Usually when a restaurant tries to sell me on food because of its nutritional value, my eyes glaze over and I stop listening. I like healthy food, but I don't eat because of nutritional and caloric values. Like other foodies, I'm driven by taste above all else.
So it was with mixed feelings that I approached House of Bread in Wasilla. Its website lists nutritional information for its breads, touting them as low-fat and healthier than traditional bakeries. I worried that these would taste healthy, not good.
However my worries were unfounded. House of Bread's healthier food is good -- really good.
The atmosphere in the bakery is simple but comfortable. There are large windows, white walls and minimalist square tables. The cafe is a franchise, and it did feel as though it was organized by a chain -- cost efficient and a tad sterile -- but the bakery itself was filled with character and the aromas of a job well done.
The restaurant offers 22 types of breads as well as cookies, brownies, pastries and a full lunch menu of sandwiches, soups, salads, a kids' menu and espresso. Cases and shelves hold freshly made health-nut loaves like 9-grain and the Dakota, sweet loaves such as apricot walnut and cinnamon raisin as well as jalapeno cheddar and focaccia savory breads. My favorite is Grandma's White -- a simple, fresh, lightly sweet white bread that melts in your mouth. It would be overwhelming to be faced with all 22 breads (a two-pound loaf runs $4.99 to $7.75), but House of Bread follows a weekly schedule that alternates offerings daily.
Grandma's White and honey whole wheat are always on the menu. They're offered everyday, likely because they're the most basic for sandwiches, but they're also amazing. They were my favorites of the six I tasted and both were great as a sandwich and alongside a cup of soup.
House of Bread is more accurately a house of sandwich breads. It's not a place for thick, chewy-crusted French breads, but a place for lunch -- for toasts and sandwiches. The cafe's lunch menu might not be ground-breaking, but it's not missing anything either. Sandwiches are $5.50 for a half or $7.50 for a whole and from the Cranky Turkey (turkey, dried cranberries, cream cheese, red onion, lettuce, tomato and mayo) to the Veggie Delight (avocado slices, cream cheese, artichoke hearts, lettuce, tomato, red onion with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and create-your-own, there's an offering bound to suit your midday palate. On one of my visits, the kid's menu even had the Fluffer Nutter, a childhood favorite made with peanut butter and marshmallow cream ($3.50).
The portions are not overwhelming or skimpy and are relatively inexpensive. My companion and I enjoyed a California Fusion Panini (pesto, turkey, artichoke hearts and provolone cheese, $7.50), a cup of one of two of the day's soups (vegetable beef, $4.50) served with a huge slice of Grandma's White Bread and a snickerdoodle cookie the size of my head ($1.50). Then, we grabbed two cinnamon rolls ($2.50 each), a raspberry pinwheel ($2.50), and, because we liked it so much, a loaf of Grandma's White Bread ($4.99) for the road.
The panini had rich savory flavors from artichoke hearts and pesto paired with milder flavors of provolone and turkey pressed between grilled slices of bread. It was the perfect size -- easy to hold and eat.
The Snickerdoodle, on the other hand, was the size of a small clock. It wasn't a bad thing. Cookies, especially ones that are soft, cinnamon-rich, and decadent like it was, can be saved for later.
The very simple vegetable soup in beef broth was the least memorable part of our meal, in part because the bread was just so good. I might order it again, but only because it came with a thick slice from a loaf of my choice.
The cinnamon rolls and raspberry pinwheel were good, but are not the high-fat rolls to which we in the U.S. are accustomed. The rolls are made from the same dough as Grandma's White bread and are more filling than those from other vendors.
If you have the time to drive to Wasilla and you love bread, House of Bread is certainly worth checking out. I will make the drive again for another loaf of Grandma's White. But for those of you that can wait, a new location will be coming soon to Anchorage.
Healthy but real tasty