I've been obsessed with rye bread forever - there are certain sandwiches that simply don't work without a crusty rye with the proper crumb. But for some crazy reason there are not many parts of the United States that consistently make quality rye. For example, I bow to no man in my love of Katz's pastrami in New York, and there are tons of great bread and bagel sources in New York, but as a whole the rye bread itself in even the best NYC delis is shockingly bad. Chicago has been that way as well - and with the more sparse deli culture has been even worse. Weirdly the best rye has for decades been in Detroit and Los Angeles, which makes no sense but it's true (especially Detroit, where the double baked style is a national treasure). So, have things changed in recent years? Can you get a good rye bread in a chicago now that artisanal bread has made a comeback and Eastern European bakeries have found new audiences? I've decided to find out.
My first effort involved a tasting of rye breads from Hewn (artisanal bakery in Evanston), Ideal (traditional Eastern European bakery on Milwaukee Avenue), Kaufman's (legendary Jewish deli in Skokie), Dinkel's (German landmark in Lakeview), and as a control Hal's (a supermarket rye but made with all natural ingredients). The verdict?
(1) Hewn - the best bread overall and amazing crust and crumb. Flavor is more muted than I would have expected with no caraway, but the subtle rye flavor of the flour is fragrant and delicious. This bread could easily complete with the best rye breads I've ever tried.
(2) Ideal - A dark rye with fantastic flavor and a good crust. Not quite the sophisticated flavor of Hewn's loaf, it is ironically less good in a sandwich and better eaten alone with cheese or butter because it has such a strong rye flavor.
(3) Dinkel's - the platonic Ideal of your grandma's caraway flavored rye bread. The crust is not great, but the structure is nice. This is probably better described as caraway bread (you can't taste rye at all) but it is decent as a basic sandwich bread.
(4) Kaufman's - Not horrible, but an inferior version of Detroit style rye. Clean flavor but the crust is really weak for a bread style that requires a good crust. People who like softer rye probably will like it a lot, however, and it won't interfere with the flavor of the food in a sandwich imeven if it doesn't enhance it.
(5) Hal's - I could barely eat it. Rubbery flavor. Bleach. Possible that it was stale and had been left on the shelf too long, so I will try it again some other time so my judgment isn't harmed by a random bad loaf.
Any suggestions for other places? What are your favorites?