A century ago, a cultural shift came to Kansas City: Housewives stopped baking bread. It had always been a time-consuming, burdensome task, made miserable during the hot summers. Now, as KC flourished, there were more than 100 neighborhood bakeries — not to mention independent grocery stores and delicatessens — selling fine loaves of white, rye, pumpernickel, wheat and challah. Starting in the 1920s, Westport's Manor Bakery (the forerunner of today's financially troubled Interstate Bakeries) began home delivery of freshly baked bread. The ease and economy of commercially manufactured bread easily trumped the time and effort required to make it at home.
The KC icon Roma Bakery opened in 1923, started by Sicilian-born Joseph Filardo; his cousin, Joseph Cusamano; and his brother-in-law, Jack Binaggia. It's still an integral part of the local bread market, though the family-owned business was sold to Omaha-based Rotella's Italian Bakery nearly two decades ago. The heirs of the founders, John Filardo and Michael Quarrato, continue to oversee the Kansas City distribution arm of the commercial baking company, delivering breads like the ciabattini rolls created for Jasper's Restaurant.
And while some restaurants (Cafe Italia in Parkville, for example) do their own baking, many purchase artisanal breads from local bakers. Lidia's Kansas City bakes its focaccia in-house, but the other breads in its popular basket come from Farm to Market. You may not see patrons carrying paper-wrapped loaves of Le Monde Bakery's baguettes through the streets of North Kansas City, but that shop's loaves are visible in local restaurants and at Johnson County's Dean & Deluca market.
Meanwhile, decades of grocery-store habits have given way to increased demand for artisan bread at home. After all, if you're going to eat carbs, make it count with a buttered slice of baguette or focaccia made this morning instead of a spongy slice of Wonder Bread.
Not that there's anything wrong with the cheap, soft white bread favored at most of KC's barbecue joints. Comedian Bill Cosby taught us that "an American can eat anything on the face of this Earth as long as he has two pieces of bread," and that's still true. But we've come far enough to understand that there's nothing better than smoked beef brisket on, say, Farm to Market sourdough. So here's a snapshot of the metro's hottest bread ovens right now, a week's worth of a food we'd never try to do without.
Farm to Market Bread Co.
216 West 73rd Street
John Friend stands in the center of the cavernous space at 100 East 20th Street, pointing to the cinder-block walls that will hold ovens and equipment for Farm to Market, possibly as early as July. The bakery's owner, Mark Friend, is moving the business from Waldo to the Crossroads, a milestone to complement the company's 20th anniversary next year. The 18,000-square-foot warehouse, which last housed the Prime Rib Grill by Hereford House, is undergoing a $500,000 makeover. (It's tentatively scheduled to open this July.)
"You really can't back up in our current space without hitting something," Mark says. "This gives us the space to focus on each individual bread."
Farm to Market launched in 1993, when Mark Friend and Fred Spompinato started the company with $20,000 (including $5,000 of their own money) — enough to buy an oven and a mixer. They worked in the kitchen of the Classic Cup and made deliveries from the back of a Mazda station wagon. Farm to Market's early successes — Grains Galore and sourdough — remain the bakery's top-selling loaves.
The business outgrew the Cup after two years and relocated to its current bakery and office space in Waldo, where John, Mark's son, began working as a baker after high school. It was then that Kansas City discovered the bakery's ciabatta, which has an airy and open crumb, in grocery-store aisles. The company also installed J. Llopis hearth ovens, imported from Spain, in three area supermarkets.