Who’s on Furst?

Mark Furstenberg brings classic bread back with Bread Furst

Words and photographs by Shulie Madnick

Editors note -- this story first appeared in our Fall 2014 issue of EdibleDC Magazine. 

“I was a home baker,” says Mark Furstenberg, a local culinary icon who literally helped shape the artisan bread scene back in 1990 when he opened the first Marvelous Market. D.C.’s own version of Julia Child, Furstenberg launched his professional culinary career later in life, at age 50, bringing the craft of European bread and pastry making to the nation’s capital at a time when there were few—if any—bakeries providing freshly baked baguettes and croissants.

Twenty-five years later, Furstenberg, a James Beard Award nominee who sold Marvelous Market back in 1996 and then went on to open the bread-focused restaurant BreadLine, is now back behind the counter at his new bakery, Bread Furst. Located on Connecticut Avenue, this new shop is just down the street from his very first bakery, which had been right next to Politics and Prose, the venerable book store that was co-owned by his late sister.

Bread Furst is “timeless” in Furstenberg’s vision, focusing on classic baked goods, from sourdough Palladin to hand-cut Danish to perfectly moist blueberry almond muffins.

“Nature makes the decision” is the philosophy behind the food that comes out of the Bread Furst kitchen, with Furstenberg firmly repeating a “local first” mantra that he recently expounded upon on the Bread Furst website, saying “I believe in local ingredients most of all because they taste better, because if tomatoes are left to ripen on the vine as they should, they are incomparably better than those picked and packed before they are ripe. That’s why I want tomatoes from Virginia, not Florida.”

Still, the ever-practical Furstenberg also acknowledges that “pineapples and artichokes don’t grow here and canned tomatoes have their place.”

Now 75, Furstenberg has been ahead of his time throughout his career, despite getting a late start: two years after opening his first Marvelous Market storefront, and decades before the food truck craze began to take hold of the city, he began a Marvelous Market truck that traveled to neighborhoods across northwest D.C., selling hot loaves of bread and handmade pastries. Today those same patrons who have followed Furstenberg through his various enterprises over the years enjoy fresh brioche at Bread Furst with their grandchildren, while reminiscing about the rye bread they used to buy right off the truck.

Bread Furst, 4434 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-765-1200. BreadFurst.com