For more than 16 years, beginning in 1996, Bill and Lauren Kurzman have run a popular bakery on Bend's west side. A loyal clientele has earned the Village Baker a reputation as one of Central Oregon's best places to find freshly baked bread, specialty sandwiches and hearty soups.
“Our focus has always been on the bread," Bill Kurzman told me in 2008. “It is an Old World-style bread, a good crusty bread made with quality ingredients, naturally leavened and slow-fermented so it develops flavor. That is what separates us."
In 2009, the bakery moved into a second location off Greenwood Avenue on Bend's east side, a spot that it calls the East Village. Set back on Windy Knolls Avenue, behind a branch of Sterling Bank and opposite a Bend Pet Express outlet, it doesn't get much street exposure. But east-siders who have not yet discovered the Village are missing out.
Decor is absolutely minimal; there isn't so much as a poster on the walls, although several large windows (facing a parking area) welcome plenty of outside light. Furnishings are limited to a dozen odd basic wooden tables and chairs on a painted concrete floor. But that only serves to direct more attention to the racks of bread — French-style levain and Italian biga — that are displayed behind the counter.
Prompt and friendly attendants describe daily specials, take orders and relay them to the staff in the spacious adjoining kitchen. Names are shouted out when orders are ready.
Village bakers ferment their mixture of flour, water and yeast for 24 hours before shaping and baking it.
And that makes their sandwiches something special.
Black Butte Porter levain, made with a French sourdough starter and flavored with one of the Deschutes Brewery's signature beers, is a dark, Bavarian-style barley-and-rye bread, moist and slightly sweet. As the bread used in a Black Forest ham sandwich, it is a perfect choice to match the meat and Gruyere cheese. The bread is dressed with dijon mustard and tangy horseradish aioli. Green leaf lettuce and slices of red onion and tomato complete the sandwich.
One of my favorites among the dozen-plus choices on the East Village menu is turkey with strawberry salsa. Served on unsweetened, whole-wheat levain — with its thick crust and soft center — are multiple slices of turkey with the house-made sauce that appeared to blend cranberries with strawberries.
At the very least, it was a good alternative to cranberries with turkey, and one that nicely complemented the sandwich's creamy Brie cheese. Slices of cucumber were too thick for my liking, but leaf lettuce and red onion, with a light spread of mayonnaise, were perfect.
This is one of five turkey sandwiches on the Village menu. Other options include “turkey too," with Gruyere and a roasted shallot puree, and “another turkey," with provolone and basil pesto. There are also roast beef, salami, tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad and garden vegetable options.
Soups and salad
I've always liked the soups at the west-side Village Baker. The East Village has done nothing to change my opinion.
Especially good is tomato basil soup, a menu standard. A cream-based blend of tomatoes and roasted red peppers with basil pesto and Parmesan cheese, this is a soup with textured flavors that make me forget what my mother once served me with grilled-cheese sandwiches.
And it comes with a rustic pandura roll, made with fermented slurry that — like the levain — is left for 24 hours before baking. There are two types: regular or with rosemary.
I did not find the East Village's chicken soup to be as satisfying as the tomato bisque. The broth was too light, the wild rice too little in quantity. Although the menu indicated that it was simmered with fresh rosemary, I found it virtually without seasoning, in dire need of salt and pepper. All the same, I know it was healthy, with celery, carrot, onion, kale and small pieces of chicken.
I do like the baker's salad, which comes without any baked items. I enjoyed it with a house-made gorgonzola ranch dressing. Seasonal greens are tossed with a variety of fruits and nuts — dried cherries, toasted sunflower seeds and candied pecans — along with chevre cheese. It's a nice mix.
Mornings at the East Village are a time for coffee and pastries. And what pastries they are: cinnamon swirls, blueberry coffee-cake muffins, caramel apple tarts, ham-and-cheese croissants. My dining companion and I had to try them all. And each was delicious.
The Village also serves a $6 breakfast sandwich on a pandura roll until 11 a.m. daily. Herbs are blended into a small omelet square, which is then served with melted white cheddar, bacon and tomato on bread spread with cream cheese. It certainly beats an Egg McMuffin all to heck.
But my favorite breakfast here is the house-made Village Baker granola. There are two varieties, but I prefer the original, a mix of toasted oats with sunflower seeds, raisins and apricots, sweetened with touches of honey and maple syrup. A bowl is just $2.99, but a 20-ounce bag is $8.50, and you can plan on at least five breakfasts out of it.
It's easy to understand the loyal following that the Kurzmans and their staff have earned over the years.
The Pho House, a casual Vietnamese cafe in Redmond Plaza, opened Tuesday to celebrate its grand opening. The cafe plans to be open daily for lunch and dinner. 1604 S. U.S. Highway 97, Suite 9, Redmond; 541-526-5474.
Amalia's has closed. A sign placed in early December on the front door of the popular downtown Bend Mexican restaurant announced a four-day closure for “reorganization," but the restaurant has not reopened. The restaurant opened in April 2010. Previous occupants were Hans' continental restaurant and a short-lived pasta cafe. 915 N.W. Wall St., Bend.