Saturday, July 16, 2011

Magic in the Witch City : A&J King Artisan Bakers

You give me a perfect piece of bread, and I'm a rich woman. It's something that I can't do on my own. I haven't the knowledge, the skill, and, I suspect, not the heart to do so. The outer crunch of an ideal baguette, and the warm, soft doughy inside that breaks apart begging for butter, meat, or an earthy bit of pate is priceless. This is a craft that the good people of A&J King's have mastered without question, and a gentle breeze from the Salem Sound will waft the smells of baking breads, pies, tarts, croissants, calling hungry wanderers from all around the North Shore to their favorite bakery down by Derby Street. 
 The little bakery opened its doors by husband and wife owners, Andy and Jackie King, sometime shortly after I moved to Salem, which was around 2006... but who's counting, really. Since they opened the bakery, it has blossomed, and become increasingly popular, expanding its space to include tables and seating. 
Originally, the bakery produced bread, tarts, cakes, and croissants. That sounds so basic, doesn't it? But god damn, it was love at first bite. This place produced the best bread I'd tasted, basically ever. It's only match to that amazing baguette that I first enjoyed was a baguette devoured at a little boulangerie a year later in Montmartre, Paris. The bread baked on a little unsuspecting street in Salem was simply that good. There are adorable epi breads, tangy North Shore Sourdoughs, ciabattas, multi-grain breads, olive loaves, and some delicious, flaky croissants - plain, chocolate, or my favorite, Gruyere & ham.  For sweets, from the beginning, they've had incredible bourbon and chocolate bread puddings, seasonal tarts, buttery cornbreads, cupcakes since before cupcakes were a craze, and sticky buns that keep me in good graces with my mother in law. 
Vietnamese Ham Sandwich
But since then, they've also expanded their offerings to some wonderful, special coffees to go with your morning scone or breakfast treat, and then my friends, there are the sandwiches. When A&J announced that they were going to be making sandwiches, one part of me laid awake in childish delight like a kid on Christmas Eve, and another part was a little concerned: would this be too much? would their sandwiches be deli meat disappointments? would there be a line and would they abandon the dedication that they've earned from loyal North Shore folk for their incredible baked goods? Fantastically, the kid waiting for Christmas won the lottery in this case. These sandwiches are delicious, and how could they not be when featuring the incredible breads that first beckoned me on every Saturday morning? Their roast beef sandwich is fixed upon a baguette, featuring house-roasted top round beef, roasted tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and pickled red onions. The smoked salmon is another favorite of mine, and within a softer stirato loaf, you'll find slices of fantastic, cold-smoked salmon, creme fresh, salty capers, diced red onion, and a good dose of earthy alfalfa sprouts for additional texture. But the one I seem to return to most often is the Vietnamese ham, which I savored bite after bite of today at lunch. Again, you start with their impeccable, crunchy, buttery baguette, add smoked ham slices from Niman Ranch, a company that draws from a large number of independent farmers in order to provide their sustainable, cage-free (or deeply bedded penned) beef, pork, lamb and poultry. Now, you add thin ribbon slices of lightly pickled carrot, and daikon (I think, could be another variety of turnip though), a slice of cucumber, a handful of cilantro, and then the mayonnaise, which they make in-house. While I must admit, that the sandwich isn't really an authentic banh mi that I often enjoy often from 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches in Boston's Chinatown, the A&J variety is a delicious, texturally awakening, epic sandwich using all of the best possible ingredients, and packing an unforgettable flavor symphony with each chompin' bite. It's a "man, I wish I had one right now" kind of sandwich.
I wish the wonderful, hard working people at this bakery much success for years and years and years to come. You should stop by and say hi, and select something truly special, just for yourself, because you deserve it. 

PS - Peach tart.

Location Rundown:
48 Central Street
Salem, MA 01970

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