As an Edgewater resident of 6 years I see businesses come and go on the regular. It’s not a very hot neighborhood, but it has a lot to offer, and family owned, small shops like this one are thriving because of outstanding local community support. Follow along and let’s explore pHlour Bakery & Cafe.
Tucked in the Bryn Mawr Historic District of Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood is newcomer pHlour Bakery & Cafe. This is not an ordinary bakeshop, and although you can find some sweets and treats to pair with your morning cup of joe like cookies, biscotti and croissants, its main focus is artisan bread. This is the place to go when you want handcrafted, gourmet, artisan bread with soft and chewy center and crispy, bubbly crust.
Simple set of neon signs visible from the outside points you in the right direction - artisan bread. Large windows let in great natural light and are ideal for people watching while you sip on a hot beverage in the cold winter months. Commuters are strolling by on their way from and to the Red Line L stop, many of which stop inside and camp out with a book, a laptop or a fellow human.
The baker, Bobby Wongkamalasai, starts his day at 4am every morning. “I go to work with the moon, and head home with the sun”, he said when I asked about his day. Baking wasn’t always a passion of his. “We’ve all been working in restaurants our whole lives. My father has been a restaurant owner for the past 30 years. My sister Melissa got the business side of him and I got the baking side, and the passion developed. I used to sit on a stool next to the cashier, where the cash station was all buttons and hand punching, running people’s cards and taking change. You become a part of the world and it becomes your life. It was definitely a bring your child to work day, a lot for my dad. It was fun”.
The only formal training Bobby has is a weeklong intensive baking class in Washington State. The rest of it is trial and error, reading books and working alongside his dad which is a lot like the business part of pHlour, a lot of experimenting, learning and growing. Local neighborhood businesses come to pHlour with wholesale requests, which also helps the community strive and support one another. You can also find pHlour bread products at neighborhood farmers markets and even the popular deli Gene’s Sausage Shop in nearby Lincoln Square.
The pH in the name stands for the pH scale referring to the acidity in sourdough. Chicago’s nice, not too hot summers provide the perfect environment for baking. “This was was our first winter making bread in this environment - you wake up and think, I hope the science hasn’t changed, you can never predict the final product, you learn and improve every day. Right now Bobby and his small bakery team are learning to bake new breads, including bread for Cuban sandwiches and experimenting with the heartier Semolina flour.
In the heart of the bakery there is a large kitchen with wrap around windows, where you can get a glimpse of the action. The cafe serves a small sandwich and salad menu, soup of the day, croissants, and treats to compliment the coffees and teas. Weekend brunch invites in local residents. “If you come here early on a Saturday or Sunday, there’s a bunch of families that come in, and keep coming in every weekend. There’s this baby, we call him “Happy Baby”, always running around the cafe, getting bigger and brighter every time we see him. Watching the kids grow in front of us, it reminds me a lot about how our family was 30 years ago”.
Gluten makes the world go round, so next time you visit Chicago, don’t be afraid to explore the far north neighborhoods, like Edgewater, Andersonville, Uptown and Rogers Park. Visit pHlour and try the fresh baked bread – it is the exact kind that takes me back to my childhood days when my Grandpa would return home early in the morning with a fresh loaf of bread after his work shift as a gatekeeper at a local wholesale bread bakery. I can still remember how quickly the aroma filled the apartment, grandma would pack us all fresh made nutella sandwiches to take to school. Sometimes lunch would be devoured before we even got to school.
pHlour Bakery & Cafe
1138 W Bryn Mawr Ave
Chicago, IL 60660
Words and Images by Ivy Tać
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