Filed under: Dining
The bakery opened its doors with the goal of bringing to Philadelphia the amazing breads, its owners, Wendy Smith Born and James Barrett, had tasted in Europe. With a single rack of fresh bread and a shoebox for a cash register, Born and Barrett launched Metropolitan Bakery in 1993. Fifteen years later, what began as an "experiment" between two friends-one a restaurant manager, the other a pastry chef-has grown into a Philadelphia institution.
The partners met while working at Philadelphia's legendary The White Dog Café, which was one of the pioneering institutions of the "buy local" movement. During their time at White Dog, the two friends often lamented how difficult it was to find breads of the quality they'd tasted in Europe. Indeed, the artisan baking process is a slow one. It takes up to two weeks for the natural yeast (made from fermented grapes and figs) to mature, and then another 48 hours for the dough to be mixed, shaped, pounded, left to rise in rye-dusted willow baskets, and then baked in steam-injected, stone-deck ovens. It's this painstaking process that produces the intense, earthy flavors, crackling crusts, and complex textures of artisanal breads.
Barrett's culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America and the Ecole Francaise de Boulangerie d'Aurillac in France, helped him refine the techniques of old-world baking. These experiences and years of trial and error impressed upon him the importance of natural ingredients, traditional methods, and above all, patience, in producing great breads.
In Philadelphia, Metropolitan Bakery has become more than just a great bakery. It is also part of the community. Its owners believe that jobs are the best way out of poverty. As a result, the bakery employs and trains recent parolees, mentors at-risk high school students, and is a co-sponsor of the new H.O.M.E. Page Café in the Free Library, which employs formerly homeless Philadelphians and raises money for Project H.O.M.E. The bakery also donates bread to shelters every week. And because supporting local farmers and purveyors is so important, Metropolitan's five Philadelphia shops offer locally made jams, cheeses, spreads and other specialties. Indeed, most of the products in its stores are made by local farmers, cheesemakers and chefs also trying to preserve artisan traditions. The 19th street store is a pick-up location for community-supported agriculture.
The company has locations in Chestnut Hill, University City, Old City, Rittenhouse Square, and the Reading Terminal Market. It also offers its homemade whole grain granola, coffee chocolate chip granola, pomegranate cinnamon granola, French berry rolls and more for purchase on its website.
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Gallery: More from Metropolitan Bakery