Bread has earned top billing at several area dining venues — and the status is well-deserved. Handcrafted specialty loaves, biscuits, flatbreads, and more are showing up as appetizer choices rather than fillers. Locally grown and milled grains add intriguing flavors and textures to these star menu items, and farm-fresh accompaniments and spreads make these options delicious ways to begin a meal.
Ada’s on the River
This modern American restaurant in Old Town Alexandria aims for the “wow” factor with its dramatic black brioche bread — a thickly sliced loaf offered as an appetizer. Chef Brandon Whitestone says the “visually striking” black crumb is achieved by using crushed charcoal powder, a tasteless addition that also lightens the texture. It’s a subtle way to underscore the restaurant’s focus on its wood-burning grill. 3 Pioneer Mill Wy., Alexandria
Set in a former Purcellville storefront, this modern Euro-American bistro’s impressive redo abounds in handcrafted details. Its bread service for two reflects a similar artisan bent. Slices of a whole-meal loaf made from Virginia-grown grains milled in-house are nestled in a basket along with rounds of rustic bread. Whipped butter and local honey are indulgent complements. 108 N. 21st St., Purcellville
Field & Main
A hefty chunk of a wood-grilled sourdough boule sits aside a creamy dip strewn with crunchy accents on a handsome wooden board at this Virginia wine country destination. It’s designed, says chef-owner Neal Wavra, to encourage a “hands-on eating experience.” Wavra wants diners to break off bits of bread, swipe them through the dip, and savor the interplay of the smoky, crispy crust, the soft interior, and the tangy topping — and lick their fingers when they’re done. This spirit of joyful eating informs the rest of the restaurant’s menu of locally sourced, modern American fare. 8369 W. Main St., Marshall
Kismet Modern Indian
Chef-owner Ajay Kumar showcases some of India’s intriguing breads at his Alexandria restaurant in a featured menu listing. Flatbreads, baked in the tandoor oven, have flavor-packed toppings like olives, garlic, and chives and mustard oil. Kumar sources grains similar to those used for bread-making in India from a farm in New Jersey. There’s a dazzling array of “companions” like creamy lentils, chickpeas with onion and ginger, and a minty cucumber yogurt dip to be scooped up with the freshly baked breads. 111 N. Pitt St., Alexandria
Ruthie chef-owner Matt Hill’s late grandmother, who hailed from North Carolina, baked biscuits and cornbread daily. She is the inspiration behind his Arlington restaurant’s tribute to American farm-fresh dining. Hill’s biscuits are baked every 30 to 45 minutes to ensure that they are warm and bursting with buttery goodness when they reach the table. Order them with butter and jam, or as part of a Southern-accented charcuterie board piled high with curls of ham, housemade pimiento cheese, and relishes like chowchow and red onion marmalade. Skillet cornbread, made from Georgia-farmed cornmeal with a lighter, sweeter Northern touch, is another must-order. 3411 Fifth St. S., Arlington
This widely acclaimed, DC-based artisanal bakery’s whole-grain breads and artful pastries are made with organic, locally grown and milled grains. The rich, moist crumb of the deeply flavored, rustic loaves and the airy, flaky texture of the croissants, scones, and pastries testify to the talents and vision of baker-owner Jonathan Bethony and his staff. While its products are not yet found in area restaurants, bread lovers can visit its stall at the Saturday morning Old Town Farmers’ Market in Alexandria to craft tastings at home. 926 N St. NW, Ste. A, Washington, DC
Feature image courtesy Field & Main
This story originally ran in Northern Virginia Magazine’s March issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.