Stomping Ground: Atwater’s Naturally Leavened Bread Bakery & Cafe

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We live in a cozy little town called Catonsville. It’s in Baltimore County, but when you’re here it’s easy to forget you’re near a major city. It’s a neighborly, white-picket-fence kind of community. And Atwater’s Bakery & Cafe (full name is Atwater’s Naturally Leaved Bread Bakery & Cafe) is just the kind of homey establishment you’d expect to find in a cozy place like Catonsville.

Situated at 815 Frederick Rd., Atwater’s is in the heart of the Catonsville’s downtown district. And it seems to work like the heart of the town, too. There has never been an occasion we’ve gone in when Atwater’s wasn’t abuzz with activity. Folks are constantly coming and going – getting bread, lunch, coffee and treats.

The bakery  & cafe occupy a very cool brick building. It’s a renovated 19th century post office and the perfect home for such a warm, engaging place. Before opening in 2010, the Atwater’s folks did an incredible restoration – and the building itself is now very green! But more in that in a second…

First, let’s talk about the awesome eats. True, when you walk in, you may not immediately guess Atwater’s is a haven for vegans – but it is. They absolutely have delicious meatless offerings – starting with the Banh Mi Tofu Sandwich. This little beauty is a solid meal and packed with goodness. There’s a generous portion of tofu, carrots, cucumbers and lettuce, all dressed in a tangy Asian-inspired vegan sauce on one of the bakery’s delish rolls.  This picture barely does it justice, because when you go to bite into the sandwich it’s so thick, you can’t even fit your mouth around it. The Banh Mi is one of those sandwiches that when you eat it, sauce is dripping down your hand and chunks of veggies fall onto the plate. People stop and ask what it is, cuz it looks so good. Seriously. We have eaten them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No joke.

Still hungry? No problemo. Every day brings a different soup special at Atwater’s.  The daily soups come in Tiffen boxes:  cylinder-shaped, three-level metal containers. The top level is your savory soup; the middle, a chunk of Atwater’s bread; and the bottom, a fresh cookie. This arrangement is incredible – but for one thing… the cookie isn’t vegan. Boo. We are hopeful that one day, Atwater’s will have a vegan cookie option. In the meantime, we usually find someone to give the cookie away to – a friend or client or something. The cookies look quite good – people really enjoy them. The Tiffen below contains a very tasty, hearty vegan Mushroom Goulash, served with a chunk of fresh bread. Mmmm… It was so good, I can’t even tell you. You’re just going to have to hope you’re lucky enough to go in sometime when they have it.

Now, in all honesty, there isn’t a vegan soup special every day, so be sure to call in advance . They do list them on their website, but on more than one occasion, the website was wrong, so it’s easier just to call and be sure. But at least a few times a week, one of the offered soups is vegan, and all summer long, they have vegan gazpacho, which is just heavenly and perfect for warm days.

Now, don’t despair over the lack of vegan cookies…. because Atwater’s makes a luscious, sinful, deep-dark-chocolatey vegan brownie.  OMG. Shwing! This thing is SO GOOD. It’s almost like fudge, it’s so dense and packed with chocolate. When you bite into an Atwater’s vegan brownie, it literally melts in your mouth and the heady cocoa aroma is completely intoxicating. Atwater’s vegan brownie rivals ANY other brownie treat we’ve had ever, anyplace.  Honestly they’re better than homemade from our own kitchen. I don’t even bake brownies anymore. They’re better than the ones Mom made when I was a kid. (Sorry, Ma!)

We’ve been told by the counter staff at Atwater’s that these are a big seller, among vegans and non-vegans alike. We’ve gone in just for these brownies on many occasions only to discover they were sold out. To this I say: Hey, non-vegans! We are glad you are excited about a vegan treat, but please leave some for us!!! There is no shortage of other treats for you at Atwater’s! Eat a scone or something.

Best suggestion – when you go in, just buy a few brownies, like two per person in your family. You don’t want to risk eating them all in the car and then not having enough for dessert later.  Nowadays, we usually get three or four. They never, ever go to waste. Sometimes, we just sit and eat all four in the car. Sigh. Oh well.

