I recently made somewhat of an inside joke on my personal Facebook page — for those living and/or shopping around the Old North End and Patty Jewett neighborhoods — wherein I posed the question that I was trying to figure out which takes longer:
The Saturday morning breadline at Nightingale Bakery in the Lincoln Center?
– or –
The checkout line(s) at the Bon Safeway, any day, anytime?
For those who’ve lived both experiences, as several commenters have, the joke was both a dig at the seemingly perpetually understaffed Safeway (which is stuck in a bygone era but beloved for it) and a compliment to Nightingale for being just that popular (fervently supported by devotees who arrive before opening to get a good spot near the front).
Set to turn six years old this upcoming May, Nightingale Bread continues to put out some of the most beautiful bread loaves in town — many people I know consider them the best game around, and it’s difficult to find reasons to disagree. Transparently, I won’t call myself a regular exactly — like not a weekly addict — but I visit at least every few months and sometimes more. I was a huge fan of their ham and dill havarti sandwich — which, bad news if haven’t heard, has left the menu, along with the vegetarian cauliflower sandwich.
But, good news, in those spots are a new smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill sandwich as well as a classic ham and butter. (They’re a little smaller than their predecessors but priced accordingly at $5 for 6 inches.)
And even better news, Nightingale launched a new hoagie lineup at January’s end, with three current sandwiches and more on the way soonish. That’s according to owner/baker David McInnis (who deserves wizard status for his prowess), who tells me menu development is underway to create at least a few more hoagies. He says he even sent an employee to Philadelphia for a week to run around and do reconnaissance and glean ideas from a town well-regarded for its sandwiches. (Side note: That sounds like an awesome week at work for said lucky employee. Sign me up.)
The new hoagies are available during part of the regular hours now: Wednesdays to Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Whereas they open at 8 a.m., and special pizza service remains relegated to just Thursday and Friday nights from 5-8 p.m., in case you haven’t experienced that magic yet.) Oh, and more good news is you don’t have to stand in the longer pastry line to get a hoagie; you can go to the second walk-up window labeled the “fast lane” and get the hoagies, alongside breakfast sandwiches, house rolls and bread loaves.
I chat with McInnis longer about how the business has evolved and continues to adapt to demand. He explains to me his concept behind the two different walk-up windows (a product of the pandemic that has continued, versus in-store service). And how they’re becoming “distinct entities,” allowing staff to focus on different prep without the distractions of stopping to prepare made-to-order sandwiches. He says this initial rollout is the early form of Nightingale becoming a hoagie shop as much as a bakery.
That in mind, I do try all three existing hoagies: one meat, one vegetarian and one vegan, thoughtfully. I can say they’re all excellent in their own unique ways, and McInnis and crew are great curators of fine products to highlight the house breads. Each hoagie comes on a modified version of the house baguette (sized for sandwiches and seeded with sesame seeds), and foot-long sandwiches are $11 (the vegan and vegetarian) and $13 (the meat).
The vegan Fern Gully sports delicious, soft roasted carrots with snappy cucumber, peppery arugula, and tangy pickled red onion and cilantro-lime-jalapeño vegan mayo for a creamy/faintly spicy finish. While the Billy Goat hosts roasted onion and red pepper with cucumber and arugula again, but an herbed goat cheese spread that’s just delightful and rich.
Lastly, there’s an Italian, with an option (at no added cost) for a Spicy Italian, which adds a potently piquant cherry pepper spread (I recommend) to a lovely, layered mix of capicola, prosciutto and soppressata with provolone and fixings that included onion, tomato, cabbage and both olive oil and golden balsamic vinaigrette plus oregano for herbaceous finish to that acid pop. It’s an absolutely outstanding sandwich — pretty much the consolation for missing the aforementioned dill havarti and ham sammy that’s gone away.
If you’re reading this and Nightingale Bread’s entirely new to you, I wager if you get any one of the above hoagies, you’ll be pleased enough to understand what the regular long lines at the bakery are all about.