Friday, March 9, 2007

Con Pane: The Rise of Dough in Pt. Loma



There's dough and then there’s dough, and Catherine Perez is an expert at both. An Illinois native, Perez arrived in San Diego 20 years ago to attend San Diego State and became a financial analyst. Several years ago, however, Perez decided she wanted to start her own business. What it would be she had no firm idea. Before Hillcrest’s Bread and Cie had arrived, it was her personal quest for a good loaf of bread in San Diego that led to her first “aha” moment and the birth of her Point Loma artisan bakery, Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe.

She regularly checked out artisan breads on her travels and studied baking with a French master baker in Minneapolis. Then came her second “aha” moment. On a bike ride with a friend through Point Loma, she took in the charming homes and feeling of neighborliness and realized that it was the perfect place for her gestating business. After scouting locations, she set her sights on the former Wells Fargo Bank at the corner of Rosecrans and Cañon. Some intense negotiating in the form of bread tastings won some interest from the new owner; what sealed the deal, she says with a smile, was her now signature Turkey Cobb sandwich.

Con Pane opened in June 1999. Perez lured her best buddy, Emanuel Burgin, from Prague, where he was writing a book, to help her out. His first project was to paint the large airy space, and help put together the 10-ton oven imported in pieces from France. Then Perez taught him her baking skills and she says he’s become quite the baker himself.

Con Pane now has five bakers who produce more than two dozen varieties of bread—everything from traditional French baguettes to olive bread, challah, ciabatta and Cranberry Orange Walnut.


Among the favorites are the Gruyere & Chive bread (made Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday), the daily-baked Point Loma Sourdough, and her Portuguese Sweet Bread (made on Sunday). But, she also bakes hamburger buns and pastries like scones, brioche cinnamon rolls and outrageous Milk Chocolate Chunk and Walnut, and Butter Toffee Peanut Butter cookies. Con Pane also makes and sells luscious sandwiches, and coffee. The space is filled with tables and chairs for dining in, but everything, including box lunches for concerts or picnics, is available for taking out.

The breads are Perez’s own recipes. “I’ve taken the European way of baking bread, and added American taste,” she explains. “We like to add things like cheese and herbs and nuts.” And, she adds, she even makes her own yeast.

Recently, Con Pane has started selling their breads wholesale. So, if you dine at 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado, Jordan Restaurant in Pacific Beach’s Tower23 Hotel or The 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro in Ocean Beach, you’ll enjoy Con Pane breads with your meal.

Yesterday, I picked up a big bagful of baked goods, starting, of course with the Gruyere & Chive bread. I went home and used it in a veggie sandwich with home-roasted red peppers, romaine lettuce and a slathering of roasted garlic humus. With the idea of eating more healthfully, I also bought a loaf of the Artisan Multi-Grain. A good choice since the bread has a deep, rich flavor, both nutty and earthy, completely unlike the processed whole wheat breads you find in the supermarket. It will be perfect for a turkey sandwich or simply toasted with a little honey spread on top.

I can’t wait to try the Gorgonzola, Red Onion & Walnut Focaccia that was fixedly staring me in the face on the top of the counter.

I admit, I also picked up a couple of the cookies and an Apricot Spice scone. The scone is moist with bursts of plump dried apricot; the sanding sugar topping provides a nice crunch. The cookies speak for themselves. Chocolate chips and walnuts are my perfect combination for a cookie and Perez does it more than justice with a very sophisticated milk chocolate. The sweet butter toffee in the peanut butter cookie is the perfect foil for its salty nuttiness.

By the way, a nice end note for Peres that customers should know is that all of the breads that are unsold at the end of the night are donated to St. Agnes Church, which distributes them to area shut-ins and St. Vincent de Paul’s Homeless Shelter.

Con Pane is located in the Point Loma Village at 1110 Rosecrans St., Suite 100.

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