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BEST FRENCH BREAD Leidenheimer Baking Co.
If you want to count carbs, relocate to Los Angeles. Right here in New Orleans, we like to talk between mouthfuls of French bread, Leidenheimer crumbs spilling onto our laps, according to our readers’ choice awards. The local company has been baking bread since the 19th century. Its bailiwick? A crispy crust and airy interior loaf that seem to complement hot roast beef and gravy.
Leidenheimer produces 1 million pounds of its bread annually. Since it distributes to a baker’s dozen of other states, we can only imagine how many pounds we eat locally – 999,000? After all, poor-boys – whether they be heaped with fried seafood, meat or French fries – are an indispensable part of the New Orleans diet. And the places where we most frequently get our fix – Central Grocery, Uglesich’s, Domilise’s and Parasol’s – get their bread supply from guess who? The Leidenheimer delivery truck also makes morning stops at upscale restaurants such as Galatoire’s, Palace Café and Commander’s Palace.
The bread wins favor because of its taste, but people also seem to like Leidenheimer because it’s so local. George Leidenheimer, originally from Deidesheim, Germany, opened the neighborhood bakery on Dryades Street in 1896, selling fresh-baked bread and other commodities such as sugar and milk. He moved the bakery to its present location on Simon Bolivar Avenue in 1904. During the Depression, poor-boy shops became popular, and Leidenheimer created the perfect loaf for this sandwich. Sandy Whann, who now runs the bakery that his great-grandfather founded, says the recipe hasn’t changed since that time.
In fact, Leidenheimer Baking Co. still makes bread the old-fashioned way. Equipment in the bakery is designed to replicate human hands (OK, well, maybe they had real human hands back then). Care is still taken with the dough. “We allow the dough to ferment and age, which creates a distinct flavor … Our process is a lot like winemaking,” Whann says. Many other bakeries have chosen to shorten this process, he explains.
When it comes out of the oven, it moves onto the trucks, and into the sandwich shops and restaurants that our stomachs love, those places that serve the unmentionables that Dr. Atkins chided against (may he rest in peace).
Instead, New Orleanians are following the wisdom of Vic and Nat’ly Broussard, the cartoon creations of artist Bunny Matthews, which appear on the side of Leidenheimer delivery trucks: “Sink ya teeth into a piece of New Orleans cultcha – a Leidenheimer po-boy!!” Enjoy those carbs, boo.