Author Henry Miller once remarked that Americans didn't know squat about bread. They didn't know how to eat it, they didn't know how to bake it, they didn't appreciate it as the staff of life.
If Miller had made a swing through North County before embarking on one of his sojourns to Paris, he would have discovered that North County is filled with people who know about bread, its link to times gone by, and certainly how to bake it.
French, Italian, Jewish Rye, Danish Apple Nut. German Black. Whether it's baguettes or bagels, there is a bakery in almost every community.
Which is not to say that most people don't settle for the convenience of buying commercial bread off the shelf in the same store they buy their milk, Cheerios and dog food. Nationally, it's estimated that commercial bakeries produce 95% of all bread consumed.
But, for those who think bread merits a separate list, there are a lot of choices. Here is a sampling of North County bakeries:
On California 78 on the way to Julian, lies Dudley's, the granddaddy of all bread lines. There, on any given weekend, hundreds of people can be found forming a vine winding around the roadside bakery.
In years past, Dudley's customers could expect hours-long waits. Since the introduction of an automatic bread slicer/bagging machine four years ago, the average wait for a loaf of bread is now closer to half an hour.
Breads like mesa grande mission, cheddar cheese, jalapeno, potato, sweet French and the biggest seller--raisin date nut--are inducements enough to stand in line for as long as it takes. Except for some cookies, a soft molasses fruit bar and some danish, Dudley's is strictly a bread bakery.
Seven bread bakers start each day at 4 a.m. mixing and kneading, and they pull the last loaves from the ovens between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., depending on that day's baking schedule, said bakery manager Marilee Strech. On weekdays, about 1,500 loaves are baked, and about 4,000 loaves are sold each Saturday and Sunday, she said.
The norm for Dudley's is to run out of bread on Sundays, and the bakery often closes early those days, Strech said. Any leftover bread--a rare commodity--is donated to charity.
Credit for the backcountry bakery's success can be attributed to Dudley Pratt, an El Cajon baker who opened a "small-scale bakery" in 1963 to capitalize on tourists who drove by on their way to Julian, and Mel Ashley, who bought the bakery in 1975 after Dudley died.
Ashley has since tripled the work force to 35 employees. About six years ago, Ashley did away with an adjoining restaurant and market, allowing more room for his booming bakery.
"The thing that keeps us going is that we're not just a place to buy bread, we're somewhere to go. We're cheap entertainment in these times of recession," Strech said.
Dudley's is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Cost of a loaf of bread ranges from $1.10 to $1.50. A bag of six fruit bars costs $1.55.
THE BREAD FACTORY
2525 El Camino Real
From the far east end of the Plaza Camino Real Shopping Center, there's a whole lot of commotion going on. It's coming from one shop--and one mouth.
"Have a little cheesecake, you're wasting away to nothing," presses Arnie Saltzman, the baker/owner of The Bread Factory. With a swift motion, he whacks off a slab of the cream cheesy stuff and presents it to a dieter who never stood a chance.
In between sallies with customers, Saltzman sits at a table adorned with a single carnation in a vase and grumbles fondly of bread and the life of a baker.
Saltzman opened The Bread Factory 10 years ago with his wife, Marcia. He had originally moved to California to retire after 40 years of baking at such renowned New Jersey institutions as Silver's Bakery, The Tavern Pantry and the Clairemont Diner.
But his retirement was short-lived. At the urging of friends who had been customers 30 years earlier and 3,000 miles away, Saltzman dipped his hands into the flour sack once more.
From his 1,500-square-foot facility, Saltzman and his five bakers produce about 700 loaves of bread seven days a week from recipes that have followed Saltzman over the decades. His inventory includes challah, French, sourdough, Italian, hand-rolled bagels and eight-grain, all prepared without preservatives.
Rye is one of Saltzman's biggest sellers, but here it does not sell at the volume he was accustomed to in New Jersey.
"At Silver's, we used to make a 5-pound rye bread that was about 2 feet by 10 inches, and we would cut them in quarters and sell them that way," Saltzman reminisced. "We would pile the quarters up in the morning at 5 a.m., and, at the end of the day, 50 of those 5-pound ryes were gone. That just shows you what an integral part of life bread and rolls were."