By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News
5:21 PM AKDT, June 22, 2012
Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop
$3-10 per plate
1343 G St.
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday
We’ve had a lot of news coming through the station for an early summer and it’s taken a toll on the time I’ve had for recent reviews, with the last few conducted at my desk. On a beautiful Friday, however, I decided to break the cycle and make the time to sit down somewhere to enjoy a meal Downtown.
The Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop is tucked away in a cozy residential area, south of the Park Strip in an area east of New Sagaya City Market. Parking for the place is strictly on-street with maybe a dozen spaces available on the block, which can become an issue later in the day but wasn’t when I pulled up at about 11:30 a.m., slightly ahead of the lunch rush. It’s a fairly compact bakery, with a few tables and umbrellas set up outside to accommodate customers who were largely arriving on bikes or on foot from the immediate area.
When you walk in to Fire Island’s L-shaped retail area, you’re immediately able to view the working bakery around which it’s wrapped, with half a dozen busy people behind the bread racks and pastry cases that hold much of the bakery’s offerings. After moving past the cases and making selections, the design of the place takes you to a cashier at the corner of the L where you pay for your order; there’s just enough space outside the aisle for about 10 two-seat tables, few of which were occupied during my visit.
Fire Island’s menu is hard to pin down on any given day: a standing list of items including some core types of bread, croissants and pastries are available each day, but about a dozen items on the menu -- including the entire selection of muffins, scones and sandwiches -- change every 24 hours. A variety of more substantive items, like focaccia bread, are mixed into the listed items but seem similarly variable. After taking a look at the available options, I went with a roast-beef sandwich ($10) and a piece of monkey bread from the pastry case ($3). While I paid, I was offered a free sample of chocolate cake, which I couldn’t really pass up.
The chalkboard menu modestly describes Fire Island’s roast-beef sandwich on ciabatta bread as “roast beef w/horseradish, roasted tomato,” but it’d be more accurate to call it a roasted-tomato sandwich with roast beef and horseradish. While I usually avoid horseradish because it tends to overpower everything else in a dish, the tomatoes in my sandwich -- marinated overnight in basil and garlic before roasting, according to the bakery’s website -- easily stole the show, resembling a form of tomato paste with attitude as employed on the sandwich. An equally tasty lettuce blend with endive complemented the modest portion of beef included, contributing to the sublime minimalism of a sandwich that neither included nor needed cheese.
Monkey bread, for those not familiar with it, is a decadent treat that’s made with some surprisingly simple ingredients. At its core it’s simply small pieces of dough, rolled in cinnamon sugar and thrown into a springform pan to cook up before it’s served in slices that you take apart with your fingers rather than eat with a fork. We make it at home once a year on Christmas morning with torn-up pieces of canned biscuit dough, but Fire Island is the first place where I’ve seen it for sale.
The bakery’s version is built as an overgrown cupcake rather than the larger dish on which it’s based, but is no less scrumptious for being smaller; it forgoes trappings like a cinnamon-butter-sugar glaze sometimes trickled over the cake version, but retains the same caramelized crust of sugar across its top from baking that only crumbles when you begin to chew the upper pieces. Eating it felt like Christmas in July, until I glanced at the date again. Of course, I was thankful that it was light when I tried the sample of chocolate cake, which was so darkly inviting and moist that I felt an almost instant sense of remorse (amid my oh-so-guilty pleasure) for having partaken.
Fire Island serves one of the better bakery lunches I’ve encountered in town, although it doesn’t quite compete on cost; my $10 sandwich was served a la carte, which would buy a sandwich (or a box of Asian deli) plus a drink at City Market a few blocks to the west. Where it hits back is its much better pricing and selection on pastries like the monkey bread, which was a steal at $3. Both the food and the location have a generous helping of attitude on the side, though, which are well worth a visit en route to any Downtown excursion.
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