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The Baguette Stands Alone
Breads on Oak Resurrects Old New Orleans Baking Traditions
Upriver on Oak Street, a healthy few blocks past the heavy menus of Jacques-Imo’s, Tru Burger and Squeal BBQ, a new and very legitimate bakery opened today.
NoDef talked to the owners of Breads on Oak (8640 Oak Street) and tried their damn-good goodies at their soft opening today.
After six months of renovation at the former home of Accardo’s Appliance Parts on the corner of Oak and Monroe Streets, Sean and Chamain O’Mahony are serving artisanal baguettes, Gruyere cheese bread, olive Provence bread with fresh-picked herbs, vegan pastries and, as expected from a man named O’Mahony, Irish soda breads.
The front of the bakery has a subtle, but tasteful French décor. A lot of the materials used to renovate the space were recycled, as part of Chamain’s green-conscious philosophy. The space itself feels healthy, spacious and clean. The bakery equipment occupies most of the space. There are no walls to separate customers from watching their goods being made.
Sean O’Mahony has been baking off and on for 20 years. He first learned how to bake in a French bakery in Utah many years ago. He picked up the basic skills, then trained under World Champion Baker Pierre Zimmermann, who, judging by O’Mahony’s baguette, taught him well.
Asked what critical moment convinced Sean and his wife to open the bakery, Sean said, “I missed the breads. I missed baking, and European bread.”
The couple goes to Europe once or twice a year, and believe New Orleanians shouldn’t have to hop the Atlantic for truly artisanal baked goods.
Sean discovered his mission as a baker in New Orleans when reading a Bakers Review from 1910, which discussed a bakery on Bourbon Street known as “The Old Slave Bakery.”
In the article, Sean learned that New Orleans had the most bakers per capita in America. These bakers practiced the Old World French techniques and 12-hour long fermentation process. Through Breads on Oak, Sean O’Mahony plans to carry on the tradition.
“New Orleans was the place to go for the best bread in America. I want to bring that back,” Sean said smiling from behind the counter.
Nowadays, bread in this town is relied upon as the important bookend of a drenched po-boy, but rarely does it stand alone. Breads on Oak hopes to offer a baked good that doesn't need a deep fried pairing.
Sean said the centerpiece of his breads is the crust and, specifically, “the large crumb.”
“I didn’t know if people would like that here, because of po-boys, but that’s the big gamble.” After trying a few of his breads, we at NoDef would like to place a bet in Sean’s favor.
You can imagine a little Parisian boy carrying Sean’s baguettes down the rue. They are dusted in flour with deep brown bottoms, crispy crusts, and soft and connective middles.
“You shouldn’t have to go to Europe to get this,” Sean said.
Sean said he can pump out 180 baguettes every 20 minutes with his new setup. Baguettes are the hardest to make, Sean said, besides the delicious multigrain. The multigrain breads take a labor-intensive three days to make. The result is a fresh, healthy bread that makes you want to cut it in half and rest your cheek on it.
Chamain, who is a vegan, bakes all the vegan pastries and muffins. NoDef assumed that because she is a vegan, she must not be from here. She kindly replied that there are, in fact, a rare “few of us at Veggie Fest” every year. Her vegan lemon-blueberry muffin convinced us carnivores at NoDef that vegans can bake. It is a perfect balance between lemon, handpicked blueberries, and healthy delight.
On being one of the very few bakeries with this many fresh vegan options in New Orleans, Sean said, “It’s my wife, I don’t have a choice.” He also said that most European breads, when made properly, are naturally vegan. The O’Mahonys' bakery also serves non-vegan breads and pastries, like croissants and brioches.
Today was only a soft opening. The bakery will be open on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer, until the hard opening in the Fall. Eventually, the O’Mahonys plan to serve healthy sandwiches and more pastries with fresh berries from their fruit orchard on the West Bank.
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