By Carey Jones
June 29, 2015
Credit: Neal Santos

There was a time when breadbaskets were all but interchangeable, intended only for pre-appetizer snacking or swiping up leftover sauce. But recently, chefs have been treating bread as a course in its own right—as worthy of experimentation as anything else on the menu.

At Philadelphia’s High Street on Market, the frequently rotating daily breads include loaves as inventive as the farro amazake pain—local farro cultured with koji and folded into a spelted bread dough, baked to a darkly caramelized crust.

In Los Gatos, California, the loaves from Manresa—from the house sourdough levain to a seeded dark rye with seaweed—proved popular enough to inspire a spinoff bakery, Manresa Bread.

Rome’s Metamorosif serves corn-and-wild-fennel ciabatta and a focaccia made with pork scratchings, with a chilled emulsified olive oil that looks, and spreads, like butter.

And the elegantly arrayed options at the Yeatman Hotel’s restaurant in Porto—from malt bread to caracol com algas, a snail-shaped loaf with seaweed, all served with a mix of sheep, goat, and Azores cow's milk butter—are enticing enough to distract from the inventive tasting menus.