morning coffee. (No bread at Buzz.)

Chef Frank Morales has been testing and baking for months, armed with a sourdough starter he brought to life 2 1/2 years ago and its three beer-infused sibling starters. Rustico bakes many kinds of breads, for its sandwiches and cheese boards. Word’s getting out.

Thirty small loaves of Achel 8° (Trappist triple ale) sourdough will come out of the wood-and-gas-powered hearth oven in waves over 45 minutes. That’s all the chef wants to sell each weekday morning. One kind of bread, one per customer, first come, first served. Cash only. Don’t call ahead to reserve.

The bread is a tidy, seven-inch round loaf with a crackly crust and a sweet smell. Tear into it hot and you get a raggedy, moist and chewy mouthful. (Wait 20 minutes or so and it’s easier to assess its lovely crumb, which seems perfect for sandwich making. After an hour, the slight tang of the ale is more distinct, too. Even more flavorful, with more of a nose, the next day, says the chef.)

7:41 a.m.: Nelson Eng, a neighborhood resident and frequent Rustico patron with coffee cup in hand, is happily surprised and plunks down his cash. “These guys are great,” he says, and leaves with boule and butter. Each purchase comes with a small container of a honey butter the chef is making just for the new Speakeasy Breads morning sale.

The butter is killer. It’s made with raw, unfiltered sourwood honey from the Golden Angels Apiary in Linville, Va. Chef Frank got to know the apiary’s products when he was at Zola. Buzz uses the honey, too. (The apiary just started selling some of its honeys at MOM's markets and Healthway Natural Foods stores in Virginia and in Hagerstown.)

7:53 a.m.: GM Jason Asher plots strategies to lure customers while chef Frank remains resolute and unfazed; he nixes a suggestion to hawk samples on the corner. It’s only the first day, with a mere tweet on Metrocurean last night to announce it. “I’m doing it because we ran into such tough straits” as a nation, the chef says. “I have a neighborhood restaurant and a neighborhood I’m proud of. I’m baking bread for folks who can come to the door.” You can tell he really wants the bread to sell itself, on its own merits.

8:20 a.m.: Seven boules sold, even with the assembling of a bread rack and beckoning display just inside the door. Not bad, considering. The Achel 8° boules won’t be used in the restaurant today, or any other day. “But there will be some happy employees who go home with bread,” chef Frank says. “I want to keep this effort separate.”

The morning’s Speakeasy Breads sale at Rustico will not take place Monday (May 18), but will start up again Tuesday at 7:30 a.m., and each weekday after that. At the Potomac Greens Drive entrance to Rustico restaurant in Alexandria.

10:02 a.m. (back at the Post): A little bread left. Butter all gone.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  May 15, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Frank Morales  
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