The stands at weekend markets like Smorgasburg and the New Amsterdam Market have the aura of start-ups, opened by fresh-faced career changers giving the food industry a shot with artisan macarons, Korean tacos, or Mexican popsicles. However, some of the people behind the stands are anything but beginners. Case in point is Peter Endriss, Runner & Stone's baker. He's one of the many alumni of the Per Se bread ovens who have gone on to run some of the city's best bakeries. For him, the markets have been a way station, a place to sell loaves and spread the word about the Runner & Stone café and restaurant, slated to open in September.
Over a decade ago, Endriss decided that he'd rather slave in a kitchen than be a civil engineer. He worked for a month in a bakery in Germany, where he fell in love with bread making. Back in New York, he spent three years at Amy's Bread. Next he became head baker at Thomas Keller's Per Se, helping to start the bread program at Bouchon Bakery. After Per Se, Endriss escaped to Europe, spending at month at l'Etoile du Berger, a famous French bakery, and then moving on to teach baking at Slow Food in Milan. In Italy, he began to formulate his plan for a bakery and restaurant. He returned to New York, where he and his business partner, chef Chris Pizzulli, found a space in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood and began the long process of turning it into a restaurant.
Runner & Stone was christened when the partners discovered that one of the city's earliest flour mills stood on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. A "runner" and a "stone" are respectively the top and bottom millstones in an old-time flourmill. While waiting for the restaurant to open, Endriss began baking bread again, using the ovens at the Hot Bread Kitchen incubator up in Harlem, and selling them at Smorgasburg and New Amsterdam Market. His Runner & Stone loaves make perfect advertisements for the restaurant to come.
I'm a sucker for breads with nuts. Runner & Stone's walnut bread ($6) is one of the best in the city, with a chewy crust and a dense, flavorful crumb that perfectly compliments the nuts. Its walnut flavor is so rich that you think Endriss must add walnut flavoring or at least walnut oil. However, the secret is that the walnuts are added to the levain for an overnight fermentation, helping to draw out their flavor. The next day this is mixed with organic white bread flour and 15 percent wholewheat flour.
Another Runner & Stone bread with add-ins is the pear ciabatta ($6). Most ciabattas these days are debased sandwich breads, spongy and light. Not this one. It's a dense loaf, with a beautiful hole structure, made from rye, buckwheat, and wholewheat flours and chunks of dried pears. It's a perfect base for a slab of cheese. And its sibling loaf, an excellent olive ciabattta ($6), compliments both cheese and spicy charcuterie.
If you see Runner & Stone's Bolzano rye ($6), grab it. (It's an occasional loaf, not a regular.) Bolzano is an Italian city up in the Alps by the Austrian border. Reflecting the region's cultural spillover, the traditional Bolzano rye bread is a dark rye loaf flavored with caraway seeds, Germanic-style. The Runner & Stone version is a little lighter and is scented with fennel seed, cumin, and coriander, with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt on the crust. The spices give the bread a faint but enticing perfume, more Arabian Nights than lederhosen and beer.
Speaking of beer, the city's bakeries have rediscovered the art of making soft pretzels ($3). Runner & Stone makes one of the best, using white spelt flour, sugar, salt, butter, yeast, and water. Before they're baked, the twists of dough are dunked in a lye solution to give them a crisp glazed crust. Slightly sweet, buttery, and salty, a couple of these pretzels make a perfect counterpoint to a pitcher of pilsener.
The Runner & Stone market stands are now on hiatus while the restaurant is being prepared. Look for the grand opening of Runner & Stone in mid-September.
Runner & Stone(opening in September)
About the author: Andrew Coe is the only reporter covering the city's bread beat.