Halfway through my afternoon hanging around Cellar Door Provisions watching Tony Bezsylko make bread, I blurted out the following: "You realize this is crazy, right?" He laughed. At that point, he was transferring a very wet and sticky dough to a ripping hot cast iron pan. The dough had to be dropped in precisely, but since the metal was so hot, he had to use enormous oven mitts to protect his hands. Once positioned in the pan, the cover had to be placed back on top, and then set back in the oven. This is how every single loaf of bread at Cellar Door Provisions is created, and it's just one step in a ridiculously inefficient and slow system, which happens to produce the best bread I've ever tried.
I was a fan from the beginning, calling it a "genuine wonder" after my initial visit. The burnished brown crust is as crusty and flakey as you'd expect, but it's the interior that is the real marvel. I know this doesn't make much sense, but it has an almost custard-like texture—tender and almost succulent. But I didn't realize quite how good it was until I brought a whole loaf home and I couldn't keep my hands off of it. I had multiple slices for dinner, a few more an hour later, and, as all the crumbs on my shirt indicated, a ridiculous number throughout the night. Strange part is, I didn't even need to spread anything on the bread; it was delicious all on its own.
At some point that night I emailed Cellar Door Provisions in a crazed state, wondering one simple question: why is your bread so incredible?
Tony Bezsylko responded to me the next day. A few years ago he moved from San Francisco, where he had no trouble tracking down exceptional bread. But that wasn't the case here: "I had such a hard time finding great bread in Chicago I stopped eating it." He eventually decided to make his own, using Tartine Bread, the cookbook from one of San Francisco's most respected bakeries, for inspiration. After working on it for awhile, he shared the results with friends, who liked it so much they eventually started paying him for weekly loaves. That led to teaming up with Ethan Pikas and Justin Behlke for a pop-up restaurant called Thurk, and now Cellar Door Provisions. For what it's worth, I've been so obsessed with the bread I haven't had time to try much else on the menu, but I'm looking forward to fixing that soon.
So why is the bread so good? As you'd expect, it's not one thing that sets this bread apart, but a number of small steps that add up. I was lucky enough to have Bezsylko walk me through the whole process. While there is no recipe, I think this accurately shows how labor intensive this process is. To check it all out, click on the slideshow.