Where the bread went

On October 12, 2013, in Latest News, by The News Staff

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Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and  do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff  or publishers)

Here is another story by my fellow Somerville pal Anthony Accardi. My uncles used to work at a bakery in Somerville back in the day called Mitchells. I figured since last week I discussed spaghetti sauce, why not have a little bread this week to go with it?

Those who know me know that I am a bread snob. Sorry, but I can’t help it. My mother’s side of the family were all in the baking business. Her grandfather (my great grandfather) owned Nicholosi’s Baking Company in the old West End of Boston. Her dad (my grandfather) baked bread for Nicholosi’s and also drove bread trucks for both Sunbeam Bread in Dorchester and also for Cassaro’s Bread in Medford. My grandmother worked the counter at the old Garden Court Bakery on Somerville Ave (a few doors down from the skating rink). Needless to say we always had fresh bread. Each day more bread arrived. What was yesterday’s bread eventually got ground up into breadcrumbs and nothing got wasted.

Admit it, we all love good bread. For us old world Italians and Europeans, it has to be on the table at every meal. At one time Somerville had so many bakeries. Some specialized in bread and for others pastry was what made them famous. Of course there were some bakeries that were known for great bread and pastry.

From my recollection, most of the bakeries in Somerville specialized in either Italian, Irish, German or Portuguese baked products. These bakeries made a huge variety of bread like the Scala Bread, which made the best toast, the Vienna bread (better known as the Bostone), the “round” and “ring” breads all of which were great for sandwiches.

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In East Somerville there is Patsy’s Pastries, which is still open. Patsy’s is one of those bakeries that has both great bread and pastry. I would have to say that their Scala bread is one of my favorites. In Winter Hill we had Orlando’s Bakery, which was right next to Tony’s Barber Shop (where a beauty salon now exists). They only sold bread and it was awesome. Orlando’s then became Cucchiello’s Bakery and they too sold only bread. It then became the Winter Hill Bakery, which still exists today but now resides in the space further up Broadway where Pal Joey’s Lounge once was. Now, the interesting thing about the Winter Bakery is that it is Portuguese owned, but they have one of the best Italian Scala breads that I’ve ever had. They also specialize in Portuguese rolls and, of course, Portuguese sweet bread.

In Magoun Square there was Cara Donna’s Bakery on Medford Street. At one time probably the best pastry in Somerville. They did sell a small selection of bread, but pastry was their  claim to fame. Sadly, Cara Donna’s is gone, although I think there is a Brazilian themed bakery there now. In Ball Square, you had Lyndells and that too is still there at the corner of Willow Ave. and Broadway. They are the oldest bakery in Somerville and have been there for over 100 years. They now promote themselves as an Italian bakery. However, from my recollection as a kid, they were mostly a bakery that specialized in Irish/German baked goods. When my mom would take me to see Dr. Sorrell (my eye doctor), we would always stop at Lyndell’s afterward for a hermit (does anyone remember those and does anyone still make Hermits)?

In Davis Square there was only one bakery and that was La Contessa’s. Sadly, it no longer exists. They were mostly a pastry shop but did have a small selection of bread. My buddy Louie Belmonte’s grandmother (Anna Vaini) worked the counter there and when we would stop in to see her, she would always sneak us both a few Italian cookies.

Do you know that section of Route 1 in Norwood called The Auto Mile? Here in Somerville, we could have called Somerville Ave. The Bread Mile. At the beginning of Somerville Ave. near McGrath Highway there was Roma Bakery (which may still exist). Roma was mostly a bread bakery and boy did they have good bread. Probably the best seeded bulkie rolls in the city. A little further down and across from the Fire Station, you had White Rose Bakery. I tend to remember this place as mostly a wholesale bakery and they really didn’t have a retail storefront. I think there was some type of “back door” that one could use to buy hot fresh bread at wholesale prices. Further down Somerville Ave. there was the Garden Court bakery on the left. They specialized in both bread and pastry. As I mentioned earlier, my grandmother worked behind the counter there and we always had an abundance of their bread and cookies in our house. Lastly, and diagonally across the street from The Garden Court Bakery, is LaRonga Bakery. When I was a kid, they sold both pastry and bread. Over the years, though, I think most of their business became wholesale bread, though I do think they still keep a retail storefront. After skating at the Somerville Ave. Rink, we would go over to LaRonga and buy a bulkie roll for our walk up Central Street and back to Winter Hill.

So what happened to some of these great bakeries? There are probably several reasons that so many are now gone. I think many of the old timers that started these bakeries retired and then sadly passed on. Their families chose not to continue their baking business. Those that did either could not keep the quality the same or just didn’t have the same drive and work ethic. They did not want to work 7 days a week with little or no vacation. Nor did they want to get up at 2 a.m. and work in sometimes 130 degree conditions. Also, many supermarkets began “in-store” bakeries. The philosophy of “one stop shopping” and “convenience” became the norm. With both parents working, life was too busy to make a special stop to the bakery. This certainly put many of the old time bakeries out of business.

