In the spectrum of American baking, one could argue there are two primary types of bread ambition. The first follows French baker Antonin Carême’s theory that pastry should emulate architecture. Sky-high ciabatta and boules aerated with more air than crumb, their complex infrastructure demanding the careful slice of a serrated knife. Exclusively made with refined white flour, these loaves are a hard-earned prize that requires dogmatic commitment and hours of physical labor.
On the opposite end of the bread realm, we find the wholesome loaf. Rustic in appeal and appearance, these multi-hued and roughly hewn breads are the literal “staff of life.” They, and only they, can sate our cravings when we are truly hungry—whether in the physical, spiritual or emotional sense. Crafted with a multi-grain medley of flours, their flavor often outstrips the white flour-only competition and just might inspire you to—god forbid it—forego butter.
In the heart of mountainous Colorado (where epic activity is the day-to-day norm), it’s easy to see the appeal of the latter loaf. In particular, the sleepy little town of Louisville—a mere ten minutes from Boulder’s bohemians and Silicon Valley expats—has long boasted a tradition of hearty, healthy loaves. Louisville’s reputation as an incubator for great bakers was most significantly shaped by third-generation Italian baker Maurizio Negrini—the current head baker at Izzio’s Bakery. Having trained many of the region’s emerging bread experts, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Negrini the “godfather” of Colorado’s contemporary bread culture.
Yet it isn’t Negrini attracting the most buzz in Louisville these days. Instead, it is his longtime disciple, Andy Clark, who is moving tradition forward at Moxie Bread Co. Situated on the corner of the town’s main intersection, you might mistake Moxie for a historic town information center, were it not for the ever-wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In fact, the charming, creaky building—constructed in 1880—has had several lives: first as a private home, followed by a stint as the local doctor’s office.
Once over the threshold, you’ll be greeted by another Negrini—Amedeo—the shop’s resident coffee expert and the famed baker’s son. He’s just one of Moxie’s motley, handpicked crew, each of which contribute their own particular talents to the shop’s undeniable charm. There’s also Tom Shellenberger, a former “food co-op guy” who shows up at 2 a.m. each morning to stone-mill the flour (and listen to experimental jazz). In short, there’s soul in this cast of characters—and one could easily claim you taste it in the loaves.
Yet before Moxie ever came to be, Clark was just an east coast kid working as a dishwasher in a natural foods café. Intrigued by the shops’ master baker, Clark began coming in before his shift to learn the bread craft. “My parents were always into ‘hippie’ health foods, so I grew up with an appreciation of simple, wholesome products made from scratch,” Clark explains.
Fast forward a few years, and you’ll find Clark heading off on a cross-country drive to college in California. While his destination was originally Santa Barbara, an impromptu pass through Boulder transformed into a twenty-year pit stop. Starting as a barista at the renowned artisanal bakery Daily Bread, Clark serendipitously made the bread team when one of the bakers started missing his shifts. Soon thereafter, the bakery was bought by Whole Foods, unexpectedly plunging Clark into the high stakes world of mass-produced baked goods.
Over the next 15 years, Clark would refine his skills at both Whole Foods and Udi’s bakery, where Negrini was then staffed as head baker. Working on bread at the corporate level provided ample opportunities for international travel, from France to Belgium, Germany and beyond. It was those experiences overseas (and a resulting collection of thousands of bread photos) that sparked Clark’s desire to one day operate his own artisanal shop.
“In truth, I have had a business plan for over a decade,” Clark explains. “But after running large production kitchens, the thought of risking it all on something small becomes petrifying.” It’s the classic conundrum faced by every would-be entrepreneur. Is it worth it to risk a steady income, corporate healthcare and relatively sane hours for the creative freedom that comes with going off on your own?
In the case of Moxie, the answer is a resounding yes. The shop has been a success since day one, quickly becoming a favorite of bread-lovers from Louisville, Boulder and Denver alike. Admittedly, part of Clark’s strategy is to sell more than just bread. As we geared up to sample some of the shop’s signature treats, we were informed by a return customer, visiting from Connecticut, that the “king egg” alone was worth the trip out west. Le Roi d’Oeuf is Clark’s answer to an all-in-one-breakfast that doesn’t require silverware. Baked in oversized, cast iron muffin tins, a square of puff pastry is filled with egg, cheese, an ever-changing rotation of vegetables and, occasionally, sausage. It would be a mistake to bypass this particular pastry; it just might be the most soul-satisfying treat in the shop.
The rest of the menu rotates with the whims of the baking crew—from pastrami-laced croissants and blueberry kouign amann to open-faced lox tartines on volkenbrot (a dense and savory German health bread consisting of whole grains and seeds). The shop also boasts an enticing array of sandwiches—from burrata with heirloom tomato and greens to hot capicola with prosciutto, smoked mozzarella and red pepper.
If you’re already salivating at the prospect of spending a full day at Moxie, consider yourself in good company. Beyond the fact that everything in sight is delicious, the friendly crew and long-lingering regulars could keep you entertained for hours. Every nook of the interior invites you to stay a while, with a mix-and-match décor of warm wood, old school chairs and vintage tchotchkes that provide a cozy “grandparents’ house” vibe. There’s even a well-loved upright piano, where locals are invited to tickle the ivories.
“It’s hard to keep people inspired in a ‘mega’ place like a commercial bakery, so switching to this has been a dream come true,” says Clark. And it’s not just Moxie’s staff benefitting from the shop’s small-scale mission, as Clark plays a role in the community that reaches far beyond baking bread. Take every Wednesday evening, when Clark—a longtime musician—hosts a pizza night and bluegrass jam with father and son Negrini. What’s more, underage members of the community who take an interest in making things from scratch can participate in the bakery’s apprenticeship program. Too young to legally work, these bread enthusiasts are allowed to come in on weekends (with their parents’ permission) and volunteer in exchange for learning about the baking process.
Of course, none of this would be possible without great bread. “We have really decadent classic French stuff, but we also have a lot of products that really truly are good for you—and they taste so good that you wouldn’t know it,” Clark promises. Watching as he pulls a toasted, honey-hued, oatmeal-topped loaf from the oven, I can’t help but believe him. Holding a warm, earthy slice to my nose, I almost feel enticed to swear off baguettes for life.
Much of the flavor and color that makes Clark’s bread so special starts with the selection of organic, biodynamic wheat—and Shellenberger’s aforementioned 2 a.m. stone milling process. Preserving the germ (and the nutrients) of the grain is an essential benefit of the freshly-milled process. Then, once the dough is mixed, all of the non-ciabatta batches are fermented for at least 20 hours, which allows for easier digestion. As a bonus, the long fermentation yields a robust flavor that permeates both the crumb and the crust.
If you’re a numbers person, it’s telling that the shop’s best-selling loaves are a 50 percent whole wheat farmhouse loaf and an Algerian baguette made of the same dough. The latter bread is particularly beautiful, with a unique, almost exotic shape. Aesthetically, it’s the essence of a picnic-ready, tear and share baguette—but with a lot more flavor.
Aside from his breads’ texture and taste, Clark’s work is made all the more appealing when you compare it with the current trends in artisanal baking. For example, while much of the bread world is pursuing deeply toasted crusts, Clark goes his own way: “Flavor and color are definitely synonyms, but I’m not trying to win any darkness awards.” In time, the awards may come, but they’re not the primary focus of Clark’s daily production. Yes, Moxie’s team wants every loaf to feel special, but not so much that you reserve it for special occasions. The end result is the essence of daily bread—which just might be the ultimate compliment.
Moxie Bread Company
641 Main St, Louisville, CO 80027