Hooked on bakery

Rebecca Palsha
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

Nestled in one of Anchorage's downtown neighborhoods you'll find a rare treat.

If you can find it, that is. Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop is a spot you're likely to miss the first time out. I drove the wrong way at least twice searching for it. It's across from an old log cabin, surrounded by thick seaside rope hanging around a chain-link fence. If you pass the purple home with green trim, you know you've gone too far.

The bakery opened Feb. 21, smack in the middle of one of Anchorage's oldest, most eclectic and coolest neighborhoods. It seems like an odd place to do business, but co-owner Jerry Lewanski said being a neighborhood bakery was part of the business plan.

"We looked all over the city and thought that was the ideal setting for what we wanted to do," Lewanski said.

Blue siding covers the outside of the building. Inside it smells heavenly; garlic, followed by cinnamon and chocolate. A bright orange wall and floor reflect off the stainless steel surfaces. Three bakers in crisp white uniforms gab about olive oil as they knead dough.

I sidled up to the open air counter to look at the treats. I was unable to resist a croissant, ($3) and chocolate chip cookie ($2). You can also get a chocolate chip cookie with dried cherries soaked in cognac for 50 cents more.

"Treats for adults." Lewanski said.

As I pay my bill a slice of wheat bread is thrust into my hand.

"You must try this." I was told.

I did and ended up adding a loaf of bread to my order ($6).

Let me tell you about the cookie. I don't think it would be possible to add any more chocolate chips to them. Soft and malleable it was like biting into a sweet dream.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I stopped by three times during the week to pick up more.

The croissant was also great. Buttery and soft, I also didn't end up with pastry flakes covering my lap.

I used the loaf to make paninis for my husband and myself. The bread was dense and hearty. Flour flaked off the top as I cut into it. The bottom was ashy and sooty like only a fresh baked loaf can be. The outside was crispy, requiring sharp teeth to break it. The inside was a soft treat that left me craving more. One loaf was enough for about three big sandwiches.

Fire Island bakes its breads in an Italian stone hearth oven, and Lewanski said the goal is to use as many organic ingredients as possible and only the finest quality products.

I expected nothing less from a man trained at one of the premier baking institutions in the country, the San Francisco Baking Institute.

"I've baked most of my life ... I even have a wood fire brick oven at my house," Lewanski said.

The man can turn flour and water into something deliciously crunchy, flakey, supple and dense. Unlike some bakeries in town, Fire Island strives to be a bakery first and foremost.

There's tea and coffee but no espresso machine. Once the place is out of sandwiches, that's it for the day.

On my next visit I decided to snag a light lunch.

I scanned the selection of sandwiches ($10 each).

Choices include beet, chevre and arugula, a Tuscan tuna, peanut butter and jam or roasted vegetables.

I settled on a turkey sandwich and a salami sandwich.

The salty, smoked turkey mixed nicely with a spicy-sweet chutney and the small green apple slices gave it a nice crunch. The salami sandwich was topped with spicy mustard and tomatoes.

If you have a chance one weekend, I also recommend a cinnamon roll ($4.50). Only available on Saturday and Sunday, make sure to show up early before they run out. The rolls are dense but still soft -- different from a traditional cinnamon roll. A little bit of buckwheat is tossed into the flour mix and walnuts are sprinkled inside.

Fire Island goes light on the cinnamon and I would have liked a little more. The caramel glaze covering will leave you licking your fingers. With its classic neighborhood bakery feel and hearty breads Fire Island is sure to be a hit. Only problem now is what neighbors will think once everyone finally finds the place.

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Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop

Location: 1343 G St.

Hours: 7am-6pm Thursday-Monday, closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Telephone: 569-0001

Web: www.fireisland bread.com

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By Rebecca Palsha
Daily News correspondent