“We use our own rye starter that nobody can duplicate or put their hands on,” says Savely Barkan, the Russian-born owner of House of Bread. This crazy-small, nondescript bakery tucked into a nondescript mall in Wheeling doesn’t have too many other secrets: Crowds pack in for 19 varieties of fresh-baked loaves. Did we say small? It’s like a walk-in closet with bread racks, a counter, and a cash register. Behind the scenes, though, an army of bakers works around the clock to turn out warm, crusty cranberry-walnut bread (great sliced and toasted with coffee), shockingly light ciabatta (somehow airy and creamy at once), and herby, garlicky rounds of focaccia (butter or oil would ruin everything). It helps to speak Russian here, but if you don’t, just point—whatever you get, you’ll be happy. Garden Fresh Plaza, 1762 W. Hintz Rd., Wheeling; 847-253-6300.
Photograph: Anna Knott