It does not feel like it’s been 10 years since I first visited Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop in South Addition. The memory is too vivid. I remember thinking I had made a wrong turn as I pulled into the quiet, residential neighborhood. I remember being charmed when I found it — a thrumming little spot with a few outdoor tables, a row of bikes parked outside, and a bustle of people coming and going clutching brown paper bags and to-go cups. I remember the aroma, yeasty and sweet with just a hint of fresh coffee. But most of all, I remember the exceptional scone I ate that morning: crumbly, tender, and buttery. It was the first of many visits and I wasn’t alone. This gem may have been hidden, but even in its earliest days, it was not undiscovered.
The excellence of their baguettes and loaves, the carefully curated sandwiches, and the irresistible sweet treats leave me unsurprised that the bakery has expanded its empire, with new locations in Airport Heights and South Anchorage.
I paid a recent visit to the South Anchorage location off King Street to grab some bread for my family and a couple of sandwiches for my lunch. I had a sense of déjà vu as I drove there – had I made a wrong turn? I decided to trust Siri, and then there it was, on a quiet side street within a stone’s throw of two excellent breweries. I don’t know about you, but for me, two breweries and a bakery on one street is exactly the right amount of a good thing.
I had arrived right at lunchtime so there was a bit of a crowd, but there was a fast-moving team behind the counter and they were hustling — taking orders, bagging up soups, sandwiches and loaves. Behind them the bakers were kneading and portioning dough and it’s fascinating to see their precision and speed. It’s a calming spectacle to take in while you struggle to make tough choices about what to order.
My choices were as follows: a classic baguette ($4.50), a loaf of pain ordinaire ($8 and the closest thing to a loaf of bread that’s exclusively crust) and two of the sandwiches of the day, a roast beef sandwich with pickled onions and the “Big, Messy Tomato” sandwich ($11 each). These are beautiful, simple and thoughtful sandwiches — and we all know how I feel about sandwiches. The roast beef was tender and flavorful and the heap of acidic onions played the part that horseradish might in a less inventive kitchen. Offset by a schmear of creamy, house-made remoulade, this is a beautifully balanced classic with a clever twist.
But let’s talk tomatoes. They’re rarely good enough to be the star of the show. For most sandwiches, the tomato merely serves as a moist-maker (sorry, not sorry). Pick the sandwich apart and you’ll often find something pale, mealy and flavorless. But these tomatoes were delicious, sweet outside and acidic near the core. This sandwich is so simple: flavorful tomatoes, a perfectly crusty sandwich roll and a swipe of house-made mayonnaise. You have to be pretty confident in the quality of your components to sell a three-ingredient sandwich. The “Big Messy Tomato” has the courage of its convictions.
But the main reason why Fire Island has been on my mind is because of their new partnership with Anchorage Brewing Co., making brewery-inspired pizza in the tasting room from Friday to Sunday (2-8 p.m.).
I was intrigued. After all, if bread is the staff of life, then pizza is the staff of life … plus cheese.
These pies started popping up like fever dreams on my Facebook feed. Head baker and recent James Beard Award finalist Carlyle Watt takes inspiration from the ingredients that go into the inventive brews being developed across the street. For example, the Pie Assassin pizza was created to complement its namesake IPA and combines arugula, fontina, prosciutto and tangerine zest. The pie inspired by the brewery’s blueberry-rich sour ale known as “The Experiment” features an audacious combination of arugula, guanciale and Bosc pears poached in blueberry juice.
Recently, Watt teamed up with head brewer Gabe Fletcher to produce a signature Hatch chile hot sauce aged in a barrel that once housed a triple-oaked barley wine. The sauce found its way onto a pie along with smoked chicken, buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. And hopefully the sauce will be finding its way into bottles soon.
On a recent Friday, my husband and I grabbed seats near the pizza oven, sipped a marionberry saison known as “The Eternity” and waited for our dinner.
We opted for the margherita ($16) because the simplest pie is the hardest to get just right (see The Big Messy Tomato sandwich), and the seafood pie ($18) with Alaska spot shrimp and razor clams because … Alaska spot prawns and razor clams (the third pie available that night featured sausage, onions caramelized in the saison and thin slices of Granny Smith apple).
The margherita was everything that a pizza should be: fresh, light and well-balanced. It will not come as a surprise to learn that the crust is a winner. Charred, chewy and thick along the rim, and thin in the center making those middle bites creamy, cheesy and decadent.
The seafood pie was sublime. Alaska spot prawns with their sweet flavor and delicate texture are among my favorite ingredients. Add briny, chewy razor clams atop fresh mozzarella cheese with a sprinkling of Parmesan and oregano, and you’ve pretty much put all of my favorite things onto one plate. I could eat it every day, especially when washed down with a tart saison that beautifully cut through the cheesy richness of these pies.
Added bonus: If you sit near the pizza ovens, you get to watch the Fire Island pizza experts toss circles of dough and wield the wooden pizza paddle, or peel.
All three Fire Island locations are a buzzing hive of activity. The Airport Heights location hosts a weekly Wednesday Market throughout the summer (their last of the season will be Sept. 25), featuring local vendors, organic produce, local brews and live music. In addition, Chef Watt teaches a variety of classes year round, on topics ranging from sourdough basics to wood-fire pizza to hot-smoking (meat, that is).
All of these options — loaves and treats to-go, exceptional lunch options, baking classes, weekend pizza and beer — mean that a visit to Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop will never seem stale.
Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop
7 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
1434 G St.; 907-569-0001
160 W. 91st Ave.; 907-519-2290
2530 E. 16th Ave.; 907-274-0022
Anchorage Brewing Co.
Fire Island Pizzas available: 2-8 p.m. Friday-Sunday
148 W. 91st Ave.