The Gowanus Canal was once a tidal inlet, bordered by rich grasslands and filled with oysters rumored to be the "size of dinner plates." Back in the 17th century, a Dutch settler named Adam Brouwer built Brooklyn's first flour mill there, powered by the flow of water in and out of the inlet. Local farmers brought their wheat and other grains there to be milled; they then sold the flour to bakers and housewives in New Amsterdam, just across the East River.
Four centuries later, inspired by this history, baker Peter Endriss and chef Chris Pizzulli have finally opened their bakery and restaurant a block from the Gowanus. They have named it Runner & Stone after the top and bottom halves of a traditional millstone. One of our city's best bakers, Endriss has had a peripatetic career that's taken him from a bakery in South Germany to a job overseeing Per Se's bread ovens to a weekly bread stand at Smorgasburg. Finally, he has his own ovens in a space that's a bit cramped but actually has natural light. And in flavor and texture, his breads, some of them new, have never been better.
The first bread I'd grab would be Runner & Stone's baguette. Peter now leavens his dough with a mixture of levain and poolish starters, and gives the loaves a long ferment. Without getting too technical, the levain adds a bit of sourdough bite and also deepens the flavor. It also allows him to bake loaves from the same batch throughout the day, so you can always be sure of getting it fresh. The result is a baguette with a crisp crust enclosing a slightly moist, chewy, and aromatic crumb with an amazing hole structure. For me, it achieves the ultimate bread accolade: It's so good that you don't need to eat anything with it.
I've long been a fan of buckwheat bread (I still dream of a buckwheat loaf that Almondine once made), and now Runner & Stone has given me an excellent buckwheat baguette to chew on. Peter likes buckwheat flour for its flavor and texture, but also because buckwheat plants (not actually a grain) drain less nutrients from the fields than wheat. His buckwheat baguette, made with levain, comes out of the oven with a mild buckwheat aroma, crisp crust, and touch of sourness—great for smoked fish topped with a touch of crème fraiche. Peter also uses buckwheat and organic wheat flour to make his delicious pear buckwheat loaf.
Another new loaf is Peter's spelt ciabatta. If you're expecting the white, spongy, flavorless ciabatta loaf that's the norm around the city, forget it. The only similarity is the bread's slipper (or maybe it should be clown shoe?) shape. The crust is baked until it's dark and a bit cracked; inside the crumb is dense but soft, with a pronounced nuttiness from the spelt. Peter makes the loaf from organic spelt flour produced by Farmer Ground up near the Finger Lakes, mixes it with a bit of olive oil for moisture and texture.
Finally, I have to give another tip of the fedora to Runner & Stone's Bolzano rye. Based on a bread style from up in the Italian Alps, it's a hearty miche flavored fennel seed, cumin, and coriander. When he was selling the Bolzano at Smorgasburg, you could only buy small rounds. Now he bakes the delicious loaf the size of small tractor wheels, which is great because you never want to run out.