From the outside, it would be easy to mistake the Mediterra Bakeshop for, say, a mail-order facility. The artisanal bakery is housed in an anonymous office park, just off the Parkway West. Inside, however, Old World influence permeates the yeasty air.
"I spent much of my life in Greece, and there was a little bakery next door," says owner Nick Ambeliotis. "I'd hang out there day and night."
Ambeliotis, 49, was once the kind of food importer who sometimes found himself in Tuscany, being led blindfolded to a hidden trove of truffles. But eventually, "I had a revelation that baking bread was a little more earthy, a little more godly. People need bread."
He founded Mediterra in 2002, and imported more than his inspiration.
The bakery's heart is a pair of ovens, each with a capacity of 400 loaves. The brick for the ovens, and the craftsmen who constructed them, came over from Europe. The baking surfaces are volcanic rock from the Alps ... and the linen the bread rests upon, one employee proudly told me, "is the kind artists use for their canvases."
It's a canvas for Mediterra as well. Baked into the crown of each loaf of farm bread, for example, is the imprinted shape of a stalk of wheat. The crust is a rich brown, a caramelized exterior protecting the moist sourdough tang inside. Ambeliotis favors dark, thick crusts, and says he uses organic ingredients because they better withstand the longer baking time required.
Mediterra offers two dozen products, ranging from sourdoughs to rarities like the Mt. Athos Fire Bread -- a Greek recipe Ambeliotis says is "the reason I got into baking bread." But despite his international reach, Ambeliotis keeps things close to home. Among the bakery's 35 employees are his wife Sandy, who focuses on pastries, and their seven kids.
The bakery has a retail space, and its breads are also sold at the East End Food Co-Op, Whole Foods, area farmers markets -- almost anywhere people will go for rustic flavors.
In fact, the Ambeliotis family has a new hobby: raising chickens in their suburban backyard. Neighborhood enthusiasm for that project is, well, muted. But those living down the street from the office park aren't complaining. Says Ambeliotis, "They'll come in here saying they can smell the bread."
801 Parkway View Drive, Building 8, Robinson