Mothers and Fathers of Craft

05.08.14

Bushwick’s Master Bagel Baker

Melissa Weller, the woman behind Roberta’s droolworthy bread, is working her magic on New York’s most classic snack.

Possibly the first thing to tip off the Bushwick-is-the-new-Williamsburg craze was Roberta’s, the hipster pizza joint that forced foodies on a pilgrimage into the industrial landscape of Brooklyn. And the best, most unassuming offering at Roberta’s was the restaurant’s bread, a dark-crusted loaf called City White.

The woman behind the masterpiece was Melissa Weller, Roberta’s head baker with a chemical engineering degree, who would rise before dawn each day to craft the bread’s simple (and simply delicious) recipe and bake 200 loaves a day to perfection in a brick wood-fired oven housed in a shipping container in the restaurant’s outdoor garden.

Last year, she moved on to found East River Bread, focusing exclusively on bagels, a craft she developed while baking at Thomas Keller’s four-star Manhattan restaurant Per Se. Weller’s hand-rolled artisanal bagel, slathered with salted butter and cultured cream cheese, is a throwback offering to New York’s roots. “There’s a lot of room in the city to elevate the quality and status of the bagel, since it’s so iconic to New York,” she told a food blog last year.

The bagels can be found at Brooklyn’s famed food market, Smorgasburg, but they’re about to get a permanent space. As of last month, rumors have been swirling that Weller is joining restaurant developers Torrisi, the masterminds behind the city’s cult favorites Torrisi Italian Specialties Parm, to open a downtown restaurant and bakery in the vein of classic appetizing stores.