Bon Fresco: On the Rise
It’s all about the bread at Bon Fresco, an excellent sandwich spot in Columbia.
Reviewed By Todd Kliman
Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Comments () | Published April 18, 2012
Cheap Eats 2012

Bon Fresco
Address: 6945 Oakland Mills Rd., Columbia, MD
Phone: 410-290-3434
Opening Hours: Open Monday through Saturday 11 to 8
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Dress: Informal
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Not Accepted
Special Features:
Wheelchair Accessible, Cash Only

Gerald Koh won't make claims for his superlative sandwich shop, Bon Fresco. The word "gourmet" never appears on the menu. The furthest he'll go is a mission statement printed on the back of his takeout menu that begins, "Bread matters."

Bon Fresco is housed in a strip mall in Columbia, and walking in you might think you'd stumbled on a Quiznos or Panera knockoff: a small seating area, counter service, cases stocked with premade salads and desserts, a roster of sandwich options. There's one difference: the wonderful yeasty aroma of fresh bread.

Koh is so passionate about bread that he won't take shortcuts in the 30-hour process that takes him from mixing to kneading to overnight refrigeration to baking. He goes through more than 50 pounds of flour a day for the baguettes, ciabatta rolls, and focaccia that give his sandwiches real distinction.

Bon Fresco is Koh's latest venture in bread. For years the general manager at downtown DC's Breadline, he tried to buy that place when owner Mark Furstenberg put it up for sale. Furstenberg eventually sold to a French company, and Koh moved on, opening the deli Wheatberry in DC's Cleveland Park in 2005 before launching Bon Fresco four years ago. (The name combines the French for "good" with the Italian for "fresh.")

You might expect prices to be commensurate with the owner's commitment to quality, but all sandwiches are $6.50 to $6.95 and generously piled.

A new creation, listed only on a piece of paper tacked to the cash register, stacks tender, thinly sliced London broil and provolone into a ciabatta roll so perfect you can hear the crunch as you take your first bite. It's the best cheesesteak I've had in years. Koh's invocation of a hoagie--Genoa salami, soppresatta, mortadella, provolone, and roasted red peppers on ciabatta--isn't going to displace any affection for the Philly original, but it's terrific on its own merits. Turning vegetables into a satisfying sandwich is tough, but Koh succeeds by draping strips of grilled zucchini and roasted tomatoes onto a warm baguette and slathering on a black-olive tapenade. The best of the long list is an unlikely masterpiece featuring thick slices of Brie tucked into a baguette along with caramelized onions and a smear of sun-dried-tomato pesto.

There are soups ($2.95 to $3.95)--including a very good chicken-and-rice and an excellent tomato-saffron--and salads ($6.50 to $6.95), among them lentil with mozzarella and grilled zucchini slicked with olive oil.

It's refreshing to discover a small, independent restaurant that takes a purist's approach and yet remains inclusive and unpretentious. That might not qualify as gourmet, but as Koh might say, buzzwords don't matter. Bread matters.

This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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  • Katie George

    I always have an excellent experience here. The food is, as the author stated, delicious and unpretentious. The staff is friendly and efficient. Reasonable substitutions and small variations have never been a problem for me. Mr. Koh often goes out of his way to ensure I am pleased. Good bread, like kindness, comes from the heart.

  • Jenn Kulik

    Had a horrible experience here. Worst customer service ever. I asked to have the chicken salad and a vegetable but I didn't quite want a platter or a salad. If you deviate from the menu in the slightest, be prepared for a problem. I agreed to the separate containers which he said were 3.95 each. They then charged me a dollar more for one. When I spoke up, the manager said I misunderstood him and that he would not sell it to me for the price he told me under no circumstances. I asked him if he would honor the price because he gave me the misinformation. He said we are not Wegman's and that I should leave. Asking a customer to leave over the manager's mistake of a dollar is not wise for repeat business or word of mouth. A suggested read is "Nice Companies Finish First" by Peter Shankman!

  • Janet Coffin

    Jenn, I am sorry you had a bad experience. This doesn't sound anything like they way the staff and Mr. Koh treat customers. I have been going there regularly since the week it opened, and have always had friendly, helpful, service. It is not true that substitutions are a problem if they are reasonable. In fact, I am having trouble believing you are reviewing the same sandwich shop I love.

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