Once my generation is gone, the next generation will have no idea what a real good loaf of bread tastes like. They will enjoy the frozen dough that the supermarket baker puts into an oven that then comes out crispy on the outside and raw dough on the inside. The bread will be warm when they pick it up off the shelf, it will smell and taste good and to them that will be considered good bread. That generation will probably not know any better. So the next time you are in the supermarket and pick up that hot French bread, put it down and make a special stop to the local bakery. The bread from there was made that morning, it was made on the premises and made with lots of love and hard work. You will not regret it.

 

15 Responses to “Where the bread went”

  1. ron says:

    i remember my mother sending me to mitchells with a shopping bag and a quarter for the bakery truck returns

  2. patsy bakery i grew up across the street cant remember never having fresh bread every day and their cream puffs and cookies how i miss those thing now i live in california i can not find a good bakery here

  3. ritepride says:

    Ah the aroma of fresh baked bread. No longer do you smallb it in the air.
    A friend of my brother had worker in hs family bakery in east Cambridge.
    Eventually it closed and he now is a supervisor/inspector working for Market Basket. He checks out their store bakeries to make sure they comply with thwe company’s standards.

    A lady I knew worked at state hospital bakery. She would get calls on occasion from the hospital big wheels requesting cookies for meetings. They would repeatedly call and praise how delicious the cookies were. What the big wheels did not know is that the local supermarket chain would donate to her the 5 gal buckets of pre-made cookie dough each week for the patients.

    There is a huge difference between the fresh bread & pasteries of your local bakery verses the supermarket chains. Saw a kid in a supermarket bakery open the glass door and sneeeze as he tried to grab a pastry….no thanks, i’ll stick to the local bakery.

  4. A.Moore says:

    Several years ago my brother wrote this for my sisters facebook page. This is just a small part as it is too big and covers more than the subject matter.

    Now we finally come to Vine Street the destination of this epic adventure , walking past Saint Anthonys church on the left i carry my two paper bags and 50 cents jingling in my pocket all the way to the end of the street to the right and thee it was …the Mecca of baked goods . I never entered the building , we were told to go to the side of the building where there was a small alley and a barred gate . One would think it was prohibition and we were buying booze at a clandestine meeting place .I took my turn in line and impatiently waited . At last it was my turn and the baker approached and took my money and bags from my sweaty little hands. I believe these were day old goods or extras that weren’t needed for delivery , either way it didn’t matter , there were pastries there . Now the baker went over to the racks and shelves and picked out assorted items and bagged them , all the while i could see what he was doing and i kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be boring stuff ….like bread . Nervously waiting , i can see him toss in ….donuts ! Woo hoo ! Aw man ! two loaves of white bread , yuck . Now its …coffee rolls and a jelly roll ! jackpot !! ding , ding , ding . What now ? A loaf of Scali bread ? well it does make for some good toast , with peanut butter and butter of course . Aha ! Two more treasures , cookies , yeah baby one is chocolate and the other …drum roll please ….macaroons ! sweet ! Who s the man , i am ! I thank the baker flashing my soon to be cavity riddled teeth and haed out briskly for home clutching but not squeezing too hard my gifts from heaven . When i arrive home i and i alone unload the bags , slowly , in front of my brothers and sisters with much oohing and ahhing from the peanut gallery . All is right with the world that day , who would think that such a simple thing would be remembered in such detail 50 years later ? but those were the kind of things that meant so much to us , our lifes little pleasures .

  5. A.Moore says:

    I used to go to Garden Court bakery and we would be waiting with a shopping bag for the bread to come out of the oven it was so busy there. Also bought tons of the thick pizza there. Sometimes we would go on trips annd get a couple of trays to share with everyone. I can remember the LaRonga bakery accross the street which was a 2 family style house and they would be sitting on the stairs watching the crowd at Garden Court. This was back in the 50′s and 60′s.

  6. A.Moore says:

    We knew all those places. My wife’s favorite place is Patsys. She never came out with just what she went on for. I know we have been going there for over 40 years. The bread is great as well as many other things. Love the spinach calzones there. I will probably have to hospitalize my wife if they close. There have been rumors but we keep hoping they are not going to happen. Also watched the kids grow up at Winter Hill bakery.

  7. Dennis says:

    Hi Jimmy,

    You forgot my wifes grandfathers bakery. “Porter Baking” on Elm St. near Porter. They were known for their 4 corner bread that they would send to the North End.

  8. A,Moore says:

    I see my younger brother had wrote he paid fifty cents when he went to Mitchells bakery, must have went up as it was a quarter when I used to go there.

  9. “In Magoun Square there was Cara Donna’s Bakery on Medford Street. At one time probably the best pastry in Somerville. They did sell a small selection of bread, but pastry was their claim to fame. Sadly, Cara Donna’s is gone, although I think there is a Brazilian themed bakery there now.”

    I remember the days of walking up and buying my brother’s birthday cake in July and he would buy mine in August :)

    One quick clarification, there is a market there now that sells groceries, meats and cold cuts. Very convenient and great for the square.

