Major alert for bread nerds: a James Beard Award semifinalist and acclaimed baker from Pittsburgh has quietly started cooking again, right here at Berg’n in Crown Heights. Rick Easton earned a slew of accolades at his Pittsburgh bakery and restaurant Bread and Salt before suddenly closing it to move to New York. Eater’s roving critic Bill Addison said Easton’s "crusty, stretchy, smoky-sweet bread is profound," naming it one of the best new restaurants of 2015 nationally, and Mark Bittman at the Times dedicated one of his final food columns to Easton. He called Easton’s pizza "a slice of heaven in Pittsburgh." But Easton shut down operations just after the James Beard Foundation put him on the long list for the outstanding baker of the year award. He’s in New York now and has been seeking a space to reopen Bread and Salt here.
His stay at Berg’n, the Smorgasburg crew’s mini-food hall, is temporary. They needed a pizza vendor, and Easton decided to make some pies as he figures out where he plans to open a permanent spot. He started last week and will be in the space at least for the next three months, he says.
Like the pies at the original Bread and Salt, Easton takes an obsessive route to developing the crust for the Berg’n outspost. He uses an organic flour blend and ferments it for at least three days. "The idea is that it makes an incredibly light, airy, super digestible, and just flavorful dough," Easton says. "You get way more flavor out of it. It’s also a really easy pizza to eat." The menu of oblong pies changes throughout the day, but expect takes on Roman pizza classics, like a margherita, a potato pie, and a pizza rosa, with tomatoes, oregano, olive oil, and salt. On Friday, he had a pie with guanciale, onion, pecorino.
Besides pizza, he’s offering salads and sandwiches on the same bread that’s used for the pizzas, with options that also change regularly. He’s had a sandwich with marinated zucchini and stracciatella cheese, while another is just mortadella on pizza blanca. "To me, that’s probably one of the greatest things you could ever eat," Easton says. Eventually, he’ll also start offering the breads that made him famous.
The bigger goal is to open another version of Bread and Salt in New York. He’s been looking for a while and hasn’t been able to find the right fit, he says. But once it’s open, it will be similar to the original — obsessively-made bread, and all the things that go well with it.