Flour power at Simple Kneads

by Brian Clarey

I don’t do diets. I don’t count calories. I watch what I eat only to make sure it goes into my mouth and the only dietary restriction I impose on myself is a half-hearted attempt to get off mayonnaise. And Atkins? Give me a break. While I kind of like the idea of dieting with T-bones and lobster, I have a fundamental problem with it. You can’t eat bread. Seriously. Staff of life. King of the table. Without it all is misery. You can smell it wafting through the charming alley off Elm Street, particularly in the morning when the loaves are cooking at Simple Kneads Bakery, downtown Greensboro’s artisan breadmaker. On a weekday afternoon the smells of herbs, cheese and… is that sun-dried tomato?… blend with the aroma of fresh-baked bread. It is, to borrow a phrase from a colleague, warm and inviting. Business is brisk, with coffee drinkers, families, errand runners and those looking for a midday sugar rush in the form of a cupcake or cookie. And there’s this guy in khakis and a collared shirt who keeps coming in for the free bread samples, taking slices and chewing them thoughtfully as he walks in and out the door. There are three up on the counter, pulled from the day’s menu of 10 artisan loaves. “This one is my favorite,” says Andrew Carlisle from behind the counter as he slices off a thin taste of the olive bread. “It has three kinds of olives in it – black, green and kalamata. You have to really like olives….” I do, I do. And the bread is stellar, with a perfectly rustic crust, ample chunks of olives and an interior texture that is soft and appropriately glutenous. No butter necessary. I also avail myself of the asiago peppercorn bread, which hits the right cheesy and spicy notes, and the parmesan walnut loaf. Here I should attempt to describe how the flavors of parmesan and walnut play off each other: The bitter, nutty walnut enhances the sharp, aromatic cheese until the two become something larger than the sum of their parts. Also: The flesh of this bread is blue. There are others in the woven baskets behind the counter, harvest curry, cranberry walnut, spelt and a braided challah among them as well as everyday items like buttermilk biscuits and long, thin baguettes. Here they make their own granola, have daily selections of muffins, croissants and cookies, and in a glass case are some sweet baked goods like chocolate-peanut butter bars, lemon squares and apple crumble bars. There are also cupcakes, which look delicious but are not a part of my game plan. An aside: Ever wonder why the cupcake craze that hit New York City with the opening of Magnolia Bakery and spread quickly to Los Angeles, then Miami, Pittsburgh, Charleston, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and a few other population centers never made it to Greensboro? Are we too serious for cupcakes? Are we immune to their moist deliciousness and creamy frostings? Or are we just totally out of it? Me, I don’t want a cupcake. I belly up to an apricot almond muffin, stout and dense. It’s good – not as sweet and sticky, perhaps, as its frosted cousin, but it is absolutely loaded with almonds and apricots, and there’s this chewy, sugary muffin top that I savor on my palate. These people know what they’re doing. The bakery was begun in 2001 by former journalist Bill Snider and his ex-wife Ann Mathews with an eye towards organic, natural loaves of wholesome bread that make the light, sliced stuff in the grocery store seem like Play-Doh. Rich in whole grains and natural ingredients, the breads at Simple Kneads are hardly empty carbs. They could even be called health food. Atkins diet be damned.

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at