I'm a big fan of bread service in restaurants. For economic reasons, a lot of restaurants don't offer bread anymore - even slices of Roma bread with chilled squares of butter, which was once a staple of many local restaurants. (For the record, Anthony's Restaurant at 701 Grand still does.)
I'm still nostalgic for those warm, yeasty round loaves of sourdough that the long-gone Fedora Cafe & Bar served back in its heyday. I was reminded, sort of, about that legendary loaf when I was dining at the new Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Overland Park, this week's Cafe review in The Pitch. On my first visit, the server brought out a loaf of freshly baked, cornmeal-dusted bread that had the most provocative shape. It evoked thoughts of Lady Gaga, Sophia Vergara, and Jennifer Lopez, among others.
But it was the name of the bread that really caught our attention.
"This is our vanilla bread," said the waiter, setting the loaf in the center of the table.
"Vanilla bread," I asked. "Like the flavoring?"
"I don't know why they call it that," the server said. "It really doesn't have a vanilla taste."
My friend Lisa - a professional chef - and I were confused. Could we have eaten all kinds of breads over the years and somehow missed any reference to vanilla bread?
The waiter had been at the restaurant since the night it opened. Surely if he was making a mistake, someone would have corrected him over a four-week period, right?
Wrong. When the restaurant's general manager, Charlie Wade, stopped at our table (he saw me struggling with the butter, which was still frozen), we asked him why the loaf was called vanilla bread. He blanched.
"Vanilla bread? It's panella bread. An Italian loaf," Wade said.
"Do you think our server was pulling our leg?" I said.
Wade shook his head. "I'll have to talk with him."
It's a sexy loaf, that ol' panella bread.