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January 25, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Pay for bread, butter at restaurants? Worth it, says me. You?

Is there a bread-and-butter brouhaha on the rise?

Last week on the blog, I enumerated the joys of the Madison Park Conservatory. For me, and Eaters who weighed in on the new restaurant and bar in the former Sostanza space, it’s an exciting addition to the Seattle restaurant scene. But one reader e-mailed with a bone to pick.

“Yes, we’ve been there several times,” he wrote, “but as they charge for the butter and make a point of this, we won’t go back. I think this is foolish and diminishes what could be a great dining experience.”

You read that right. They charge for butter.

But rather than recoil, like the disappointed diner, I laughed when I saw the tongue-in-chic notice on chef Cormac Mahoney’s rustic menu. It read: “Columbia City bread, complimentary. Golden Glen Creamery butter or Tuscan Olio Nuovo $3.” I’ve got to admit, I’ve been waiting with buttered breath to hear from readers regarding the increasingly common practice of charging for “bread service” — a practice employed at other well-regarded restaurants.

At some of the city’s most well-regarded restaurants Columbia City Bakery’s bread will cost you. Worth it! This plateful from The Walrus and the Carpenter, in Ballard. [Seattle Times photo/Ken Lambert]

You’ll pay for bread at Sitka & Spruce, La Bete, Lecoscho, Boat Street Cafe and the Walrus and the Carpenter, all of which serve what I view as the best bread in the city: loaves from small-batch specialist Columbia City Bakery. That bread’s so good there’s a waiting list for restaurants hoping to sell it, says Columbia City baker Evan Andres.

Personally, I’d forgo a second glass of wine and happily shell out $3 or even five bucks (the cost of a generous portion at La Bete) for bread that makes me want to reach for a slice again and again. It’s a small price to pay and a far more delicious option than, say, the “free” rosemary-flavored sawdust (oops! I mean focaccia) I attempted to eat while dining elsewhere this month.

And it’s not just Columbia City’s bread that’s worth the freight. At Le Pichet and Cafe Presse an order of Grand Central baguette (made from a recipe exclusive to those French siblings) will set you back $2.50. At Joule I’ve gladly dropped $3 for a par-baked La Brea demi-baguette hot from the oven. “Three bucks for frozen bread I can buy at the supermarket?!” you ask. Damn straight.

“Bread sales are sporadic,” explains Joule chef and co-owner Rachel Yang, who sampled baguettes from Columbia City Bakery, Essential and Grand Central before deciding to go with the less expensive mass-produced version.

This way, she said, there’s no waste and she never has to gauge how much bread she’ll use. After biting into a crusty little loaf, “People always say ‘This is the best bread we’ve ever had!'” Yang laughs. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she cultures her own tangy butter, then serves it plain or mixed with toasted seaweed or house-smoked bacon.

So, come on and butter me up: What’s your take on restaurants charging for bread?

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