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The Bread Basket
****
Out of a possible five
$

Basket full of homey goodness

Although pretty simple in terms of makeup, there is something magical about a perfect cookie.

You can dress it up with icing or pack it full of candy, but, given its size, there is still only so much you can do with a cookie.

At The Bread Basket in Auburn, they don’t do anything to dress them up, but they do make them perfectly.

The butterscotch chip cookies were just a little crunchy upon first bite, but the exterior gave way to a moist, soft center that I had to chew a bit, which allowed me to savor the richness of the brown sugar and butter used to make them. The butterscotch chips were camouflaged by the cookies’ golden brown exterior and just popped up here and there as sweet surprises.

The chocolate chip cookies were awesome, also, and the peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies were not quite as moist and chewy as the others, but the peanut butter was strong in scent and flavor, and I was not about to complain.

Actually, complaints were hard to find with The Bread Basket. It is well known but off the beaten path a bit on the second floor of the Sixth and Main shopping mall downtown. A small sign on the sidewalk was hard to spot, and the big sign flat against the building of that second floor was nearly impossible to see from my car, but the place proved to be quite a find.

The restaurant is decorated to keep the integrity of the gorgeous old building. It has dark hardwood floors and an aged tin roof dressed up with white paint. The walls are dark maroon and hold a smattering of antique accouterments like old suitcases, a hammock, framed vintage newspapers and even a rickety old screen door. In a separate room upstairs, big, heavy antique tables and a hodgepodge of antique chairs add to the ambience.

It’s a homey place with just a couple of people working, so the service is a bit deliberate (sandwich meals arrived ahead of soups during one visit), but everyone was friendly, appreciative and apologetic for any wait my parties had.

As great as the cookies were, this place is called The Bread Basket, and I found the leavened dough to be pretty impressive as well. The pumpernickel on my egg salad sandwich was cut about an inch thick, and it was soft and moist. Although almost black in color, the flavor was mild. It was the perfect place for the egg salad, which had coarsely chopped boiled egg and just a little sweet relish to add sweetness. It, like the cookies, was simple but perfect.

The triple layer of white bread on my turkey club was not sliced as thick as the pumpernickel, but it was just as fresh and tasty. This sandwich had crispy-but-still-meaty bacon on the top and bottom layers and two layers of thinly sliced turkey. Cream cheese was spread on the top half and Swiss cheese rested on the bottom. With fresh greens and sliced tomatoes, it was a big, sloppy, wonderful sandwich. I also loved the pastrami sub, which was served on an OK roll. This cold sub had a hefty portion of peppery pastrami and a double layer of Swiss, along with white onion slivers, tomato, greens and spicy mustard.

The best bread from The Bread Basket was the mini-loaf that was hollowed out to form a bowl for one of the homemade soups. The chicken and rice soup had a somewhat creamy broth and big, tender pieces of chicken breast. The rice and chicken sort of separated on the top as the broth soaked into the bread bowl. When I plunged a spoon into the bowl, however, the broth poured out, coating the outside of the loaf and turning the entire thing into basically one giant, chewy, delicious dumpling.

I also loved the ham chowder, which I wished I would have had in a bread bowl instead of a small cup. There was not much diced ham, celery or carrot in this pristine white soup, but that turned out to be a good thing because the velvety white broth was so sumptuous. It was the kind of soup base you could put about anything in and it would still be fantastic.

Another fantastic bread-free item was the chicken salad wrap. The tomato-herb tortilla was dripping from the juices of the pineapple and mandarin oranges that were joined by almonds and baby greens inside. The sweetness of the fruit mixed wonderfully with the tender, moist, stringy chunks of chicken in the salad, which also had plenty of crunchy celery. The almonds, always a great thing to add to fresh fruit, provided more texture.

The macaroni and potato salad sides were must-haves instead of the rather boring chips or pretzels most sandwich platters come with. The lightly dressed macaroni had a savory flavor that was timid with not much dill and no sweet relish, but the cavatappi (corkscrew-shaped with ridges) pasta was perfectly cooked and diced tomatoes and green peppers jazzed it up a bit. The potato was so heavily dressed it was sludgy, but the dressing was sweet and rich and it was hard to stop eating it.

The daily-special spinach and strawberry salad was also a winner. The spinach was fresh and properly cleaned, and there was a generous amount of big-sliced strawberries and raisins. The fruit was accented by a sprinkling of salty feta cheese and crunchy pecans.

The only real issue I had with any of my lunches was with the limp, run-of-the-mill dill spears on the side. A fresh, crispy deli pickle would have been better and, given the quality of everything else, almost seemed necessary.

But at least The Bread Basket had great cookies. And those trump a boring pickle any day.

Restaurant: The Bread Basket

Address: 115 N. Main St., Auburn

Phone: 260-925-4257

Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: None

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Soup bowl ($5.19), cookies (85 cents each/$8.75 dozen), club ($6.19), chicken salad wrap ($6.79), pastrami and Swiss sub ($6.99), egg salad sandwich ($4.79), pasta salad ($1.99), potato salad ($1.69)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the website, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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