Good to Go takeout: Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia
Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery could easily subsist on bread alone: chewy baguettes and rotund ciabattas, thick loaves of whole wheat-walnut and thin loaves of focaccia. Owner Gerald Koh, who briefly owned Wheatberry in Cleveland Park, ran Mark Furstenberg's Breadline and took a course from bread guru Jeffrey Hamelman at the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Vermont, says the secret to good bread is patience. "If I'm in a hurry, I can make ciabatta in 10 hours," he says. But retarding fermentation by refrigerating the dough overnight is the key to the fresh, subtly yeasty taste of the stuff that takes 30 hours from start to finish.
Koh's inauspicious brick storefront, in a commercial strip off Oakland Mills Road in Columbia, opened in June and goes through about 50 pounds of flour a day.
And Bon Fresco -- the linguistic mashup is French for good, Italian for fresh -- puts all of that bread to good use. The sandwiches ($6.50) are thick and loaded with extras: chicken breast with caramelized onions and sun-dried tomato pesto on a hunk of baguette, or Genoa salami, sopressata, mortadella, provolone and roasted red peppers on ciabatta. There are standbys that can be mixed and matched with condiments and cheeses, but the combinations on the menu are thoughtfully conceived and well worth a leap of faith. The hot sandwiches, many dripping with melted cheese, are finished in a broiler. The ciabatta rolls aren't overly crusty, so the thick sandwiches can be eaten without their innards oozing all over.
The sandwich menu also has a Picante section, which means those items are dressed with a spicy poblano sauce. The daily flatbread special ($6.50) is a nan-style bread, usually grilled and folded over hummus and vegetables, chicken, turkey or London broil with various cheeses and vegetables.
Soups ($2.95 and $3.95) change daily, with options that include shiitake mushroom and barley, ribollita, and carrot-ginger with orange, all made from scratch. Meal-sized salads are generous scoops of such toppings as curried chicken salad, tuna and grilled eggplant (identical to sandwich fixings) on fresh mixed greens ($6.50 for one topping, $8.50 for two). Soups and salads, happily, come with bread.
In late January, Koh added a bakery case filled with cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies and scones, all made on- site ($1.88 to $2.88). And although coffee is limited to the brewed stuff, he says he hopes to bring in an espresso machine at some point and plans to open for breakfast beginning in early March.
Bon Fresco is a hidden gem. With zero street presence (it's tucked behind a somewhat larger cluster of stores) and no Web site yet, it's the kind of place you would have to discover on your own. If I lived in the area, I'd stop in for coffee at breakfast, order a carryout sandwich to save for lunch, maybe swing by for a soup or salad at dinnertime. Or at the very least, take home a loaf or two of bread ($2 to $5). Every day.
-- Martha Thomas
Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery 6945 Oakland Mills Rd., Columbia; 410-290-3434. Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.