For anyone who has adopted the keto lifestyle—a diet bereft of carbohydrates—bakeries are likely not on your usual local circuit. Such a lifestyle, particularly when enforced by a wary and watchful partner, will result in weight loss and joy.
Such was the case in my home, where dreams of pastry, pasta, pizza and potatoes have long perished. It wasn’t until the advent of the pandemic lockdown, that I threw off my keto chains and allowed myself to rediscover the pleasure of good bread.
Any true bread lover in the neighborhood will eventually end up at Seed Bakery. While I had been aware of its local reputation for some time, my keto-induced fog rendered it all but invisible. As my pandemic bread jones mounted, I noticed the line of folks snaking around the corner of Mentor and Washington Boulevard to order at Seed’s front door. Soon enough, I joined the line myself.
“The bread here is the best I’ve ever had anywhere,” said Jon Jory, a local fanatic just ahead of me in line.
I approach the smiling Dierdre Kane at the front door and impulsively order my namesake loaf—a sourdough “Rustic Batard”—and run home to rip into it. The crust is thick, crisp and taps soundly. The crumb has a pleasing density and chew. The flavor is deep. This is real bread.
I’m coming back.
“Let it be what it is…” That would be Joseph Abrakjian, the owner, miller, master baker and philosopher at Seed. Miller? Yes, the not-so-secret ingredient in the bread here is the flour, which is stone ground on premises. Does one really need any more information? As he explains at our initial meeting, “It’s a from-scratch kitchen. We have nothing from a can.”
Abrakjian and his wife, Pam Watanabe, opened Seed Bakery in 2015, at the culmination of several years of research and development. However, before that came 10 years as a chef and restaurateur, primarily at his popular Cali-French bistro Roma Via Paris near Universal City.
Ultimately, “I took a little break. I wasn’t going to go back into the restaurant business. I started to bake bread at home and that triggered a passion in me. I was seeking flavors. So, the next evolution was sourdough for me and after sourdough was whole grains.”
The search for flavors and bread mastery took him to northern Vermont for nearly two years, where he studied and worked with master French baker Girard Ruebeaux.
A native of Lebanon, Abrakjian moved to Pasadena with his parents, when he was 14 years old and graduated from Marshall High School. After his sabbatical in Vermont, he returned to Pasadena to open Seed, where he further benefited from the urban flour mill, Grist & Toll, run by Nan Kohler, with whom he collaborated before installing his own mill at the bakery. Yes, there’s an artisanal flour mill on South Arroyo Parkway. Who knew?
Abrakjian sources his grain from a variety of farms in northern California and cites the work and influence of whole grain baking guru Dave Miller of Chico.
“He’s like the granddaddy of the bakers,” he said. “He’s a big influence on my baking career as well. I learned a lot (about) the milling from him.”
Artisanal whole grain milling retains essential fiber and nutrients and eschews the use of any additives, including gluten which is common in large-scale commercial baking.
“It is fresher. The grains do last longer than flour. Plus, when you mill your own flour, you’re milling the whole kernel intact,” he said.
“You have a lot more control over the nutrients that the grain actually provides and there’s something to be said about working with freshly milled flour, stone-ground versus roller-milled flour.”
The proof is in the daily selection of fresh loaves available for sale at the front door.
The choices can vary from day to day and the daily inventory inevitably dwindles by mid-afternoon. These include a variety of sourdough preps, including olive, cranberry rye, walnut, buckwheat and kamut, all $7. White flour baguettes ($4), brioche buns and loaves ($2 and $12) and ciabatta rolls ($6) are also regularly offered on the daily bread menu, posted at the front door. The loaves stored in their paper bag and wrapped in plastic last up to five days on the counter and they also freeze well. (Off-menu pro tip for the home baker: Sourdough starter from Seed’s mothership can be had for $15.)
Bread? Yes, possibly the best anywhere. Find it right here. But wait, there’s more!
An array of baked goods and pastries, both sweet and savory are displayed in the front window. These can include everything from pecan pie muffins ($5) and guava cream cheese tarts ($5) to savory empanadas ($6) and quiche with seasonal vegetables ($9 per slice or $10.50 with salad).
Breakfast? Lunch? Although these entrees can’t be enjoyed on the lovely back patio, as yet, the menu items are well worth exploring regardless. The results of the same care, attention and focus that produce the spectacular bread can be found in the prepared food here as well.
Breakfast stand-outs include a sautéed lentil and kale bowl served with a fried egg and zaatar ($11), house-made granola served with seasonal fruit, yogurt, honey and almonds ($9) and a “scramble” with housemade chorizo served as an open-face sandwich with gouda, pico de gallo and cilantro ($12.50).
Lunch entrees include fresh ratatouille ($12) and roasted pumpkin curry ($12.50) and 10 sandwich combinations all served with market-fresh salads. The pulled pork ($15)—sourced from Nieman Ranch—quickly won me over. My new best friend in line, Mr. Jory strongly advocated for the salmon gravlax ($15) and tarragon chicken salad ($14). Vegan sandwich options include eggplant ($13) served grilled with spiced pomegranate and walnut relish as well as “grilled cauliflower steak” ($13) with pistachio pesto and pumpkin seeds.
The portions are generous, and the salads are super fresh. Seed Bakery also maintains a weekly presence at the South Pasadena Farmers Market (4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays) and most all of the produce used at the bakery comes straight from the market.
“The bread has been carrying us.” Seed Bakery has remained open throughout the pandemic lockdown and Abrakjian has maintained his staff of 10 without layoffs or furloughs. Musing on his process, “Every bake is different. It’s never the same bake. We’re always on top of it to make it better.”
The food is good here.
Come for the bread.