Sit at the wide stone bar facing this homey Mt. Tabor bakery’s giant wood-fired bread oven at your own peril—over my series of visits, I’ve received no fewer than three warnings that having a front row view of a loaf’s journey from yeast to feast can possibly result in a peel to the nose. Not a Hollywood kind of peel, but the kind that looks like a giant gelato spoon and is made of unfeeling, unyielding wood. So, consider yourself warned, and with that out of the way, let’s talk about the bread.
Billing itself as the first “retail bakery in Portland to mill its own flour and bake all its bread in a wood-fired oven,” Tabor seeks to raise the bread bar, if you will. As General Manager Annie Moss—who is Oregon-born but spent a decade on the East Coast running a bakery and working for NYC’s Greenmarket—explained it, discerning shoppers who inquire as to exactly where their produce, meat and dairy come from, should expect the same from their grains.
“Shoppers totally know a locally-grown tomato is going to taste better, but you still think of flour as being a commodity; you don’t think of it as being from a plant,” Moss said. “We were trying to get people excited about local flours and agricultural products.”
It’s easy to get excited about local flours when you taste Tabor’s breads–rich, dense, and intensely flavorful loaves of Red Fife boule, a Rye Pullman made with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, Kamut flour baguettes, and seasonal variations like the caraway and cranberry loaf that was a resounding hit at our pre-Christmas girls’ night gathering, particularly when served alongside a luscious Brebirousse d’Argental.
Touring Tabor Bread the other day, I took note of a few distinguishing characteristics. For instance, there’s the aforementioned floor-to-ceiling brick oven, constructed by Vermont-based Turtlerock Masonry. The unique design features two different heat sources–first, a fire is built inside the oven each evening and allowed to burn through until morning, when the interior is cleaned and mopped for the day’s baking. If the desired temperature isn’t achieved that way, a second fire is built in the cavity beneath to help it along.
There’s a blonde wood Austrian mill that whirs nonstop in its special glass-enclosed cubby, grinding locally-sourced grains from Junction City’s Camas Country Mill to meet the bakery’s burgeoning demand.
There’s a washing machine-sized Dutch mixer that gently mimics the motions of hand-kneading to produce a superior dough.
And, there’s a cute 20-something head baker named Cory Mast, whose youthful muscles effortlessly ripple and flex as he flings doughballs around like they’re wayward bread crusts. (Hey, it’s my job to notice these things and comment on them, ok??)
There’s also the incredibly talented Jocelyn Barda of Bakery Bar fame presiding over an entirely whole grain flour-fueled pastry case stacked with temptations like dark, moist miniature loaves of Red Rife gingerbread, plump streusel-topped muffins, savory bread pudding and seasonal fruit galettes, and a rack of to-go goodies like sacks of housemade granola and tiny towers of double chocolate and cranberry hazelnut sage shortbread. There’s even a discounted day-old goods basket (you know this makes my coupon and sale-loving soul holla for a dolla). And come this spring, Moss says, the bakery will evolve into a wine bar at night, expanding the savory menu beyond the current light lunch soup ‘n sandwich offerings and serving wine and beer.
Oh yes, and there are the tango nights. Well-rounded owner Tissa Stein, a longtime tango enthusiast, occasionally rolls the bar out of the way, pushes the tables back, and holds a traditional tango gathering known as a milonga, turning the entire place into a scene from True Lies.
Of course she does. Because this is Portland, land of hot young baking things, whole grain currant orange caraway scones, and spelt-dusted dirty dancing.
Tabor Bread * 5051 SE Hawthorne Blvd. * 971.279.5530 * taborbread.com * Wed-Fri 7am-6pm, Sat-Sun 8am-6pm