“Artisanal” is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days and, more than not, it signifies little more than a hopeful marketing strategy. But the word, which derives from “artisan,” is used honestly when it connotes an item made by hand by a craftsman who adheres to traditional methods of production.
At Blacksmith’s Breads in Long Beach, that item is bread and that craftsman is Raymond Smith.
Smith and his partners, Michael Blackburn and Shane Herbert, are part of a nationwide bread movement that combines centuries-old baking methods with a contemporary focus on local and organic grains. At Blacksmith’s, the breads range from crisp-crusted French baguettes to densely seeded German vollkornbrot to savory red quinoa loaves. All are made with prefermented starters (“old” dough that is alive with naturally occurring yeasts) and most contain wheat and / or rye grown and milled in the Northeast. (Breads range between $5 and $8.)
Blacksmith’s, which opened recently in the West End of Long Beach, looks every inch the old-school/new-wave bakery, with lots of reclaimed wood, white subway tile and stainless steel. It’s a tiny place, and almost every chair, sofa and stool has a view of the open kitchen, itself jam-packed with its triple-decker steam-injected oven, dough mixer, dough sheeter and workbench.
While you watch the show, there’s Stumptown coffee to sip, pastries (including a decadent croissant-muffin mash-up called the cruffin, $2.50 for a small one) to nibble and sandwiches to nosh. “We knew that bread alone was not going to pay the bills,” Smith said.
Sandwiches include a PB&J with peanut butter from Bob’s Natural Foods (also of Long Beach) and Blackburn’s homemade raisin jam on mostly white country sandwich bread. The ham sandwich on a croissant overdelivers with prosciutto and Parmesan, caper butter and sliced cornichons. Other eats ($7 to $11) include a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich and a frittata made with nachos.
Smith and Blackburn met when they both worked at Caffe Laguna, permanently shuttered by superstorm Sandy. Both eventually returned to the West End to work at Lost & Found. Smith had started to bake bread seriously and, at Lost & Found last winter, he and Blackburn launched a weekly pop-up bakery called Blacksmith’s.
In the spring, months before the site was ready, Blacksmith’s became a vendor at Long Beach’s Saturday farmers market. “That’s when we started developing our customers,” Smith said. Customer development is critical, he explained, because “not everyone is used to paying $6 for a loaf of bread.”
Blacksmith’s Breads (cash only, for now) is at 870 W. Beech St., Long Beach, blacksmithsbreads.com.