Goshen has a European bakery. A really, really good European bakery.
A lot of people already know that. If you go to Rachel's Bread on a Saturday morning, you'll likely wait in line for a baguette. If you get there too late, you won't get a chocolate croissant, though if the employees know you and you call in time, they may put one back for you. About half the week's sales come in those five hours the bakery is open on Saturdays.
Since 1994, Rachel Shenk has operated the bakery bearing her name. She'd lost her job as an archivist and decided to open the bakery. Her husband, Jim, stayed home with their children and she started baking in the basement of the Old Bag Factory.
She gained a following. When Dave Pottinger recruited her to be a charter vendor in the Goshen Farmers Market in March 2002, she moved and her fans followed her.
And the number of fans grew. A dedicated group of customers rely on her for hearty bread that is the antithesis of Wonder. People wouldn't wait in line for this bread if it wasn't so satisfying, so full of flavor.
Her sourdough starter isn't as old as her business, but it's nearly a teenager by now. The wild yeast in the air from nearly a decade of baking in the former lumber company makes the work of Rachel, now Jim and their four employees a lot easier than it used to be.
But at its heart, baking bread is one of the simplest things you can do and one of the most complex. And Rachel is a master. A few years ago, she and Jim, who makes guitars, put in a wood-fired oven. She bakes bread in it and he makes pizza in it. They use it for other things, including the entree of striped bass with prosciutto that they were planning to be part of Friday night's dinner.
For several years, Rachel's was open for dinner three nights a week. Then two nights a week. Rachel said it was hard for her to give up, but the long days made them pull back to doing occasional dinners that they schedule. "We said we really like doing it, but we have a life," she said. When the market reopens on Tuesday nights in May, they'll make wood-fired pizzas on those nights and offer them to customers.
At least once a year, Rachel thanks her customers with a meal. Those buying bread get an invitation in the weeks preceding. And Rachel prepares breads, spreads and puts out cheese. Last summer's bash was an amazing meal laden with wheels of cheese, desserts and rich, European fare.
Rachel's Bread usually offers simple breakfasts of fruit, fritattas and breads and lunches of soup, salads and sandwiches.
Bread is part of any meal there. And it's the bread and pastries that set Rachel's apart from other eating establishments.
The bakery makes around 20 types of bread and their availability follows a schedule. My current favorites are the cranberry walnut and the wood-fired baguette that is hearty. The Belgian breakfast bread is one of my go-to items for breakfast. I try to grab a day-old loaf of whole wheat honey when I can. And the flaxseed sourdough that Rachel favors right now is really nice as well.
In addition, the bakery has about a dozen pastries, including croissants made plain or filled with chocolate or spinach. I know that a chocolate croissant will never fail to make my wife very happy.
I can't think of a better croissant anywhere. They're flaky and light and always a lovely brown. You may be able to find a better croissant in Paris, but I don't get to Paris as often as the Shenks.
They go at least once or twice a year to recharge. Those visits give them strength and inspiration to make food in Goshen. Rachel grew up in Europe and the visits are important.
What is both endearing and occasionally maddening is when they go to Europe, or anywhere really, they close the bakery for a couple weeks. No other food business in Elkhart County closes for vacation like Rachel's Bread. The customers long for the reopening and find bread elsewhere. It's all very European, really.
Rachel said she is glad to be part of a circle where she feeds customers and they interact with her. "I feel lucky the community has taken me in," she said.
And the community is lucky to have her.
This is bread made with flour, water, yeast and salt. The sourdoughs have that starter that's a dozen years old. The dough rises slowly. It doesn't have dough conditioners or preservatives. And it's put forward for $3 to $5.25 a loaf, which can seem like a lot until you take a bite and realize how satisfying it is.
When you look back on the culinary history of this area, Rachel Shenk will have been a leader, someone who helped shape the tastes of this community. She is one of the people who helped move food forward in this area and did it by returning it to its simple, local roots.
Food trends nationally followed as people wanted local and natural food and a connection with those who make it. Rachel has and probably always will embody that.
"For me it comes down to the idea that we are offering a good product for the local community," she said. "You can make so many good things so simply."
* The first barbecue sale of the year at Greater Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church is Friday and Saturday at 1829 Oakland Ave. Robert Honorable and others at the church finished second in last year's Rib Quest and make fine ribs, rib tips and chicken. Slabs can be ordered and prepaid in advance by calling Robert or Dorothy Honorable, 875-1010 or 596-3826.
I have 10 tickets for rib tip or chicken dinners and will give them away to readers this week. Here's what you need to do: Tell me in 30 words or less why you deserve free barbecue. You can email responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, post them as feedback to this story on eTruth.com or on The Elkhart Truth's Facebook page, or send via Twitter to @hungrymarshall.
I'll pick a winner and announce them on my blog Wednesday morning on eTruth.com. You'll be able to pick up the tickets at the front desk of The Elkhart Truth, 421 S. Second St., in time for the Friday and Saturday sales that begin at 11 a.m.
* Mattern's Butcher Shop & Corner Deli, 201 S. Main St., Goshen, is expanding its breakfast offerings and will offer bagels, cinnamon rolls and pecan rolls from Joe Kramer, who ran John's Bagels with his family until it closed in Elkhart. Kramer is baking at 106 N. Main St., but won't offer retail. The bagels and rolls will be available at Mattern's and at Java Junction on the campus of Goshen College. Mattern's will be open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. This week, those ordering breakfast will get a few free items as well, said Bill Mattern.
* Four area restaurants are helping Child And Parent Services raise money during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. No coupons are needed to help the agency by eating dinner at Antonio's on Thursday, Rulli's on April 19, Sports Time Family Pub & Grill on April 21 and Hopper's on April 25, according to a release from CAPS.
* Bristol Perks Coffee House, 400 W. Vistula, Bristol, is now offering six flavors of gelato, according to owner Ann Andre.
* Martin's Super Markets set the dates for its foodie tours this year. On June 10 and July 15, the regional grocery business will take customers to Chicago for $120 per person, including transportation, prix fixe menus and tips. The tours will include stops at Bleeding Heart Bakery, Ina's on Randolph, Blag Dog Gelato, Spacca Napoli, Koval Distillery and Demera Ethiopian Restaurant. Information: email@example.com. Reservations: 807-8220
* Das Dutchman Essenhaus recently restored part of its main restaurant building by installing a new 83-foot beam to replace four wood columns, according to a press release. The goal was to open up the upstairs dining area and improve the space used for larger gatherings. DJ Construction Inc. did the project.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 296-5805 or on Twitter @hungrymarshall.
IF YOU GO
What: Rachel's Bread
Where: 212 W. Washington St., Goshen, in the Goshen Farmers Market
Fare: Bread, pastry, pizza and other French-Belgian inspired food
Hours: 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
Details: Cash or check accepted, no credit cards, cell phone use discouraged inside, specials announced on Facebook, Saturdays are the busiest day.