Have you ever walked away from a burger joint thinking, "Damn, they have great buns?" Or from a breakfast spot thinking the toast was just sooooo good? Most of us take bread for granted, though we eat it almost every day.
Grain production and consumption have been central features of Western societies for thousands of years. The cultivation and harvest of cereals played a primary role in convincing humans to give up their nomadic ways for settled societies.
Ancient Egyptians made the first leavened loaves, but it was under the Roman Empire that bread became a staple. Soldiers accepted it for pay and plebes rioted in its absence. Bread makers became artisans and established formal bakers' guilds to protect the secrets of their craft, while profiting from the sale of luxury breads to elite Roman citizens.
Because of its important history and contributions to society, bread deserves more attention.
It's time to give back to the bread.
The first reparations checks have been written and cashed at Pueblo's Hopscotch Bakery, the new project of Steel City Diner's Mary Oreskovich and Richard Warner. Just around the corner from the diner, the tiny Union Avenue store has given the CIA-trained Oreskovich a place to display the full range of her talents. A treasure trove of cookies, pastries and magnificent loaves, as well as salads and pressed sandwiches, awaits.
Although I suspect the name "Hopscotch" has more to do with its location in relation to Steel City Diner, there's an interesting Roman connection. A game most of us know from childhood, hopscotch actually originated in Rome as a training drill for those bread-loving soldiers.
Breads here are nothing less than artisan masterpieces. If the French baguette is a benchmark, Hopscotch re-casts the mold with a characteristically yeasty aroma, an excellent crust and a soft, airy center. Earthy black olives perfume and flavor the olivetta, and nice chunks of tasty walnuts sweeten and gently color the walnut rounds. Both are made from dense, weighty doughs with incredible body.
Sandwich-style rectangles also abound. Try my favorite, the hippie loaf, cheekily named for the variety of grains and seeds baked into the dough and sprinkled on top. This isn't radical political propaganda; it's the best food advice I can give. In fact, I tend to avoid multiple-seeded breads like the plague, yet I would return for this loaf alone. It leans toward rye and may be some of the best bread for slicing and toasting.
Equally masterful are Oreskovich's sweets. Her pecan sticky buns bloom from a perfectly springy dough and hold a sweet, gooey core. For a few heavenly bites of the marble swirl brownies, the chocolate brownie and cheesecake meet to make one amazing treat.
Combining her talent, creativity and sense of humor, Oreskovich reaches a playful peak with her "Mary-Os": dark, brooding and almost unfathomably chocolaty cookies filled with a creamy middle. This variation of an Oreo takes you to places Nabisco execs never could imagine.
Oreskovich and Warner have a surefire hit on their whisks and dough hooks, despite being drawn into a fairly public battle with their defense-attorney landlords. In the wake of a widely reported disagreement, they are finalizing plans to move Hopscotch to a new space on Pueblo's Riverwalk.
For now, however, Hopscotch stands as the best place to buy baked goods for more than a hundred miles in any direction. Go early for oven-warm breakfast pastries and breads, or have a salad and cookie lunch -- sure to be the next big thing in dieting. And don't forget to grab a bag of their addictive candied pecans on the way out. I'm convinced a little bit of crack is added to the mix.
Whoever said people "cannot live by bread alone" never had a chance to visit Hopscotch. This is the stuff of life.
-- David Torres-Rouff
333 South Union Ave., Pueblo
(719) 542-4HOP (4467)
Monday-Friday: 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturdays: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., or until it's all gone.