Where to Carb Load: Great Bread Service from Coast to Coast

Good luck resisting the tempting bread service at these 10 restaurants across the country.

Breaking Bread

A basket of bread can say a lot about a restaurant. Pale flavorless rolls the texture of Styrofoam can begin your meal on a disappointing note (no doubt a sign of things to come), while baskets of fresh-from-the-oven focaccia, baguettes, rolls and loaves can raise the bar, setting the tone for the wonders to come. We’ve scoured the country for the best bread service on offer (whether complimentary or for a fee), and we wholeheartedly encourage you to fill up before dinner.

Multiple Locations: Scarpetta

The only downside to the bread service at Scarpetta is that you may not have room for dinner. The bread basket includes slices of warm house made focaccia with rosemary and sea salt, and two kinds of stromboli (one vegetable and cheese; one smoked mozzarella and salami). As if that weren't enough, the breads come with housemade eggplant caponata, mascarpone butter and citrus-infused olive oil.

Photo courtesy of LDV Hospitality

Go to: Scarpetta

Las Vegas: LAVO

Garlic bread can be really bad when it's not done right — burned, chalky, bitter. But not at LAVO, where Corporate Executive Chef Marc Marrone brushes warm loaves with garlic butter and olive oil and sprinkles them with freshly grated cheese. The garlic bread arrives on every table gratis, with a rich tomato marinara for dipping.

Photo courtesy of TAO Group

Go to: LAVO

Chicago: Boka

Chicago natives are loyal to Chef Lee Wolen's seasonal American fare at Boka. But there is that point, after the orders have been taken, where the anticipation for Pastry Chef Meg Galus' famous caraway pretzel rolls and light rye beer bread with house-cultured butter becomes nearly intolerable. The waiting is the hardest part.

Go to: Boka Restaurant

Pittsburgh: Whitfield

Chef Brent Young of Whitfield, an American steakhouse in the newly opened Ace Hotel Pittsburg, takes his meat seriously. Young is also the owner of The Meat Hook, a Brooklyn butcher shop, which means the steaks at The Whitfield are butchered in-house from whole animals. But the same thoughtfulness is given to the bread service, which includes squares of housemade foccacia with whipped lardo. Something good has to come from all that fabulous pork fat.

Go to: Whitfield

Palo Alto, Calif.: Bird Dog

At Bird Dog, the innovative Palo Alto restaurant from Santa Barbara wine country chef Robbie Wilson and his wife, Emily Perry Wilson, has wowed guests in many ways — its blue mohair banquettes, the surprising recordings of Julia Child explaining how to make bouillabaisse playing in the ladies' room and, yes, the bread service. Chef Wilson serves wood-grilled Roti, baked in-house, brushed with butter and topped with a Yemenite curry spice blend.

Go to: Bird Dog

Philadelphia: High Street on Market

Baker Alex Bois of High Street on Market in Philadelphia, and the newly opened High Street on Hudson in New York City, is one of the country’s most talented bread men. His loaves are rustic and hearty and rely on recipes from the Old World. His terrific bread service is the best way to get a taste of his talents for only $6. It includes a seasonal selection of his signatures, such as vollkornbrot (a New England cornmeal loaf sweetened with molasses), andama (a dark German rye studded with sunflower seeds), and keystone ground, served on a butcher block with a trio of spreads: charred eggplant, burnt celery root with mushroom powder, and apple butter. Have it for lunch with nothing else and you will be quite content.

Photo by Neal Santos

Go to: High Street on Market

New Orleans: Bayona

Soft butter mixed with maple and cane syrups, and flecked with Maldon salt, accompanies the sweet potato brioche rolls served at Bayona, Susan Spicer’s beloved and iconic New Orleans restaurant (four rolls for $5). The rolls are so popular that Spicer uses them for canapes topped with foie gras at private parties. That makes you want to host one right away, doesn’t it?

Go to: Bayona

Washington D.C.: Ripple

At Ripple, a market-driven American restaurant in Washington D.C.'s Cleveland Park neighborhood, Executive Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley serves her famous milk breads — the super-light and fluffy breads made popular by Asian bakeries — warm in a cast-iron skillet and with a scallion butter.

Photo courtesy of Ripple

Go to: Ripple

Miami: Alter

At Alter, Chef Brad Kilgore makes loaves of brioche every day in-house and crusts them with a kind of wild "everything" mixture of herbs, salts and spices — dill seed, sumac, poppy seed and lava salt ($8). Kilgore serves the brioche with what he he calls Umami Butter: "The recipe is secret, but I do use Floridian small farmer butter."

Photo courtesy of Gourmandj via Flickr

Go to: Alter

Chattanooga: Easy Bistro & Bar

At Easy Bistro & Bar, Chef Erik Niel bakes so many wonderful breads it’s a wonder he has time to cook. Potato levain, focaccia, brioche rolls, duck fat challah, spring onion fougasse, graham crackers, walnut oregano batard, blood orange basil batard, Anson Mills benne seed cracker and pretzel baguette make up his bountiful bread board. The breads are made from a natural yeast starter for full-flavored loaves, and they are accompanied by olive tapenade and Dijon mustard ($7).

Go to: Easy Bistro & Bar