The closest way to explain to Americans what a big deal the new Nomad location of Bourke Street Bakery would be to say that it’s like if Tartine from San Francisco came to New York, and if the owners themselves moved here, too. Like Tartine’s founders, Bourke Street’s Paul Allam and David McGuinness are revered, and like Tartine, the bakery is known for rustic goods, made every day with an obsession over freshness and ingredients. But that doesn’t explain the whole thing.
The bakery and cafe, which opens on Saturday at 15 East 28th St. between Fifth and Madison avenues, started in a tiny corner in Sydney in 2004, and since then, it has expanded to nearly a dozen locations there. It developed a reputation not just for the tarts and breads, but also became known as an everyday institution, a part of daily life in neighborhoods for many across the city.
Now, Allam has relocated to New York with his wife Jessica Grynberg, who’s running operations, and their three children. He’s getting back into doing more of the day-to-day baking himself, the way he did when he fell in love with the craft. And just for New York, he’s milling his own flour for rye, whole wheat, and spelt loaves, as well as making some of his own cheeses — an even more magnified version of the humble, hands-on beginnings of what has since become a Sydney legend.
“Here, we’re taking it to the next level,” Allam says.
Long before sourdough became a favorite of tech bros, artisanal bread had been a part of the dining culture in Sydney. Allam and McGuinness weren’t necessarily among the first people to get into it, but they did rise to the top.
Though the bakery has grown significantly, Allam and Grynberg, who started dating shortly before Bourke Street debuted, insist that the core of what they do has changed very little. It’s still a simple endeavor: “Devotion to the craft,” Allam says, including sourcing and cooking things slowly and with thought. “It’s important to have that consistency. In the end, it comes down to caring about what you do,” he says.
Indeed, most of the menu items are not attempting acrobatics. There’s a ham-and-cheese baguette, a smashed avocado toast, and that famed ginger creme brûlée tart. Many of the items new to New York are also targeting familiar American flavors: a cinnamon roll, a peanut butter-and-jelly croissant, a Muffaletta sandwich, and a marshmallow-topped chocolate tart that’s a take on s’mores.
Bourke Street’s ethos is better represented by how many of the straightforward items get made in-house: lemonade, orange juice, chocolate milk, goat cheese, labneh, pickles, za’atar, and butter. (“We’re not making our own salami, but we did try it,” Allam says.) Grains come from Maine, which they’ve been spending more than a year testing with different fermentation and hydration times, and most of the other ingredients for salads, sandwiches, and pastries come from the Northeast, too.
A pastry that will still pull from Australia is one of their most famous offerings, the lamb and harissa sausage roll. “It’s like American mac-and-cheese,” Grynberg says of the ubiquity of the sausage roll, a savory Australian pastry filled with ground meat. Lines still frequently form in Sydney for their upscale, crafted version of the childhood treat. While the ground pork and fennel version comes from pigs more locally, lamb will be shipped to stick to the formula. “It’s really moist and tender,” she says of Australian lamb.
The new location is much bigger than the first one that opened 15 years ago, with about 50 seats for counter-service dining. And despite any hoopla over Bourke Street’s arrival, like in Sydney, the goal for the new New York location is to be a part of people’s daily routines, Grynberg and Allam say. It opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast, and pastries land under $6. Lunch includes a $12 chicken sandwich on the bakery’s own miche sourdough. Everything gets ordered at the counter, including in the evening when a natural wine selection and evening menu with charcuterie kicks into gear.
“Myself and David, it was our dream to create great baked goods,” Allam says. “We worked so hard to do that, we loved what we do. It grew and grew and grew, and that’s why the public back home really enjoyed them. It was made by people who loved what they did, and put care in it. It’s really not that hard when you put it down to that level.”
Bourke Street opens from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 4.