San Francisco may not have an iconic sandwich, but we do have a favorite sandwich bread — there’s kind of an obsession with Dutch crunch in the Bay. So much so that a reader reached out, in search of the crunchiest crunch. “I don’t know if you’re from around here,” my fellow millennial said. But, “ ... I remember the Dutch I ate ... growing up being pretty different from what you get at most delis these days. The Dutch was denser, crunchier, and had a buttery flavor in the densest parts of the crust.”
The one exception? This reader says that the best and last true Dutch crunch in the Bay Area is at Guerra’s, that old-school Italian-American butcher shop. Reader, you had me at buttery. Let’s go crunching for answers.
As local sandwich fans already know, Dutch crunch is an otherwise unremarkable white roll, but it has a mixture of rice flour and sugar brushed over, creating that magical crackle or crinkle topping. It’s not Californian at all — most sources agree that it comes from tijgerbolletjes in the Netherlands, known as tiger bread elsewhere in Europe. (Although at least one small child in England has petitioned to call it giraffe bread, to better describe its markings.)
Michelin-starred chef Brandon Jew grew up eating it as a hungry teenager, buying big sandwiches after school from Mister Pickle’s on the Peninsula. “The thing about Dutch crunch is that you didn’t really see it in grocery stores,” he says. “And if the options were white, wheat, sourdough, or Dutch crunch, it was like, what’s Dutch crunch? Texturally, it’s really satisfying … and once you have it for the first time, you’re going to keep ordering it.” And of course, once locals have grown up eating something, there’s always a sugar sparkle of sandwich nostalgia.
Guerra Quality Meat is an old-school butcher shop in the Parkside, now run by the second generation of the family. It first opened as a butcher on Taraval Street and 22nd in 1954, and expanded to a full market when they moved up to Taraval and 15th in 1988, which is now known for meaty sandwiches, stuffed with salami, coppa, and provolone.
Coming from an Italian-American family with roots in Lucca, Robert Guerra was on the hunt for crisp ciabatta, when he just happened to find a bakery that also sells excellent Dutch crunch. They’ve been working with the same bakery for the past few years, and the crunch is a consistent fan favorite with customers. “Coming from a strict Italian household, we have a high bar for ingredients,” Guerra says. “I’m a stickler for quality and consistency, otherwise, it has no place in our shop.”
It turns out Guerra’s is getting their Dutch crunch from Costeaux French Bakery, a nearly hundred-year-old bakery in Healdsburg. First owned by an Italian family, then a French family, it’s now an all-purpose operation, supplying sandwich bread to roughly a hundred surrounding restaurants and markets.
“Our Dutch crunch gets rave reviews,” says CEO Will Seppi, who took over from his parents. “If people are fans, they really take a liking to it.” He explains that they use butter in the bread, which is more expensive, but adds flavor. And they don’t skimp on the topping, which sometimes overflows onto the pans (but makes a delicious snack). Costeaux’s Dutch crunch is dark golden and truly crunchy. They bake it fresh in the morning, wrap it in paper, and drop it at Guerra’s same day, to preserve that hallmark texture.
Biting into a Guerra’s sandwich is definitely a crunchier experience compared to other bread around the Bay. Dutch crunch can dry out after a day or soften if it sits in plastic, but crunch level is also a matter of preference. Ike Shehadeh of Ike’s fame says he always specifically wanted a softer roll. “Going to sandwich places growing up, it would destroy the roof of your mouth every time, so I stopped eating it at a young age,” the sandwich celebrity admits. “ … some people complain that our crunch is the weakest crunch, and that’s exactly the point! There’s no meal worth getting injured over.”
When Ike’s first opened in the Castro, he got crunch from Raymond’s, but at this point Ike’s is opening its 80th location in Miami, so it’s definitely big volume, shipping bread out of state. At the other extreme, there are small sandwich shops that may work with small bakeries, but refuse to reveal their sources. Roxie’s, the beloved corner store in Mission Terrace, declined to share its Dutch crunch secrets, for example.
Call me a sandwich masochist, but I myself am not particularly attached to the roof of my mouth. I like big texture and buttery flavor, biting down through the crackle exterior into soft sandwich crumb. So whether it’s crisp baguette, crusty sourdough, or yes, our beloved Dutch crunch, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best sandwiches brutalize you a little bit.
So I agree with this reader, and his favorite bakery does, too. “If you’re going to call it crunch, it has to have crunch,” says Seppi.
Important sandwich note: Because of the pandemic, Costeaux is only delivering to Guerra’s every other day, so that’s why it’s not currently listed as an option for online ordering. But if you call or walk in, they have it on those delivery days. And if it happens to be an off day, rest assured, the ciabatta is also delicious.