Bantam Bread Company
When a bit of fame alights upon a noble person or venture, it can be well intentioned and much appreciated but also miss the mark. Call that phenomenon the paradigm of the Bantam Bread Company and the "Dirt Bomb." Rest assured, it's not a metaphor for a critic lobbing a muddy insult at the artisan bakery that chef Niles Golovin launched in 1996 in the basement of a multi-story house wedged between Route 202 and the Bantam River, in what was once considered historic Litchfield's working-class borough.
Instead, the Dirt Bomb is the reason for the regional and even national renown that Bantam Bread has enjoyed. This dense, nutmeg-scented muffin, dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar, has been featured on The Food Network and was recently named the "Best Muffin" in Yankee Magazine's "Best of New England" issue – a feat, considering it's the only thing resembling a muffin that Bantam Bread makes.
Dirt Bombs are delicious, but they're not the soul of this atelier of yeast, flour, and enzymes, nor the staple of a recipe that has built a legion of devoted customers who treasure their weekly, sometimes daily, pilgrimages to a tiny, quirky shop with a singular charm that pivots on the most wholesome forms of temptation and desire.
Here, appropriately, it's the masterful loaves of Golovin and fellow bakers Ian Chin and Jr. Morales that yield a communion of lifestyle transfiguration – that, and the almost ad hoc but magnificent context of other offerings, including gourmet cheeses, chocolates, Spanish olive oils, and "rustic" pastries that range from lattice tarts to fruit crostatas, tea cakes, elephant ears, brownies, cookies, and more.
The semolina bâtard is like Mass on Sunday; the Kalamata olive sourdough, paired with olive oil and red wine, is a well-heeled peasant's dinner; Irish soda bread on Thursdays, cinnamon raisin bread and the holiday fruit and nut bread ennoble breakfast, and the pain de campagne brings rustic luxury to sandwiches.
There's also challah bread, French white, caraway rye, multigrain, sunflower and flax seed, peasant, and whole grain spelt, though Golovin can barely name them all and doesn't place a high priority on tracking production numbers. He's more of a bread artist that a loaf accountant, though he can say that the semolina bread is most popular and multigrain second.
"After all this time, we're still getting better at what we do. Today's sourdough is remarkably beautiful," says the baker, who comes in at 2am and makes everything from scratch each day.
"The holiday bread's got soul," he adds in telling the anecdote of recognizing, in the early days of Bantam Bread, around Thanksgiving, a need for a fruit-and-nut bread. "We made it for the holiday, and it just stuck," says Golovin, whose preferred take-home loaf is the spelt bread, because it is 100% whole grain. "It's the heaviest loaf of bread we make."
Golovin, who is proud of managing to "sneak a little whole grain into everybody's bread," is taking on a new challenge. "We've decided to work on the introduction of an 'ancient grain' bread with a high whole grain content to be baked free form, meaning it will be baked directly on the oven floor without a pan," he said.
Golovin, joined in the business by his ex-wife, Susie Uruburu, and his pastry chef and daughter, Amanda Golovin Vega, revealed that his tenure at the helm of Bantam Bread will be coming to an end at some point. The arrival of the bakery's 20-year anniversary on July 20 has him thinking about finding a successor to take over and continue the business, and family members are so far not inclined to do so.
Though customers consistently call the breads "superb" and say things like "everything they create here is magic," there have been notable difficulties for Golovin and Bantam Bread.
His many champions remain troubled by what resulted, when he pursued a vision a decade ago of evolving the tiny basement bakery into a larger, gleaming bakery and café, initially locally and then more distant.
Golovin's attempt to expand by taking over the former Bantam Firehouse – and fill a niche for an area then short on coffee and lunch options – was met with only roadblocks and what seemed like resistance from the powers-that-be in Bantam and Litchfield. Eventually, he was compelled to drop his effort to reimagine the historic brick building that is now home to Arethusa Farm Dairy's creamery.
Stung by that outcome, perhaps, he fell in love with the deep, expansive ovens in the historic former Rogers Bakery in Plainville, which was vacant and on the market. Golovin bought the building, undertook a stylish renovation, and opened his bakery and café in 2007, while also retaining the Bantam location.
By critical measure, the new venture was brilliant; the bread and pastries better than ever, the lunches terrific, the overall experience unlike anything else in the area.
"My feeling was that we were branded well enough to draw from the communities surrounding Plainville," Golovin recalled, but the folks from Farmington and Bristol didn't come in volume, and Golovin was forced to close the site the same year it had opened.
He returned to Bantam and soldiered on, admirably and thankfully for all those who love the experience of stopping in for still-warm loaves that demand to be torn into chunks on the drive home. For the band of loyalists who make Golovin's specialties a regular part of their day, Bantam Bread Company's long local history is something to celebrate.
Bantam Bread Company is open Wednesday-Saturday, 8:30am-5:30pm, and until 4pm on Sunday.
And while coming to Bantam for the breads and pastries is a treasured ritual, Golovin's creations can also be found at New Morning Market in Woodbury and Davis IGA in Kent. Morris' Winvian resort serves the French white and multigrain breads to guests as part of their breakfast.
853 Bantam Rd., Bantam