Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hungry Ghost Bread (Northampton, MA)

Hungry Ghost Bread, the James Beard award winning bakery located on State St. in Northampton, MA, is among my favorite places in the Pioneer Valley.  Their featured item is their bread, specifically the French batard loaves that is their primary variety, and they are very, very good at what they do.  With a ridiculously thick, crisp crust, chewy crumb, and wonderful sourdough flavor, the French batard (which they point out on their website is just their name for any of a myriad of different sourdoughs, from Italian bread to Spanish or Portuguese bread; they're all the same, in essence) is perfect for sandwiches, toast, to dip in soup or stew, and, as it turns out, really good pizza.  But, more on the pizza later.  In addition to the batard, which is made daily, they also churn out "special" breads each day, including a spelt loaf, annadama, raisin loaf, and numerous others.  I've only had a couple others, but I keep coming back to the batard because for my money, it's the best.  Speaking of money, though, it's not the cheapest bread ever; you're looking at about $5.00 per loaf, which for me is worth it, but not every week.

While bread is their specialty and their forte, I don't often leave without a few other items.  I love oatmeal raisin cookies more than just about any other sweet, and Hungry Ghost's are delectable, though I admit that it doesn't take much to please me in that category.  More telling are their chocolate chip cookies, a variety that I am far more picky about; like their bread, these cookies are crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, just like my grandmother (who I still maintain to this day made the best cookies ever) made when I was a kid, and with just the right amount of chocolate and sugar, making the cookies sweet but not cloying.  There are a couple other varieties of sweet pastries as well, but I have not partaken, though I plan to at some point.

For a more savory pastry, Hungry Ghost offers a filled pastry, which is the perfect snack for someone who is stuck in that awkward spot between lunch and dinner where anything more than several bites will ruin your appetite for later, but anything less will leave your stomach grumbling for more.  With a tender, flaky crust and just shy of smooth filling (there's just the hint of tooth to it), there is a lot of flavor packed into this small (about a three inch square) package.  I've certainly had better, but not by much, and when they're warm (either directly out of the oven or warmed in a toaster oven at home) they are really wonderful.

And lastly, the pizza.  I had not been to Hungry Ghost in several months before deciding the other day that I wanted bread, and finding that my standard go-to bread bakery (El Jardin Bakery, interestingly also started by Jonathan Stevens, the owner of Hungry Ghost, and only my go-to because it's about half the distance as Hungry Ghost is) was closed.  Upon checking out the website, I saw that, lo and behold, Hungry Ghost now has pizza!  Apparently in the time since I was last there, Hungry Ghost shut down for a few months, renovated, and got a new, giant oven that allows them to offer pizza.  I have read a few reviews that were less than positive, but I think the reason for those reviews is a lack of understanding of the type of pizza they offer.  This is not standard American thin crust (aka New York) style pizza; it is a rather more Italian offering, with a charred crust, light on the (very high quality) ingredients, and lacking what most Americans consider a necessary part of the pie, a tomato sauce.  There is also a sweetness to both the mozzarella and the crust that I suspect throws off many customers; it is light and subtle, but enough to cause people many to note that fact in their negative reviews.  I had the Margherita, with tomatoes, mozzarella fior di latte (cow's milk), basil, and EVOO, and it was probably the best of that variety I have ever had.  It's not cheap, at not less than $10 for a 12 inch pizza, but worth it on occasion.  It's also only take out.

Simply put, Hungry Ghost Breads is the best bakery I have experienced in Western Massachusetts, and second only to Standard Baking Company in Portland, ME (which I'm sure I'll write up at some point; if not, don't miss the scones there).  It is too far and too expensive for me to go weekly, but if I lived within walking distance I'd probably be a fat, broke, highly satisfied man, and I would subsist almost entirely on their cookies.

As a side note, they offer homemade granola, of which I have only had the vanilla variety (didn't like it) and now dried pasta, which I haven't had yet.  This is a no credit card establishment (which is posted, no matter what one vitriolic reviewer who has put their review on every site that will accept it, says), but in addition to cash they take personal checks and have a "bread futures" system in which you give them money in advance and they just deduct the charge from your "account" each time.


Check us out on Facebook!

No comments:

Post a Comment