Bread. We’ve been told it’s bad for our health, that it’s loaded with carbs and gluten. Western doctors admonish caloric-overachievers to reduce our consumption of bread. These dispensers of dietary information are at a loss to explain Emma Tillman. When she passed away in 2007, the daughter of former slaves was an American supercentenarian and, for a few days, the world’s oldest living person. She passed away at the young age of 114 years and 67 days. Emma Tillman ran her own baking and catering service for about sixty years. She prepared the staff of life for dignitaries in the state of North Carolina which proclaimed an “Emma Tillman Day” to commemorate her 110th birthday.
Eleven years after Emma Tillman went to her eternal reward, a 115-year-old US woman from Iowa died less than two weeks after inheriting the title of world’s oldest person. Dina Manfredini was known as a great cook who baked Italian bread every Sunday for her family, and meticulously made pasta by hand. One of the commonalities between these venerable women was their love of bread. That’s something they shared from five specific areas of the world where residents live the longest.
Those residents live in what is termed “Blue Zones” referring to five specific places: Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. According to Women’s Day, these are the areas where, on average, people live the longest, with residents often celebrating their 100th birthdays — and beyond. Women’s Day notes “In the Blue Zones, residents tend to eat bread that they baked from scratch, leaving in all the good stuff like fiber that makes it healthy.”
There are four specific types of bread with properties that enhance longevity: sourdough, pita, whole grain and cornbread. Yes, cornbread! During our inaugural visit to Santa Fe’s premier bakery The Sage Bakehouse, we specifically looked for and found two of those four longevity-enhancing breads: sourdough and 9 grain. Had we picked up loaves of these two salubrious breads, we would have been happy–and on the way to more salutary dining. Alas, The Sage Bakehouse proffers so many wondrous calorific pastries that probably offset the healthfulness of its breads. In no way is Sage culpable for us succumbing to temptation. That’s totally on us.
Sage is absolutely magnificent. The aromas emanating from the bakery would tempt Job to gluttonous debauchery. Those aromas are precursory introductions to some of the very best breads and pastries we’ve experienced in the Land of Enchantment. Sage has been making Santa Fe diners happy since 1996 when Andrée Falls launched the City Different’s bread renaissance during the advent of gluten renouncement. Health-conscious New Mexicans could not abstain (perhaps taking our cue from Oprah Winfrey, an unabashed bread paramour).
Among the difference-makers that make Sage stand out is a commitment to sourcing locally. In an interview with Edible New Mexico after earning a “Local Hero award for Best Cafe,” Andrée explained “Our whole wheat and rye flours come from the San Luis Valley, west of Alamosa. They are stone ground by Kris Gosar in Monte Vista, Colorado. We’ve worked with Kris since the day we opened back in 1996. Our other flours come from a cooperative of farms in southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas. They are milled with a pneumatic system at a mill about forty miles north of Denver.” Those are the best sources you can find.
Unless you know where you’re going, first timers are likely to drive past Sage which doesn’t exactly have the most prominent external signage. It’s situated just before the intersection of Cerrillos Road and Paseo de Peralta. Parking is very tight. A sign on its door declares its love for dogs followed by a reminder that the State Department of Health does not allow four-legged fur babies into the premises. Thankfully Sage has a Dude-friendly patio. With any luck you’ll score one of the shaded tables. Sitting under the sweltering sun might be welcome in December, but in late August it’s torture.
While my Kim went into the bakery to place our order, The Dude and I struck up a conversation with people in adjacent tables. All of them were transplants to Santa Fe. All of them marveled that Santa Fe has such a wonderful bakery. Comparisons to bakeries in San Francisco, New York and even Paris (not the one in Texas) were bandied. My Kim was complimented on her choice of “appetizers”–a cinnamon melt and a raspberry-almond tart. The cinnamon melt is what every cinnamon roll should be. It is wholly devoid of the cloying frosting with which many cinnamon rolls are smeared. It’s also resplendent in its cinnamon content. The cinnamon is richly applied within the layers of the spiral deliciousness. The raspberry-almond tart is a blend of sweet, tart and savory flavors baked within a delightful shell.
.For years we’ve enjoyed masterfully baked artisan Sage breads at restaurants and at La Montañita Food Coop. That’s my paltry excuse for not having actually visited the bakery. Wonderful as the breads may be wherever you enjoy them, nothing beats the olfactory and tactile experience of enjoying Sage in person. We were both in a sandwich mood. Sage doesn’t plate “Dagwood-sized sandwiches” brimming with a half dozen ingredients. Instead, you’re more likely to find three ingredient masterpieces that will appease any appetite. Take the Tuna Panino (just don’t take mine) for example. It’s a three ingredient–tuna, mozzarella and pesto–coup on sourdough. I had no idea pesto and tuna (two seemingly disparate ingredients) would go so well together.
My Kim’s sandwich choice was even more basic–a ham and Fontina cheese sandwich on sourdough. Grilled to a golden perfection and just long enough for the Fontina to form a molten blanket over the ham, this is a simple sandwich prepared extraordinarily well. One of the many things we’ve always loved about Sage bread is its texture. In no form is that texture more evident or self-actualized than on a panini sandwich. The exterior has a discernible and delightful crunch that gives way to a soft (but not too soft) interior. This is what the staff of life is supposed to feel and taste like! Our sandwiches were served with pitted olives, a nice alternative to chips or fries.
Our take-home bounty included two croissants for my Kim, two pain au chocolat for me and a loaf of rye bread for our breakfast. My Kim’ declared Sage’s croissants “even better than those at La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque,” her former favorite. The pain au chocolat were similarly excellent with just enough chocolate among layers and layers of flaky pastry. Though it may not be as healthy as the four breads beloved in the blue zones, the rye bread is magnificent, particularly as toast.
There are 38 mentions of bread in the Bible. It has significance both spiritually and from the perspective of nourishment. Some would say bread from Sage IS a spiritual experience.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 29 August 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pain Au Chocolat, Croissant, Tuna Panino, Ham and Cheese Panino, Cinnamon Melt, Raspberry Almond Tart,