Bread, irresistible bread. On the trail of a local history landmark, I have passed Phil Serrani’s Sanitary Bakery in Orange a dozen times. It was never the moment to stop until recently, when the bread in the window drew me inside.
Serrani’s bakery has been in business since 1948. Indeed, a 1957 calendar is framed on the back wall below a photo of the founder, Phil Serrani. The two windows hold bread and a display of stuffed dogs, a magnet for kids passing by. The windows flank a single door, which leads to a room with glass cookie counters, along one wall. The back wall has a refrigerator with a few basics, eggs, milk, orange juice. Coffee is also available, for $1 per cup, self-service from a carafe. The back wall of the store has a doorway to the bakery and a small desk where business is transacted, decorated by pictures of past popes. This is old school.
Bread is brought forward from the bakery throughout the day and placed in metal trays until customers take it home. Much of the bread and rolls are self-service, with customers choosing carefully, studying the loaves before making a selection, then bringing the bread to the counter to pay. Cookies in the glass case are weighed and packaged by store staff, who chat with customers in Spanish and in English.
The cookies and pastries are tasty, but the star of this show is the bread, round boules, whole wheat and white rolls, quivers of baguettes. Slightly irregular in shape and not quite uniformly-brown, loaves here are produced by the dozen, not the thousand. This is hand-made stuff. (Prices range; the most expensive loaf of bread I saw was $3.25. Baguettes cost about $2.10.)
And it’s not only attractive, it’s good bread. The crust cracks and makes crumbs, and inside the bread is dense and chewy. The rolls are solid, and they make a good sandwich.
A specialty item is a pork bread, just what it sounds, horseshoe shaped and studded with bits of sausage. It’s a winner, and a meal, at $5. Get it when you see it.
This end of Essex Avenue in Orange was home to a once-thriving Italian-American community. Serrani’s, bustling and bright, is a charming reminder of that past, happily adapted to the present.
Phil Serrani's Sanitary Baker
144 S Essex Ave
Directions: Berkeley Avenue in South Orange becomes Carteret Place, which becomes South Essex Avenue. Park on the street.