Farmers Market Profile: Mediterra Bakehouse
This is the first installment in the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council's Farmers Market Profile Series, where we bring you stories about the people and businesses who are producing food for the CitiParks Farmers Markets. Today, we visit Mediterra Bakehouse, a family business located in Robinson, PA.
Tony Ambeliotis (right) and his brother Nick
Finding Mediterra Bakehouse can be a bit difficult. Housed in an unassuming warehouse, the only clue I can see is the truck parked outside emblazoned with their logo, a sheaf of wheat.
Inside, though, there is no mistaking this place for a bakery. The smell of yeast permeates the air. A woman pounds fondant into submission on a table as workers with aprons and Crocs covered in flour traipse in and out of a nearby swinging door. Religious pictures adorn the walls, a reference to the Ambeliotis family’s Greek Orthodox heritage.
“Our dad, Nick, is Greek,” says Anthony, who goes by Tony. “He wanted to do things right.”
Tony is just one member of the large Ambeliotis clan that runs their family business. I ask how many family members work there, and he laughs. “Practically everyone who works here is family, either by blood or because they’ve been here so long.” He counts on his fingers. “Nick ” – their father, who started the business – “Mike, me, Nicole, Nick, Chris, Juan, my brother-in-law DJ…” It turns out the woman kneading the fondant when I walked in is Tony’s sister-in-law, Aundrea. The entire bakery is powered by members of the family.
According to Tony, these strong family connections are just one part of what makes Mediterra special. Before we step into the back of the warehouse, Tony gestures to a wall covered in pictures, showing the construction of one of the bakery’s custom-built stone hearth ovens. He points to a picture showing pipes buried inside the floor of the oven. The pipes inject steam into the oven while bread is breaking, he tells me, which helps the bread rise and allows sugars on the bread’s surface to caramelize. The result is a glossy, chewy crust. Tony pulls a loaf off a nearby rack and squeezes it, making the dark brown surface crackle.
But it isn’t just the custom-built ovens that make Mediterra different. Tony leads me to the back of the warehouse, where the loaves are made. He points to plastic tub, covered with a French linen coth. “We use actual starter for our breads,” he explains, lifting back the towel so I can see the dough underneath. “Commercial dairies use commercial yeast, which guarantees a fast rise. It’s more efficient, time-wise. But with starters, we give the dough time to sit and develop its own individual taste.”
We then walk over to a table, where a group of men wearing flour-covered aprons and hairnets are shaping every loaf by hand. In a commercial bakery, Tony says, everything is done by machine. He introduces me to his brother Juan, who is swaddling each loaf in a nest of French linens and sprinkling them with flour, so the loaves can rest before being baked.
At the end of the tour, Tony and I watch two of his brothers carefully remove loaves from an oven with the long-handled, flat, wooden tool called a peel. The peel is nearly as tall as any two of the Ambeliotis brothers combined. Each loaf looks perfect – round, rustic, dark brown with slashes patterning the top.
Tony grabs one and taps it on the bottom. It yields a hollow sound, a sign that it is done and that the dense dough has been transformed into a light, airy loaf inside. He puts the loaf in a brown paper bag and hands it to me with a smile.
If you are interested in trying Mediterra Bakehouse bread for yourself, you can find them at the East Liberty farmers market on Mondays, 3:30 to 7:30 at Penn Circle West, as well as the Farmers@Firehouse, Sewickley and Mt. Lebanon markets. You can also find Mediterra breads at Trader Joes, Giant Eagle Market District, and Whole Foods.