When proprietors Bill Malatesta and Jane Kenny moved Annarosa’s Bakery from Newburyport to larger quarters in Salisbury in 2010, fans worried about a change in quality or availability of their favorite breads.
The temporary closing of the First Lieutenant Derek S. Hines Memorial Bridge across the Merrimack River also meant many regulars had to drive the long way around to get to Annarosa’s for much of the next two years, until the rebuilt bridge reopened last August.
But to judge by the folks lined up happily for their baguette fix on a recent Saturday morning, the bakery’s following has only grown. And judging by the Newburyport bumper stickers on half the cars in the parking lot, the extra few minutes’ drive is clearly worth it for Annarosa’s original customers.
People come from all over, any way, for the bakery’s Winter White and ciabatta, whole wheat with raisins and walnuts, and 100-percent whole grain rye organic vollkornbrot. Not to mention the deep-dish focaccia Margherita and the chocolate bouchons and . . .
You get the idea.
Only some of the dozens of offerings of baked goods are organic, but Malatesta and Kenny work to make everything as wholesome as they can, using natural yeast starters. They also make a wide variety of cookies and pastries, and Malatesta makes his own fruit fillings from local produce.
That is all very nice, of course, but means nothing unless the bread has beautiful taste and texture. Annarosa’s baguettes are the baguettes you have always wanted, with the perfect contrast between crunchy crust and the soft, holey dough inside. Regular baguettes are $3.50, and the larger, wider Rustic Baguette goes for $6.75. Slather a slice with some good butter or dip it into flavored olive oil, and you don’t really need anything else.
A loaf of sourdough Winter White, with the distinctive leaf design on top of its dark crust, is perfect for toasting and goes for $5. The focaccia Margherita ($12) offers lunch for a foursome or dinner for two, a perfect compromise between bread and pizza, its thick and chewy dough amped up with mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil.
When I took guests on an Annarosa’s run recently, one waxed rhapsodic about the buttery, flaky plain croissant ($2.50). Like the baguettes, these are commonplace in today’s food world, but at Annarosa’s, they taste like you wish they would.
The rich, little bouchons ($2.75 each), made with Belgian chocolate and French cocoa, are like skinny, unfrosted cupcakes, only denser and less cloyingly sweet. They are used as the base for dessert in our house when company comes for dinner, garnished with a drizzle of chocolate sauce, a scatter of berries, a scoop of ice cream.
Malatesta was a structural engineer and Kenny worked at a brokerage before they opted for a lifestyle change by opening the bakery in Newburyport’s Tannery Marketplace in 2001. Annarosa’s — named for Bill’s mother and grandmother — quickly built a cult-like following.
The Salisbury location, in a retail strip with a paint store and a discount store, may lack the cachet of the Tannery (where Annarosa’s has been replaced by the popular Black Duck convenience store). But now they have room for a bigger oven and more prep area, meaning they can sell more bread. There is a small eating area by the front window, and they offer iced as well as hot coffee.
Annarosa’s regulars get especially intense the day before Thanksgiving, and perhaps other family-dinner-centric holidays, about Annarosa’s dinner rolls. They are not the bakery’s most distinctive products, but the “wheels” of 36 rolls ($16) are so popular that a special table was set up on Wednesday of Thanksgiving week with two part-timers selling and bagging them.
Annarosa’s has a Web page and a paper handout devoted to caring for their breads, advising how they should be stored to avoid “staling.” Some go in a paper bag and some in plastic, some on the counter and some in the fridge. There is also advice on how to best freshen them up, usually with a little time in the oven before serving.
A baking schedule posted on the website tells you what days they bake what breads, as some are made every day, and some only once during their four-day workweek. A sign near the cash register tells you what bread is coming out of the oven and at what time that day.
That four-day week may sound like heaven, until you find out that it is actually a six-day week. They are busy prepping on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on baking days, Malatesta often arrives at 1 a.m. to fire up the ovens, not leaving until late afternoon. About the only thing his customers don’t like is that he occasionally takes a vacation.