Several years ago when hosting a vegan booth at the short-lived Acacia Park farmers market, a friendly fella walked up to say, “I make vegan bread. You should try it.” I did. And that’s how I met Shawn Saunders and became a huge fan of his — and all — sourdough bread. In fact, it inspired me to become an amateur levain aficionado. (Though I cheated and bought a packet of dried sourdough starter.) Six years later, my sourdough starter is still alive and I do love baking with it. Yet I don’t always love staying on top of the care and feeding of it; therefore, it remains in dormancy in my refrigerator for months at a time. Fortunately, Saunders and The Sourdough Boulangerie continue to source bread for many of my favorite local restaurants, and his Eastside bakery is open six days a week for those of us who want to experience his craft at home.
I’ve recently discovered that their vegan options go beyond bread. On Saturdays only, you can swing by the bakery for fresh or par-baked pizzas. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I noticed a beautiful picture of their vegan Garden Snails. That particular day, they took all the good old pizza fixins’ and turned them into bite-sized appetizers that included beets, carrots, celery, corn, yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and onion all rolled up in their signature sourdough. They sold out fast.
The Sourdough Boulangerie, 6453 Omaha Blvd., 719-203-6179, thesourdoughboulangerie.com, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday
Turns out, I’ve been missing out on some of the best vegan pizza (and pizza bites) in town.
In baking up 12- and 16-inch pies, the surprise lies in both the crust and the sauce. Sourdough pizza dough is where it’s at! The long fermentation makes a super-crusty bite that’s surprisingly light and airy. Opt for the always-vegan basil pesto (which happens to be nut-free, too) instead of tomato sauce and you’ve got yourself a piquant flavor that pairs so well with Saunders’ vegan cheese of choice: Violife brand (my preference at home, too). Ooey gooey plant-based cheese plus a tangy, crunchy crust makes a perfect base for fresh, roasted and pickled veggies — we opt for mushrooms, shallots, olives and artichokes.
Let’s not forget, however, that it is a bakery. Plant-based sweet treats with that subtle sour twist range from banana bread and magic bars to brownies and the elusive vegan graham cracker. (Honey is in almost all store brands.) These sugary nibbles deliver a unique flavor, thanks to sourdough’s “wild yeast.” That light and airy texture are what you’re noticing when biting into indulgences that are typically dense and heavy. The banana bread toasts up beautifully for breakfast at home. And those graham crackers? Basically what you’ve been dreaming of when biting into a S’more (yes, Virginia, you can buy vegan chocolate and marshmallows) because they will not crumble, and the tangy flavor lends such a great balance to the fluffy and cocoa sweetness. Of note: A single graham cracker is also divine with a short, bitter shot of espresso. And: Vegan sweets aren’t always found in the bakery case, so call in advance to ensure you get what you need.
Last but never least: the bread. Let’s talk about the obvious: vegan bread? The usual culprit in store-bought bread is milk, whey, casein or ghee. At The Sourdough Boulangerie, the bread is almost always vegan, though there are a few loaves that contain honey or cheese. My go-to loaves and boules are pumpernickel, Jewish rye and the extra sour. Also don’t skip the whole-wheat sourdough hoagie rolls. They don’t just hold whatever goodies you wish to pack in, but the bread stars — and, oh boy, do they make for a sensational homemade vegan Philly cheesesteak, which we enjoyed on Super Bowl Sunday.
I love that The Sourdough Boulangerie consciously caters to vegan customers. This vegan remains a long-time fan.