    Across the street (on the corner of Lowell and Medford), is a Brazilian bakery that has pastries, breads and great coffee. They do have a lunch menu, but bring someone with you, the portions are awesomely big!

  10. Michael Grunko says:

    La Ronga has been closed for some time. I remember their “Hot Bread” sign. It prompted a lot of impulse buying on my part.

    Salt and Pepper on Holland Ave had the best all-butter cookies. They have been replaced by Dave’s Pasta.

    Le’s not disparage our newer bakers. The Biscut on Beacon St. is great.

  11. Jimmy,

    La Contessa was our local bakery– every Italian Rum birthday cake and pastries for family and holiday celebrations. We would always stop there on our way home from St. Anthony’s Church every Sunday morning.

    What made La Contessa special to our family, is that it resembled bakery’s in the North End where dad’s family continues to reside from the early 20′s. Athough, I can recall they would occasionally complain their cakes were not always consistently good, dad blamed it on substitute bakers and said the owner, a tall grey hair man was the best.

    We use to visit the NE every Saturday for all our weekly groceries’ produce, “coldcuts”, (sopprasatta – high quality salami) and freshly baked bread since they didn’t care for supermarkets and demanded high quality food. Dad worked at the Parker House as a chef, so he was tough to please. He knew the importance of all ingredients being of best quality, but it showed and also produced an equally fussy daughter.

    So if given a choice, all cakes would come from the North End as well, but it wasn’t as convenient to travel as Davis Square.

    Years later, we used Cara Dona’s in Magoon Sq. Their whip cream cakes were the best, my kids loved their frosted gingerbread men, but cupcakes and half-moon’s had to come from Lyndell’s. The rum cakes were not as good as La Contessa’s best and you always had to ask for strawberries because they wouldn’t be included in the lawyerd cream fillings.

    I do recall their hermits and my baking days have diminished greatly, so no hermits in my kitchen. We preferred gingerbread–maybe it’s the German-Swiss mix from dad’s side, but I enjoyed having a variety of cultural influences. Northern Italian cuisine is slightly different from other regions of Italy, but all love homemade bread and would never settle for anything else.

    We have become a generation of “eating healthy”, so I think that’s why our local bakeries are disappearing. Also, the cultural landscape of our community is much different, today.

    Although, not much has changed in Europe as far as eating is concerned and they love their baked breads–especially in the land of Romance Languages.

    Our local bakeries are being replaced by Whole Foods and Trader Joes “whole grain” and “low fat” substitutes. As much as I try to eat certain products considered to be “healthy”, I disagree that some of these new foods are better for you. It’s purely subjective and much of it based on marketing practices.

    Everything in moderation–except for that freshly baked loaf of Italian bread. Reminds me of Roma Bakery, which was located across from where Target stands now, on Somerville Ave., made the best sesame loaf of bread, in my opinion. It remained fresh for days, if it lasted that long. I would stop there twice a week on my way with the kids to pick up their dad from work. I made sure to buy at least two because the first was shared by all of us on the way home. I was sad to see it go, another hidden treasure from Somerville past.

  12. MarketMan says:

    I think the “healthy eating” trend has contributed somewhat to fewer bakeries, but I think it’s mostly just cultural change. I think many people today don’t appreciate fresh breads and pastries from a local bakery. If it were just the healthy trend, there wouldn’t be so many ice cream and frozen yogurt places, or kiss ass cupcakes. Or maybe people think frozen yogurt is healthy, which is to your marketing point.

    I live near Lyndell’s and treasure their products, even though I eat very healthy… I induldge here and there. I would be very sad if they were gone, so I can understand the nostalgia of long gone bakeries.

  13. Barry the Pig says:

    Bread is fine, folks. Part of the Mediterranean diet!

  14. MarketMan,

    According to the so called “experts” on nutrition, white bread is considered the poison of all breads due to its lack of whole grains. The claim is that white bread serves absolutely no nutritious value whatsoever, it’s like eating a box of candy bars since white bread is carbs which convert to sugar. I’ve heard the speeches from nutritionists where I use to work, supporting M.D.’s. I disagree with some of their opinions. Much of it has to do with DNA, some are just predisposed due to family history. I believe if you exercise moderately, eat a balanced diet, you will be healthy. People generally run into problems if they smoke and drink. It’s also important to drink plenty of water and limit caffeine. My parents ate very well and didn’t limit themselves to nuts and berries. Excessive dieting and too much exercise is also hazardous to your health, but there are some who are only concerned with appearances, not proper health. But we don’t ever hear those stories–it’s only about OBESITY, which is more about socio-economic, bad eating habits, psychological issues. Some could have an underlying medical condition which prevents them from losing weight. There are lots of reasons, but I don’t believe people should be discriminated upon based on weight issues. Many frown on traditional bakeries–their claim is they are unhealthy. Maybe they should focus on the environment and go after the major polluters of our air, land and water. People are getting sick from that problem more than from the food they eat. Just ask the folks at Silent Spring Institute.

  15. Ron Newman says:

    Michael Grunko: La Ronga Bakery is not closed! They gave away free pizza and bread at today’s SomerStreets festival.

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