I love bread baskets, don't you? The ones with a bunch of different choices sometimes wrapped in a cloth napkin to keep them warm. Bread baskets seem to have gone out of style in restaurants. What is currently favored in fancy-pants restaurants is a server coming around with a silver platter with two or three options he or she offers you with a pair of tongs. That, my friends, is not a bread basket. All of those options may be delicious, but great options does not a bread basket make. At Bouley they bring around a bread trolley with many different house-baked breads and rolls on them. Delicious, yes. Bread basket, no. I don't want my bread bestowed upon me by a server. I want to feel and smell the often warm bread combinations that nestle ever so sweetly in a basket.
There are still a few places that rightfully take great pride in their bread baskets, and I would like to compile a list of them around the country so that no matter where you are, you will know where the nearest great bread basket is. My list as I write this only comprises New York restaurants, so I am depending on my fellow Serious Eaters to fill in the rest of the country.
One thing I've noticed in New York is that brunch bread baskets are often superior to those served at lunch and dinner, so the list that follows includes three brunch bread baskets and even a breakfast bread basket.
Bread baskets of every conceivable variety are gratefully accepted.
BALTHAZAR It's not free, but the breakfast bread basket here is substantial enough to be a morning meal for two, and it's populated by many wonderful things baked by Balthazar Bakery bread guru Paula Oleand. The sticky bun rocks, and the rest of the breads and rolls are never less than stellar. 80 Spring Street, New York NY 10012 (b/n Broadway and Crosby streets); 212-965-1414; balthazarny.com
DEL POSTO<!-- and ENOTECA --> Perhaps my favorite lunch or dinner bread basket anywhere. Pliant bread sticks, warm foccacia, a roll or two, accompanied by fantastic butter and whipped lardo. Deliciouso. 85 Tenth Avenue, New York NY 10011 (b/n 15th and 16th streets); 212-497-8090; delposto.com
MESA GRILL An excellent Southwestern-themed brunch bread basket features all kinds of corn things studded with corn kernels that are moist and pack a flavor wallop. 102 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10011 (b/n 15th and 16th streets); 212-807-7400; mesagrill.com. There are also locations in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace and at the Cove Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
OUEST A truly inspired homey brunch bread basket with scones, coffee cake, muffins, and sweet breads. 2315 Broadway, New York NY 10023 (b/n 83rd and 84th streets); 212-580-8700; ouestny.com
PETER LUGER Even though I know I am going to be stuffed with the red meat and carb festival that follows, I still can't resist the salt sticks, onion pockets, and rye crescents that comprise the Peter Luger bread basket. 178 Broadway, Brooklyn NY 11211 (at Driggs Avenue); 718-387-7400; peterluger.com. Second location at 255 Northern Boulevard, Great Neck, NY 11021; 516-487-8800. Last time I was there many years ago the bread basket was not identical to the original location's.
TELEPAN The brunch bread basket features astonishingly moist and flavorful scones, coffee cake, and killer banana bread. 72 West 69th Street, New York, NY 10023 (at Columbus Avenue); 212-580-4300; telepan-ny.com