In 2019, Reunion Bread made a splash when it was named one of Bon Appétit's fifty best new restaurants
of the year alongside two other fine-dining Denver restaurants, Beckon and the Wolf's Tailor. Two and a half years and one pandemic later, owner Ismael De Sousa continues to impress at his bakery inside the Source at 3350 Brighton Boulevard.
"Being nominated as one of the best restaurants in the country marked a before and after for us," he says. "From a little hole-in-the-wall bakery to a place people had the curiosity to visit, it brought a lot of attention and good influx of new customers wanting to know more. It helped our bakery tremendously. Personally, I believe it also helped trigger other bakers wanting to open similar concepts, which I consider a great addition to our city."
Influenced by traditional Portuguese cooking methods, De Sousa learned early in his life the depth of flavor that comes from artisan-crafted foods. "Growing up, there were bakeries in every neighborhood," he explains. "The bakers used high-quality, locally grown flour and butter to create incredible pastries that you just can't find here. These bakers would bake every single day, by hand, making artisan loaves and pastries."
He also spent much of his life in Venezuela, which inspires many of the flavors of the pastries on display at Reunion, like the guava-filled, coconut-dusted Danishes. "I was raised there, and living in the country helped me appreciate and shape what Reunion does today, mixing European technique and South American flavors," says De Sousa.
During a recent visit to Reunion, De Sousa dove into the details about the methodology of Reunion Bread and what sets it apart from other bakeries, but it was difficult to focus with the frenzy of delicious sights and smells swirling around the 400-square-foot space.
Two bakers slathered homemade chocolate hazelnut spread over a table-sized slab of brioche dough. They then proceeded to rain walnuts and chocolate chips across the whole surface. After tightly rolling the slab of decorated dough, they divvied up the creation into loaf-sized rolls and braided them together to create Reunion's signature chocolate babka.
Opposite from the babka team, bakers Chris Wilson and Alex Costelle cut open par-baked croissants to fill them with an almond frangipane for the classic almond twice-baked croissant. Through all of this, De Sousa described how artisan bakers have such a devoted relationship to each pastry that industrial operations simply can't match.
"Industrial, machine-made bread and pastries are certainly cheaper than ours, but the difference in price is clear," he explained as he proceeded to crunch a fresh-baked baguette and a pain au chocolate with his hand — a trick of the trade for determining how fresh a baked good is. "In the large network of machinery, shipping and storage, you will never get to taste bread this fresh, and with this much attention put into every detail, without visiting your local baker."
Sourdough bread can be a polarizing topic: Some people love it, while others complain that it tastes too sour or tangy. Reunion's is much less sour than others and has a deep flavor profile. "The trick to preventing that sour taste is to feed your starter often, and begin feeding it young to prevent that acidic byproduct," De Sousa explained quietly, as if sharing a secret. Reunion even has a fermentation scientist, Carolyn Sinon, on the team who helps manage the specifics of the complex methodology and processes.
"The long fermentation takes fairly simple ingredients and breaks them down to create complex flavors that you can't find in a shorter fermentation," he added, handing over a steaming shred of baguette. It's the kind of bread that will make you hesitant to buy a grocery store loaf ever again. The sourdough has a crispy crust and pillowy center that is full of flavor.
The menu at Reunion rotates seasonally, depending on the preferences of the bakers; there are always a handful of unique items alongside classics like croissants and baguettes. Whether you nosh on your haul at home or dig in before even making it out of the Source, these carefully crafted breads and pastries are sure to impress.
Reunion Bread is located inside the Source, 3350 Brighton Boulevard, and is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit reunionbread.square.site.