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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bread and Purpose

From the Fridge Dept.: I get more writing down in coffeeshops than I do at home, a state of affairs that will prevail until I have to mow lawns and fix windows at those coffeeshops. Here’s my decade-old account of a place in Glens Falls, NY, that I found particularly appealing.

YOU CAN’T HELP WONDERING more than ever what would happen if the socially responsible were placed in charge of the corporate entities. If you’re talking Exxon/Mobil, then it won’t be during my lifetime and probably not during yours, but on a much, much smaller scale we have the example of Rock Hill Bakehouse, which for nearly 20 years has seen Matt Funiciello at its helm – and he’s a fellow with a long family history of social activism.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Which is why Rock Hill is one of the state’s leading buyers of local organic flour – 180,000 pounds of it last year – and the Glens Falls café uses locally produced greens and cheese and more.

The café opened eight years ago, shifting Rock Hill’s foodservice from its Gansevoort bakery, and occupies a pleasant building near Glens Falls’s business center but a short remove from its main street.

Thanks to Funiciello’s book collection, the place looks as much like a library as a coffee house, and you’re welcome to borrow titles. Not surprisingly, it’s a collection with social attitude.

Although the emphasis is on Rock Hill’s award-winning bread, there’s a good coffee collection, all of it fair trade, and organic tea from Divinitea. And, of course, a menu that encourages visits for breakfast or lunch.

Breakfast isn’t egg-and-bacon-centric here, but you can cut a broad swath through the bread-based offerings. A toast sampler ($5) gives you three different varieties of their bread (I’d recommend sourdough, cinnamon raisin and whole wheat farm, but I can’t report ever having been disappointed by the others); you’re invited to indulge your sweet tooth by choosing two biscotti, muffins, brownies, scones, cinnamon buns or cookies – all on display at the counter – for $7.

There’s organic granola served with organic yogurt ($6) and a fruit and cheese plate featuring a Nettle Meadows chevre ($10). And the Unbagel Breakfast ($5) features Rock Hill’s special, airy bread rolls. They offer a choice of sourdough, paesano, cinnamon raisin and pane bello, but look for the jalapeno cheddar variety, which has a wonderful pop to its flavor and is well worth a trip from afar.

Otherwise, the fare is more lunchlike, with a range of soup, salad and sandwiches. The day my daughter and I stopped in, in the middle of last week, the soups were beef-potato-vegetable, French carrot and Asian chicken. And the classic pistou, or at least a variation: this pistou included sausage, but it also had the array of fresh vegetables that defines this dish.

Soup is served alone (but in a big bowl) for $4.50; add a bread sampler and beverage for a buck and a half.

The half-dozen different salads cover a good range, from a $9 garden salad that mixes romaine and red leaf and includes dilled Havarti to a $12 chicken Caesar that features smoked chicken from Oscar’s Smokehouse in an assembly that adds spinach and croutons to a romaine base.

The spinach and avocado salad ($10) includes cucumber, tomatoes, bean sprouts and an orange-peanut dressing, and there’s a $12 antipasto (smoked ham, Genoa salami, provolone and more) that I’m eager to try. My daughter dug into the Billy Goat Salad ($12), which (unsurprisingly) features goat cheese (the aforementioned Nettle Meadows variety) amidst romaine and red leaf, with croutons (nice, nice croutons), tomato slices and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Sandwiches fall into the grilled, meatless, and traditional varieties. In the last-named category is the signature Farmhouse ($11.25), which puts a garlic-enhanced salad of Oscar’s smoked chicken between slices of farm bread with Havarti and red leaf lettuce. Oscar’s smoked ham is paired with apple slices in the Grandpa Smith ($10.25); the Italian Roast Beef also includes provolone in buttered pane bello ($11).

Hummus, pesto, avocado, apples, cheddar, spinach, sprouts and a variety of lettuce characterize the various vegetarian items ($10 each). 

I like the notion of a Grown-Up Grilled Cheese, celebrating an easily mocked childhood favorite. Here you pay ten dollars for grilled semolina bread with cheddar and smoked mozzarella livened with pesto. But I lunched on the Curried Chicken Grill ($11), with chunks of Oscar’s smoked chicken tossed with lemon juice and mayo and a light curry seasoning, sandwiched with avocado hearts and tomato slices.

If the menu seems familiar (and you’re an old-timer like me), that’s because it’s much the same as the one Funiciello and David McMaster developed for a short-lived café at Colonie Center. (“We were very successful there,” Funiciello recalls, “but there just weren’t enough seats in the place to make enough money.”)

But he has more plans for the Glens Falls shop, including a renovation that will allow him to add hearth-baked pizza to the menu. Meanwhile, he continues to tweak the menu he’s got.”Sandwiches are a funny thing,” he says. “There’s an art to it, and I’m never sure we’ve achieved it. I listen to my cooks and listen to my customers, and the result is what you see.”

It’s an excellent result.

Rock Hill Bakehouse Café, 19 Exchange St., Glens Falls, 615-0777, Serving Mon-Sat 7:30 AM-8 PM, Sun 10-5. AE, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 3 March 2011

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