At 7 a.m., the pastries come out of the oven. Those might be a cinnamon roll or a savory Danish. At 9 a.m, it’s loaves of bread, which fill shelves next to a window looking into the bustling kitchen. At 10 a.m., the first Big Sandwich lands on the counter, as do tartines, like one piled with baba ghanoush, feta, and rosemary pesto. Finally, at 1 p.m., it’s time for jambon-beurre, that classic French sandwich with ham and butter tucked into a burnished baguette. Everything is on offer until 3 p.m., or until it’s sold out, at which point the team closes up shop and you’ll need to come back the next day.
With Publican Quality Bread, head baker Greg Wade takes inspiration from European bakeries that offer goods produced fresh all throughout the day. Owned by One Off Hospitality, the business isn’t new — it’s been providing shops and restaurants like the Duck Inn and Rootstock with loaves for eight years — but this corner storefront at 1759 West Grand Avenue in West Town, which opened in June, expands what Wade is able to do.
“Even before the pandemic, we had grown out of our space on Lake Street,” Wade says. The additional room allows his team to tackle “labor-intensive stuff,” like challah every Friday and one-off breads like rye sourdough with blueberries and coffee. Those are featured in Wade’s new cookbook, Bread Head: Baking for the Road Less Traveled, written with Rachel Holtzman. It came out of Wade’s passion for baking with whole grains, which he honed with his work with the Artisan Grain Collaborative, a group that aims to boost regional grains. “Whole grains are a huge part of a biodiverse farm system, and they’re nutritious and delicious,” he says.
Wade uses whole grains in a variety of bakes, but two menu anchors stand out: The beautifully simple jambon-beurre, to which Comté cheese adds nutty notes and French whole-grain mustard lends zip, and the Big Sandwich, a behemoth you order by weight. The sandwich was inspired by Wade’s friend Gabriele Bonci, of the West Loop pizzeria Bonci, where pizza is sold by weight. The fillings change regularly; you might find mortadella with Burrata and cherry-rhubarb spread; turkey with chipotle, pickled green tomatoes, and kumquat slaw; or turkey in romesco sauce with roasted squash and eggplant and pickled red onion (pictured). Or you might not. At Publican Quality Bread, you never quite know what you’ll find.