Nightingale Bread adds "sustenance" to Lincoln Center 

click to enlarge Butcher paper signs mark the day's offerings. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Butcher paper signs mark the day's offerings.

While a majority of businesses we interview tend to drop the keyword "community" while discussing their intention, 32-year-old baker and owner of Nightingale Bread, David McInnis, repeats something else: "sustenance."

When we first spoke by phone in spring 2016, that took on biblical connotations, as we discussed his early desires to be a farmer; his involvement with Holy Theophany Orthodox Church; and the spiritual symbolism of death and resurrection cycles (a plant's grain milled into flour and revived as bread) inherent in bread-making.

But our conversation since Nightingale's doors opened recently revolved less around the heady, and more around the casual nature of our "daily bread," even though seeing Holy Theophany's Father Anthony behind the counter prepping pizza dough on Saturdays — white flour all over his black cassock — certainly adds gravity to a meal; like, this is the Lord's work, and all that. McInnis hopes to be approachable, with $4 to $8 loaves, probably best labeled as "artisan" to convey the beauty of score marks along darkened crusts and the tactile joy of pulling bites from the airy, stretchy interior, robust with subtle aromas.

He doesn't want to be viewed as fancy or boutique, calling this "normal bread," asserting "what's at the grocery store is abnormal." Hence no preservatives, stabilizers, etc., here. Instead, he uses organic flours and house-milled grains, bakes with wild yeasts, lengthily ferments (aiding digestibility) and employs "improvisation" and "intuition" more than recipe-following. Those are skills he learned as head baker for several years at Upstate New York's Wide Awake Bakery, where he used a wood-fired oven. Now he's enjoying the flexibility of a steam-circulating, gas-fired Italian deck oven, responsible for the crust's patina and the expansive core, called an open crumb.

Daily breads, both flagship loaves and specials, line a stone-accented brick hearth, and range from provincial ciabatta and baguettes to a whole wheat sourdough levain, heavily infused and decorated with flax, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. The same base, minus the seeds, sees potato cubes inside with chopped rosemary leaves as one special. McInnis' tin-baked Vollkorn rye feels brick dense (the only non-open-crumb we try), making for ideal open-face sandwiches (a feature likely to come later), also constructed with generous seeds and 100 percent rye flour. Tasting it is like smelling mash in a brewery.

Split the crust of the Kansas Red, made with Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat from a small Kansas farm, and inhale honey aromas, though none is used in the baking. It's a sign McInnis has maintained the inherent grain flavor and masterfully coaxed it into the finish. Our favorite special, a cardamom-walnut-date levain exudes the spice in its aroma, followed by a lavish, nutty sweetness amidst bites. Even toasted, post-freezing, a week later at home, spread with cream cheese or butter, it's divine.

Then comes Saturday-only pizza service ($8-$10 half pies/$14-$18 whole; if limited seating fills, carry a pie to neighboring Building Three or soon-to-open Goat Patch Brewing), where a soup inspiration becomes a pie via the potato leek pizza, which highlights Pueblo's New Roots Farm's leeks amidst mozzarella. It eats almost like pierogi, pillow soft and fluffy with stretchy dough, and quite filling. The farm's dinosaur kale informs a Dino Kale pizza, bright with pickled red onion tang and nuanced with gourmet Parmesan-like Grana Padano cheese. Neither is overly cheesy, just enough so for flavor, and olive oil as the only sauce allows the ingredients, and bread, to shine.

Nightingale indeed displays pretty as a songbird, and for these wholesome moments, we are sustained.


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