Bread (and Sticky Buns) Worth Lining Up For

Potenza Bakery, next to the restaurant of the same name, serves homemade gelato and fresh breads. Photograph by Freddie Lieberman.

When it comes to bakeries, we can count on one hand—scratch that, two fingers—the number of places where we’d go for a fresh baguette. We can only imagine what the ambassadors and expats from France, where bakeries outnumber berets, must think of this town.

In fact, a successful combination of flour and water (including bagels and pizza crust) seems to have stumped all but a handful Washington bakers. It’s a void that Stir Food Group, which includes Zola and Zola Wine & Kitchen, is looking to fill with its Potenza bakery, a tidy shop adjacent to its new Italian restaurant with the same name.

It has the trappings of a charming European corner bake shop: a white-tiled floor, granite countertops, and an open baking area where customers can watch floppy-toque-topped cooks at work. The 12 wrought-iron seats could pass for chairs at an al fresco Parisian cafe.

And the bread has the magic touch of dough maven and bakery consultant Mark Furstenburg, one of those bakers in Washington who has found the elusive formula for loaves with crackly crusts and spongy interiors. The Marvelous Market and Bread Line founder learned to bake bread in Paris.

A recent raisin/fennel boule showed that Furstenburg’s techniques have taken hold at Potenza: The eggy loaf was infused with anise flavor, although short on the raisins. Chris Kujala, Stir’s executive pastry chef, has had equal success with his sweeter creations. A dried-cherry sticky bun, still warm from the oven—they’re baked at 8, 9, and 10 AM—was the standout, its sugary filling tucked into soft coils of sweet bread. There are ten homemade gelatos and sorbets.

The bakery also has an answer for grumbling expat Philadelphians looking for a good sandwich. Here, a buttery brioche bookends rare roast beef with fennel and a blood-orange marmalade, and a warm, tightly rolled stromboli comes with spicy marinara sauce for dunking.

This might not be Paris or Rome, but we’d send a homesick European here anyway.  

Potenza Bakery, 1430 H St., NW; 202-638-4444; Bakery is open Monday through Friday from 8 to 8; Saturday from 10 to 8; and Sunday from 10 to 6.

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