When I was in high school, I had the good fortune to be an exchange student in Switzerland. On my return from this life-changing experience, one of the things I missed the most was crusty European bread. Fast forward to the present and one can find bakeries making real bread all over America, hurrah! Even here in my tiny town of Ellensburg in eastern Washington, there is a wonderful artisan bakery just down the street.
Vinman’s Bakery was started almost 20 years ago by an oboist and her partner — a gruff bear of a man who rarely came out of the kitchen. Perhaps it is a legacy of the musician that there are always cool tunes playing while the staff are busily turning out the best bread and pastries in town. Vinman’s is located right across the street from the main campus of Central Washington University (CWU) in a small, tree-shaded line of shops between a tanning salon and a dry cleaners: Don’t let the inauspicious location fool you. Inside the bakery, you will find baguettes to rival those found in Paris!
Vinman’s offers a tempting selection of hand-crafted breads, from their sandwich-ready seeded multi grain loaves to polenta pumpkin seed bread. Distinctive offerings include Scott’s super sourdough, a flavorful and hearty whole grain loaf concocted by Scott, a long-time baker on staff. Vinman’s also offers a whole wheat flax seed bread, a dark rye pumpernickel, a multi-grain Campagnola with honey overtones, and picture-perfect buttermilk white. Vinman’s signature rustic sourdough is available every day, but other breads are only available once or maybe twice a week.
To catch my favorite, Vinman’s German farm bread, you’ll need to come on a Tuesday or call ahead and have them save a loaf in the freezer for you. Our friend Norbert swears it is just like the bread he ate when he was growing up on a farm in Bavaria. On Fridays, one can find a traditional Jewish braided challah, New York rye, and cinnamon swirl. Fridays also feature a walnut sourdough, which is excellent toasted and topped with apricot jam! Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Thursday’s orange raisin rye, and on Saturdays, the crusty kalamata olive rosemary bread made from baguette dough. One can also purchase a bit of dough to take home and make into pizzas or to mold into your own loaf to eat hot out of the oven.
There is also a case dedicated to pastries and muffins: flaky croissants, almond paste-filled bear claws, Pain au Chocolate — a chocolate-filled flaky croissant even better than the ones we savored in France at a tandem rally several years ago (each morning pain au chocolate was delivered right to our campground!). My daughter’s favorite treat is a cardamom muffin topped with pecans. Enormous fruited Danish squares with a custard filling is another favorite of our whole family.
Danishes come in a choice of rhubarb, cherries, raspberries or other fruit, depending on what is in season. Rolled pastries include powdered sugar-dusted Downtowners and Sticky Buns encrusted with roasted pecans. The Kouignamann (pronounced “Queen Amon”) is a pastry from the Brittany region of France. Shaped like a cupcake but made with flaky pastry dough, the Kouignamann is traditionally orange-flavored, but sometimes Vinman’s bakers get creative and make raspberry, lemon, or even savory fillings.
University professors and students alike often pop over to Vinman’s from the CWU campus just across the street. One can choose from a variety of savory focaccias topped with asiago cheese and sausages or kalamata olives with tomatoes and basil or some other delicious combination. The cooler always has a wide selection of refreshing drinks as well as fine cheeses so a quick baguette lunch is easy to put together. It’s a quick walk back to campus where one can relax on a bench in front of the new science building, or lounge in one of the many red Adirondak chairs along the canal, or find respite in the quiet Japanese garden just across the the student union building.
Coffee To Go
Oh, and coffee! Several years ago, the bakery was owned by Jenna, a young 20-something whose smiling face still brightens Vinman’s business cards. Jenna added a fancy espresso machine and starting serving lattes as well as offering a quick cup of Joe on a self-serve counter. The barista-coffee is by Seattle’s Caffe Vita company, but you can also take home a pack of locally roasted County Crow coffee beans, whole or ground. A dark-roasted Midnight Violent is my favorite but the quirky lighter coffee, Blue Beetle, has a unique, complex flavor worth trying.
The bakery is tiny. In this current pandemic, customers enter with masks one at a time but service is fast and friendly. There are cement benches out front for a quick bite, or better yet, head north to the CWU campus across the street with a seeded Kaiser roll and some artisan cheese out of the cooler — or take a coffee break with a rhubarb Danish or sticky pecan roll — and stroll through the spacious CWU campus to find a quiet corner to enjoy your treats. You might decide to go back to school, just to enjoy the local bakery!