Making bread – in more ways than one

The staple of The Kneaded Bread in Port Chester. Photograph by Sebastián Flores.

It was 20 years ago that we experienced cinnamon bread nirvana — a loaf so doughy, so creamy, so oozing with cinnamon-y goodness that we had to go to the source itself. Since then, we’ve watched The Kneaded Bread become a prime treat in Port Chester.

The bakery and café, which sits on Main Street opposite Tarry Market, has approximately tripled its size to include a crisp salad bar with extra seating, two soups daily, cold sandwiches and, of course, an assortment of breads and pastries.

Everything is seasonal and everything is made on the premises. On a recent visit, a cold gazpacho and a velvety, zesty split pea are the soups of the day. (We sample a cup of split pea but could easily have a quart.)

The cupcakes stand at attention with swirls of pink, white and chocolate buttercream frostings that peak into little concave buttons. They look like medieval pavilions. Meanwhile, the layer cakes — thick with more of that buttercream icing resemble something mom or grandma would’ve made. (“And if you tasted it,” says co-owner Jeffrey Kohn, “it would really bring you back.”)

Then there are the breads — the popular multigrain, the richly textured chocolate challah, a savory rosemary and olive that is not everyone’s favorite (so we’ll take your portion) and a Provolone creation, to name just a few. And don’t forget the cinnamon bread, with or without raisins. Wait:  Forget the cinnamon bread. More for us.

No wonder the workers grabbing a muffin or a sandwich and salad, or the locals kibitzing over coffee look so content.

“It’s a feel-good place,” says Kohn, who owns The Kneaded Bread, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last month, with wife, Jennifer. “The landscaper who comes in at 7 a.m. for a muffin and coffee, the SoulCycle Greenwich person grabbing a salad at lunch, it’s all inclusive.”

And that’s emblematic of the larger appeal of Port Chester — an affordable United Nations of restaurants and artisanal shops that makes it a crucial cog in the  Long Island Sound Shore wheel.

“There’s a huge Brazilian community, a huge Peruvian community, a huge Mexican community, a huge Ecuadorian community and the restaurants are all good,” says Kohn, who grew up in neighboring Rye Brook, where he still lives. “And The Capitol Theatre did a lot of good things.”

When the Kohns opened The Kneaded Bread on June 6, 1998, much of what is there now wasn’t, including the AMC Loews Port Chester multiplex that is part of a large shopping center. People wondered at the couple starting a business in the village, Kohn acknowledges. But he has always had an impeccable sense of timing. Today, Port Chester is the SoHo of the Sound Shore, he says of its artisanal vibe, and the 4,800-square-foot bakery, which expanded in 2010 to include a salad bar, is part of a 33,000-square-foot building that the Kohns own. It includes seven commercial tenants and four apartments.

But Kohn takes no credit for such prescience. “The only thing I take credit for is knowing when to pull the plug.” For 13 years, he also owned Q Restaurant and Bar, a barbecue restaurant in Port Chester. (There was also one in Mount Kisco.)

“(Q) did well from day one, but I had enough,” he says. Like a great pitcher, Kohn likes to stay within his game. Though The Kneaded Bread sells to various Connecticut locations of Aux Délices, he’s not interested in wholesale. Rather, he wants to focus on The Kneaded Bread’s fresh offerings. (At the end of the day, whatever doesn’t sell is picked up by nonprofits like the Bronx-based Part of the Solution.)

“We make our own chicken dishes, our own dressings, our own croutons,” he says. And, of course, the pastries use no mixes but rather real ingredients, such as butter, milk, eggs and sugar.

Whipping up all this fresh goodness is a staff of 18 with Kohn’s wife being first among equals. They’re both Syracuse University graduates — he a lifelong foodie whose family was in the garment industry, she descended from shop owners. 

“If I were a surfer, I’d have a great surf shop and my wife would make it a great surf shop,” Kohn says. She’s the one who handles both the books and the customers, establishing the welcoming atmosphere.

And as the mother of their two teenage boys, she’s the busier, he readily says. He’ll sneak off for one of the kids’ afternoon weekday games, the rare dad in attendance. But when he’s delivering on a Saturday, he’ll remind them that’s the tradeoff. 

“Being a chef is very creative,” Kohn says of both his food and his time-management skills.

And creativity never tasted so good.

The Kneaded Bread is at 181 N. Main St. For more, visit kneadedbread.com or call 914-937-9489.

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