Hoboken Bread

Here is the first article I wrote for Hobokeni.com in 2002.

Hoboken Bread by Dina

The owners of three Hoboken bread bakeries would like to get coal in their stockings. In this day and age, they are among the few—and I mean few—businesses that still get coal deliveries. However, without coal, they could not bake their famous “Hoboken bread.” The coal-fired ovens they use are what make their bread so renowned. According to the famous bread baron, James Beard, there’s nothing like bread toasted over coals. Undoubtedly, there’s nothing like bread baked over coals. The city’s three major players in bread are Marie’s, Dom’s and Antique Bakery. These mostly wholesale bakeries still use the large, old-fashioned coal-fired ovens to bake their golden, crusty Italian and French-style loaves that get delivered to area restaurants and delis in New Jersey and Manhattan.

Joyce Flinn, owner of Hoboken’s well-known Amanda’s restaurant, explains the appeal of the town’s bread. “What distinguishes Hoboken bread is the coal-oven, giving it a hard, crunchy crust but not drying out the center of the bread. It gives it a consistency that’s airy and chewy but not fluffy,” she says. Since its opening ten years ago, Amanda’s has relied on Dom’s for its “toothy” quality.

The three Hoboken bread bakeries are related in some way, whether by blood or by apprenticeship. The Policastros of Marie’s, the mother of all Hoboken bakeries, are relatives of the Castellitos of Dom’s. The owner of Antique Bakery learned the trade from the owner of Marie’s. Bread has been baking in Marie’s Second Street oven for over a hundred years. In bins in the front window, the shop displays the various flavors of taralli, or hard rings, and biscuits (called “biscotti” though not the famous cookie but a hard bread). Inside, bread lines the shelves, especially the popular baguettes, or “sticks” as they are known in Hoboken.

Don’t be fooled by the name of the Antique Bakery around the corner on Willow Street. It’s hardly antique having been around for 14 years–long enough to establish a presence. The place beckons passersby with its bright orange trim outside and large round loaves in the window. Upon entering the modest-sized shop, the fresh scent of baked bread wafts out. Inside, there are panellas (large, round loaves), baguettes, rolls, sausage and pepperoni breads, focaccia and more. An older man carries out two overloaded brown paper bags that seem larger than him. The bags are full of “sticks,” and he professes they are the best.

It’s hard to argue which Hoboken bread is best. Everyone has an opinion on that.

Thirteen-year Hobokenite, journalist John Higgins gives a tip: “Saturday mornings, walk over to Dom’s. They stack the baguettes (Italian bread to them) in a plastic milk crate like pencils in a cup. Gotta ask which ones are freshest. Early enough in the day, they’re still warm. Get there by 11.”

Dom’s at 506 Grand Street is a real “mom and pop” shop. Inside, the place looks like a family establishment with kids’ sports helmets and hockey sticks on a shelf near the door. For nearly 24 years, the owner, Dominick Castellitto, has been making sure the neighbors get the basics here: panellas, focaccia, baguettes, rolls and sausage and pepperoni bread. For Easter, he also makes Italian Easter bread. Though Dom’s delivers to area restaurants and delis, including Frankie & Johnny, Gerrino, and Da Vinci, it also supports the community. According to the Hoboken Homeless Shelter newsletter, the bakery has been donating food annually “almost every night.”

The big three have the advantage of a coal-fired oven, which really makes a difference when making old-world styles of bread. There are two other bread bakeries in Hoboken worthy of some note, though they use the brick-lined rotary oven. According to bread-baker Danny Losurdo, Tony’s on Second Street has been around for “at least 75 years.” About 25 years ago, Danny and his two brothers, Nick and Max, turned it into more than a bread bakery. At the bustling deli, friendly guys in paper hats serve various Italian goods, fresh store-made cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta, cold cuts like prosciutto and roast beef, fresh store-made sausage and imported goods from Italy like bufala mozzarella, pastas and cookies. Along with the typical bakery breads, Danny makes scala, or sourdough, of which he gives me a loaf, and taralli, in sugar, egg and fennel varieties. During holidays like Easter, he makes traditional Italian Easter bread and wheat pies, or pizza rustica.

Despite its name, Grand Bakery on the corner of Willow and Eighth Streets is the smallest of the bread bakeries. It actually specializes in pastries and has a small bread business. In 1964, now-owner Kathy Castellitto’s grandpa opened shop. A fire closed the store some years later but Kathy and her husband, John, reopened it. Grand carries the basic breads and delivers to delis around the city—and regularly to the boys at a Stevens’s frat house. And, yes, with a name like Castellitto, and in a town as small as Hoboken, the two bakers have to be cousins—and they are. But there’s little competition, as the businesses are different.

Needless to say, Hoboken bread, as it’s called, is the “real” thing when it comes to the art of making bread. For that, it makes this one mile known for miles around.

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