Spotlight: WheatFields Bakery Cafe
European brick oven, wood fire, organic flour, natural leaven, dedicated and skilled bakers: what more could you ask for in a bakery? How about convenient midtown location; simple, delicious breakfast, lunch and supper foods featuring local ingredients in season? Great, locally roasted fair trade coffee? Exquisite pastries? Keep asking; WheatFields Bakery Cafe has been coming up with all the right answers for nearly ten years at their corner location in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.
Founded in 1995 by Charles Rascoll, Thom Leonard, and Chuck Magerl, WheatFields quickly became a fixture of Lawrence's thriving downtown scene. Of the three, only Chuck Magerl continues to have day-to-day involvement with the business. Chef Rascoll has returned to his faculty position at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Mr. Leonard . . . well, among other things, he maintains a website for an organic flour company, and has, on occasion, been sighted carrying one of WheatFields' large Pane della Famiglia loaves down the street in Lawrence.
WheatFields rolls on, better than ever. Jules Shore and the pastry crew continue to marvel the public with sugar- and butter-laden tortes, tarts and viennoiserie. The lunch-time salads of local greens garnished with French lentils and pickled beets fill the noon-time tables daily. On a typical Saturday morning, it's difficult to say whether there are more people at WheatFields or at the farmers' market in the next block.
WheatFields is a bakers' bakery. Organic flour, hand scaling and shaping, along with careful attention to fermentation, all contribute to some of the best bread in the country. Then there's the oven: Twenty tonnes of brick and mortar, fired with local hardwoods, the breads steamed in their own vapors -- crust, crumb and flavor are unsurpassed. No automatic loader or strapped-together bread pans here: Each loaf is loaded directly onto the massive masonry hearth using the traditional long handled wooden peel. The massive oven itself protrudes onto the sidewalk along Vermont Street, its gentle arc of bricks -- along with the scent of woodsmoke and the aroma of baking bread -- a hint of what's inside.
Most of the bread varieties on the WheatFields menu are naturally leavened; that is, made without commercial bakers' yeast, but risen exclusively with a bakery-maintained starter culture. A few varieties, including both ciabatta and baguettes, entail the use of both yeast and natural starters.
Most of the breads sold at WheatFields are deceptively simple in ingredients and complex in process. Organic flour, water, and salt are the only ingredients in many. Other varieties build on this simplicity with the addition of Kalamata olives, steel-cut oats, and fruit and nuts. All are well-crafted, beautiful, and imminently esculent.
WheatFields has received local, regional and national recognition in the years since opening. Inclusion in Maggie Glezer's landmark book, Artisan Baking Across America, led to being featured in a USA Today cover story that highlighted ten great US bread bakeries. In the spring of 2004 the Food Channel featured WheatFields on their Best Of series. And even more recently, the Kansas Wheat Commission honored WheatFields and Head Baker Rita York with their first ever "Bakery of the Year" award.
We at Heartland Mill have always been honored to have been a part of the WheatFields commitment to great bread, and are grateful to the bakers for putting Kansas farmers' wheat into the hands (and mouths) of the bread eaters of Lawrence.