Atwater’s isn’t just food, though. They also offer a fabulous variety of beverages. You can get hot tea, iced tea, fresh squeezed lemonade ( ssoooo good!) and an array of freshly-made barista style coffee drinks. Oh – and you can get those made vegan with soy milk. Like this gorgeous little cappuccino. Have you ever seen such a pretty coffee drink? You almost don’t wanna drink it… almost.

There’s a lot of green too. By which I mean Atwater’s is a very eco-friendly place. Every aspect of the operation and design of the bakery/cafe gives thought to the environment. The dining area is open and bright with loads of natural light and ceiling fans. The huge table in the middle of it all is repurposed wood. They offer free tap water and re-use soda bottles for sugar. Atwater’s really does go above and beyond when considering the sustainability of their business. Oh -and – they source their food locally. You can even find a list of their providers right on their website! How cool is that?

You know, I’ve heard it said that bread is life. Well, once you try Atwater’s bread, you will agree. If this is the only bread you have for the rest of your life, you will be a happy eater. They offer 100% Whole Wheat, Peasant Wheat, Sunflower Flax, Raisin Walnut, Caraway Rye, San Francisco Sourdough, Cranberry Pecan, Kalamata Olive, 10 Grain, Country White, Spelt, Ciabatta, Rosemary Italian, Raisin Pumpernickel, Struan and Jalapeno Cheddar. Of these, only Struan (honey & buttermilk) and Jalapeno Cheddar (cheese) are not vegan! Did I say it already? Shwing!

The breads are hand-crafted and completely gorgeous. You feel like you are in some old European village, smelling the loaves of bread, admiring their glossy golden crust  – oh and when you eat some – you will never, ever want any other bread again. It’s totally addicting. We’ve sat down with a loaf of the Rosemary Italian and some olive oil and eaten the whole thing more than once.

Other goodies abound at Atwater’s, too. There are many delectable-looking pasties in the case, some are even gluten-free (though at the time of this writing, only the brownies are vegan!). As far as we know, all the baked goods are vegetarian, though. There is a huge shelf of bottled and jarred foods. They change a lot – you’ll find items as varied as pickles and hot sauces to canned tomatoes, jams/jellies, chocolate bars, fresh flour and chutney. And of course, coffees and teas to brew at home. Almost everything on these shelves is usually vegan.

Though not pictured, Atwater’s also has a cold case. There are usual items always there: fresh/local milk, cheeses and eggs for vegetarians are regularly available as well as bottled/chilled tea and juices. The Banh Mi Tofu Sandwiches live in the cold case and they often offer other vegetarian sandwiches with cheese. There are salads and soups and sides – it’s literally different every day you go in. We’ve scored some very good noodle and grain sides here, as well as wonderful crisp salads and vegan soups to eat at home.  Basically, the food is so fresh, you never know what you will find!

The attentive counter staff bears mention as well. When we have any questions about any ingredient or item at Atwater’s, the staff goes out of their way to help us. Each of them have proven to be knowledgeable about vegan food and never once have we gotten the blank spacey stare of someone who was clueless or didn’t care. You run into that look a lot when you’re a vegan, so it’s refreshing that the customer service has been so great at Atwater’s. Thanks for taking care of us, everyone!

Atwater’s Natually Leavened Bread Bakery & Cafe is located at 815 Frederick Rd, Catonsville MD 21228. They have a parking lot on the side of the building, and if it’s full, there is on-street metered parking available. They’re open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. You can find them on Facebook or call 410-747-4120 for the daily soup specials. If you are in the Catonsville area and want some fresh, awesome vegan eats, you gotta give Atwater’s a try! Oh – and drop us a line if you’re going. We’ll meet you and eat some brownies.

Update! The folks at Atwater’s wanted to let everyone know, the soft white rolls have butter and milk. Not the country white bread, but the little round white rolls. Thanks for letting us know!

 

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