by Christopher M. Halleron
Baked goods in Hoboken, New Jersey have gotten a fair bit of attention as of late. But the baking tradition in the Mile Square goes deeper than just the icing on the cake. Our town’s bakeries have been exalted long before the fanfare and fondant, with most toasts heaped upon those glorious places that give us each day our daily bread. From the crumb-bum to the upper crust, everyone likes a nice piece of bread. But there’s an art to making good bread; where something so simple, so basic, so plain just seems to elevate itself to a whole new level when it’s done right.
What makes Hoboken’s bread so much better than everyone else’s? “I wish I knew,” says Angie Pena of Antique Bakery. “I know it’s better than the bread I get in my town–when I come here I say ‘Wow, this is REAL bread!'” Danny Losurdo, of Losurdo Bros./Tony’s Italian Bakery & Deli, says, “It’s the water, and it’s the way we knead the dough.” Dom Castellitto, of Dom’s Bakery adds, “It has a lot to do with the oven, too.”
Whatever it is, it’s enough to make Peter drive his red pick-up truck over seventy miles of Parkway and Turnpike traffic from the Shore and buy up all the bread he can. “They don’t know what bread is down there,” he says, mid order. What started off as a quest for focaccia soon descends into a full-fledged feeding frenzy, as Peter spots the sausage loaf, the pepperoni loaf, the prosciutto loaf, the onion loaf…etc. When it was all said and done, he had spent over $100—an impressive feat at $1 to $5 per loaf—and in the process had emptied the bakery’s display case. “I grew up in around here,” said Peter, who now lives near Lakehurst, NJ. “Every now and then I’ll make a run up here to get stuff, and this place is one of my stops.” As he climbed back into his pick up, his cell phone rang for the third time during his mission. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry—I got the bread…” he said, as he shut the door and drove off.
The shop Peter pillaged was the venerable Antique Bakery, located at 122 Willow Ave. Relatively subdued in its outward appearance, it’s the kind of place you could drive right past and not even notice—just a door and a window with some bread in it. But walking by you can’t help but get drawn in by the intoxicating smell of their freshly baked bonanza.
Antique Bakery barely qualifies as an antique itself, having only been around since 1987. “We’ve been here for about twenty years,” says Angie. “It was a closed bakery when [owner] Ivan Rodriguez took it over.” Yet the bakery that had previously existed there had been around since 1938, meaning the all-important coal-fired oven had been there since as well. Meanwhile Rodriguez, who has been around a bit himself, plies his trade like a true master, continuing to do what he does best in overseeing the operations.
With breads of all shapes and sizes, focaccia, and various flavored rolls, there’s something for everyone at Antique Bakery—and if you can’t figure out what you want, just buy everything they have… like Peter did.
Marie’s Bakery, at 138 Park Avenue, is the grand dame of the town’s bakeries–the mother ship to which the Hoboken baking tradition as we know it can be traced. Marie’s bread is made daily by hand and baked to perfection in a brick oven that has been in operation for over 100 years. The shop offers hard-crusted breads, rolls, baguettes, round loaves and focaccia. So strong is the draw of Marie’s bread that, not unlike our friend Peter, Sinatra himself would sporadically fill up his charter plane with loaves and even frozen dough, then fly it all back to California.
As most can agree, “there’s something in the water” here in Hoboken that makes our bread superior. The hard water, referring to the high mineral content, gives the bread a unique flavor–as opposed to the soft water that left Sinatra’s California loaves tasting, well… soft.
There’s nothing soft about Dom’s Bakery, located at 506 Grand—this is as straightforward as they come. Walk into this place and you know it’s a bakery first and foremost, where the bread counter seems almost like an afterthought. Looking straight back into Dom’s as you come in the door, the oven is in plain sight and the bakers are busy. But don’t get taken aback if you think the service is a little gruff, because the bread is well worth it. “Everything here is handmade,” says proprietor Dom Castellitto. “This oven has been here for 120 years,” he adds. “No, I haven’t been here for 120 years, but the oven has.”
Much like his esteemed loaves, Dom may have a crusty exterior. But if you put in the effort to break through that, you get to the warm center. Friends and neighbors speak highly of Dom, his operation and his involvement in the community.
Losurdo Bros./ Tony’s Italian Bakery & Deli
If it’s service you’re after, then it doesn’t get any better than Losurdo Bros./Tony’s Italian Bakery and Deli, located at 410 2nd Street. Brothers Danny and Nick Losurdo took over the establishment in 1976. “This whole place was a bakery,” says Danny, waving his hand around the entire shop. “We brought in the deli and the shelves and all this stuff, but we kept the ovens in the back.” When asked how long the place had been a bakery, Danny couldn’t quite nail it down, saying, “I don’t know–when we got it, it was a bakery, and the guy before that, and the guy before that…”
However long the bakery has been there, its what the Losurdo’s have now done with it that makes it special. In addition to their wide array of fresh-made breads, the deli offers the ultimate in cold cuts, cheeses–including fresh mozzarella, various savory olives and peppers, etc. The aisles are stocked with the finest pastas and other items that any good Italian boy or girl would be proud to bring home to Nonna. The fellas behind the counter are friendly, helpful, and know most of their customers by name. And even on a busy Saturday afternoon, those customers all dutifully step aside when the little old ladies from the neighborhood come in to do their shopping–a rare nod to the way things should be done in a small town.
And Hoboken is just that—a small town. Not completely lost in the high-rises, luxury hotels, doorman complexes or even the fancy new magazines, places like these bakeries maintain the foundation of what Hoboken is, was and forever should be. And while the bread from these gritty little workshops finds its way to some of the fanciest restaurants in the Metro area, it remains grounded in the Hoboken tradition of hard working people—with that little something special which makes it better than everything else.