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.
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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.

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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.