There's something missing when you take a seat at Haymaker, the new chef-driven restaurant on Romare Bearden Park in uptown Charlotte: A bread basket.
Oh, they make bread all right. You'll find it on the menu: "Whole wheat levain bread, cultured butter, WV sea salt." And the price: $6.
Yes, chef-owner William Dissen is charging $6 for bread, just like he does in his Asheville restaurant, Market Place, where Everything Seed Bread with herb oil is $4. He's not alone, either.
In Raleigh, at the farm-to-table restaurant Crawford & Son, you'll pay $6 for a batch of the warm malted wheat rolls, glistening with hickory butter and sea salt.
Chefs aren't apologizing for it, either. Dissen says he does get questions from customers, but he's happy to defend the choice.
"We say, 'Well, this isn't crappy all-purpose flour that we're putting in here with the little tinfoil butter packs.' This is real ingredients, made by real people."
When Haymaker's bread arrives, it's a whole small loaf, warm and sprinkled with large grains of salt, on a plate with a wide smear of tangy butter sprinkled with green onions. Cut into 12 slices that will serve at least two people, the crust is as crisp as potato chips. Give one of the slices a sniff and it has a distinct, just-barely-sour aroma that's a little like good beer.
Here's what goes into that bread, baked by pastry chef Ashley Anna Tuttle. First, there's the bread itself. Before they opened the restaurant, they created a wild starter to make it.
"It's alive, right? It's got the flavor of Charlotte in it," Dissen says. Next, they use N.C.-grown wheat and bran, grown by Gaining Ground Farm near Asheville and milled by Farm & Sparrow, using an Austrian-made stone mill. The flour costs twice what regular flour would cost, he says.
"But the flavor is 10 times as much," he says. "And ultimately, a chef-driven restaurant, we're in the business of flavor. We want to make as flavorful a product as we can."
Then there's the butter: That's cultured butter they make themselves. When Dissen was planning the menu with baker Tuttle and chef de cuisine Ashley Quick, they decided if they were going to charge for it, they'd better make it really special.
"'How can we make it damn good bread and butter? Well, we have to make our own butter.'"
They use N.C. dairy heavy cream and a little sour cream (2 tablespoons sour cream to 1 quart of heavy cream if you want to try it in your mixer at home), then beat it with a mixer for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how hot it is in the kitchen. They beat it until it "breaks" — until butter separates from the liquid.
"You start hearing it flap against the side of the mixer," he says. The liquid left behind is buttermilk, and they use that, too. They also use the butter in everything from butter cookies to cakes.
"It adds an extra flavor," he says. "It's like a P-Funk concert: Everybody likes the funk. Everybody likes the fermented things."
Finally, the bread is sprinkled with salt from J.Q. Dickinson, a seventh-generation, family-owned salt works in Dissen's home town in West Virginia that was featured in Ronni Lundy's award-winning book "Victuals."
So no, Dissen isn't apologizing for charging you for bread.
"If you go to a store and see a shirt you really like, they don't give it to you for free," he says, laughing.