Going local at All Good Bakers

16 Jul

Nick Foster mixes up a batch of scones

Nick Foster mixes up a batch of scones.

I got into a conversation with Britin and Nick Foster at All Good Bakers, a bakery and daytime eats spot in South Albany, because I criticized their bread in a Yelp review. They responded online and asked me to come down and give them another try which I did early one sweltering June morning. I learned a lot about the challenges and rewards of what they are doing, which is to cook using local ingredients as much as possible including a commitment to New York-grown wheat.

There are precious few millers of New York wheat and only two of them, North Country and Champlain Valley Milling, are carried by their distributor. North Country stone-grinds its flour and Nick thought that made it too coarse for his buns and other lighter baked goods. So he mostly uses Champlain, which gets its grain from a variety of unnamed sources (to protect the privacy of the farmer, or so they claim)—a strategy that creates unhelpful variability. He says the too-light bread I criticized was from an early season batch with lower than usual gluten content. Now Nick balances it with a little high-gluten flour from the same mill. All this adds steps and uncertainty to a production shop in which things need to be ready when you expect them to be, and not take extra flour for mixing or extra time to proof.

Troublesome New York flours

Troublesome New York flours

The same uncertainty applies to their fresh vegetable and fruit purchases which, except for the herbs in the hydroponic garden in the window, mostly come from a single farmer at the Farmer’s Market in Delmar. All Good Bakers is famous for its gazpacho but you can’t have any quite yet because local tomatoes aren’t in season. How about freezing some tomatoes? That’s for next year…  no space or budget for a freezer right now.

All these accommodations might seem perverse when you can simply go to the supermarket or call Sysco and get anything you want, but that’s not what people are buying at All Good Bakers. They are paying for a relationship with the source of their food and often they contribute directly… I had an aromatic parmesan scone made with garlic scapes brought in by a customer. AGB actually evolved out of a “CSB”—community sponsored bread—and when the Fosters asked members what they wanted they said they’d pay more for locally sourced food.

Blackboard menu listing local suppliers

AGB Blackboard menu listing local suppliers

This is the same as looking the egg farmer in the eye and knowing you’re not being passed off a week-old carton, but also might not get any eggs because they’re sold out. The connection to your food is direct. Customers count on Britin to make conscientious choices on ingredients like sugar–there’s no local source, and their distributor no longer carries a Fair Trade sugar, so she uses regular sugar and substitutes local maple syrup whenever she can.

You’re also getting Nick’s attitude toward his self-taught baking which started with a single white bread recipe he got from his grandmother and evolved and tweaked into a multitude of loaves, buns and scones. That means dealing with the quirks of his oven, which doesn’t go over 500 degrees, and no steam. It’s like me going over to Mamo’s (my own grandmother) for Thanksgiving dinner where you get what the cook prepares and like most of it because she’s a good cook, but if you don’t you keep your mouth shut unless you want to be sent from the table. Nick told me produces an average of 15 different baked items on a typical day, mostly on his own, out of his little kitchen.

We need more Britins and Nicks on a general basis and more success for them in particular. It helps that they’re very smart social media marketers: in addition to monitoring their Yelp reviews they’re highly visible in local food blogs and Britin offers their kitchen during off hours for cooking classes and is active in From Scratch Club, a local consortium dedicated to “inspiring people to jump back into the kitchen, their gardens and food communities as a daily way of life.” In a nice and fitting coup, All Good Bakers was recently voted “Best Restaurant to Open in the Past Year” by the readers poll in the local daily. It’s a remarkable accomplishment, in a region and demographic that voted Red Robin “best family restaurant” in the same poll.

All Good Bakers is at 540 Delaware Ave, Albany NY 12209, (518) 463-1349. Open 8 am-3 pm Wednesday-Friday, 9 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday.



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