The Perfect Sandwich
Bread doesn’t have to be perfect and from an artisanal bakery to make a perfect sandwich, but perfect bread can elevate plain ingredients—like radishes and butter—to the sublime.
This is certainly the case with Orwashers raisin walnut pumpernickel bread. Founded on the Upper East Side in 1916 Orwashers bakery has a place in my own personal New York City history. I lived on E. 78th and 2nd Avenue in my first and only solo apartment, and Orwashers was one block away. Orwashers Bakery was artisanal before hipsters hijacked the word for anything that was precious and self-consciously constructed. The small white tiled storefront with the ancient cash register and bins of aromatic bread was my go-to bakery. I would get raisin pumpernickel rolls or salty bread sticks before my morning commute. Living alone, I rarely bought a loaf. I followed the Chef to Seattle and then we set up house in Morningside Heights, where I’ve lived since 1993, and I rarely thought of Orwashers again.
Then this fall, I was walking up Amsterdam from my local knitting store, Knitty City, when I saw a giant Orwashers storefront on the corner at 81st street. I was gobsmacked to see the bread shop of my early adulthood transported to the landscape of my middle age. Orwashers is hopefully part of a heartening trend, a small one to be sure, of old fashioned New York City establishments not only staying the course, as so many restaurants come and go, but reinventing themselves as hip, larger venues. Think Russ and Daughters' move to open a LES café in 2016. The old appetizing shop keeps on humming away with the lox sherpa slicing ever thinner slices of Novy, but the café has a modern vibe, and things on the menu like “Schmaltz and a Shot.” The West Side Orwashers also bakes its breads on site but this larger venue offers coffee, tea, indoor counter seating, outdoor cafe tables and some lovely sandwich combinations, like their open-faced ricotta, pear and almond toast and my recent favorite, an everything croissant hot dog ($6.00): an upscale pig-in-a-blanket, in which you can see the delicate croissant blanket’s every super-seeded layer.
What I like best, though, is to buy a sliced loaf of raisin walnut pumpernickel ($9.75), from a recipe an Orwashers baker created fifty years ago. I freeze the loaf and defrost slices as I please. The sweet raisins make this bread perfect for combining with melted sharp cheese, with lemony piquant tuna salad, or my recent favorite (pictured), radish wedges and thick butter slabs. It seems like radishes have gone from lowly garnish to being the new cucumbers. Gabrielle Hamilton, the Chef of Prune and author of the best chef's memoir or memoir in general ever, Blood, Bones & Butter, serves halved radishes with sweet butter and kosher salt as a starter. I adapted her Prune cookbook recipe by putting the radishes, butter and salt on the hearty, bejeweled Orwashers bread. Sublime repast for a sticky summer day.
Orwashers Bakery Upper West Side
440 Amsterdam Avenue (@ 81st St.)