Our local obsessive of all things pizza and dough, Tony Gemignani, has branched out his field of floury expertise to include bagels, baguettes, and Italian breads at his recently opened North Beach bakery, TOSCANO BROTHERS BAKERY. I’ve been watching him on Facebook get his mixers and stone mill and oven moved in during the pandemic, and the upbeat mint exterior gives me vintage Vesuvio Bakery in New York vibes.
In this new space, he’s now making all the dough for his SF pizza places (Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Slice House, and Capo’s), and has expanded his repertoire by bringing bagels and breads to the neighborhood. During a recent visit to check out the space, he said it was a shame there was no longer bread being made in North Beach, and he wanted to change that. He was originally going to do something in the former Italian-French bakery space, but when that didn’t pan out, he ended up converting this unique spot instead (it has a mezzanine level).
He has a close and ongoing relationship with Keith and Nicky Giusto of Central Milling in Petaluma (who provided him with their 40-year-old starter for this venture), and he also collaborates with his attorney, Adam Sachs, who is a fellow pizza dough whiz and has been working with Tony on the bagel R&D. Tony has been wanting to make bagels for a long while, and it was definitely something North Beach was lacking. What he didn’t know was a verbal altercation with a problematic neighbor would inspire the name of the bagel part of his business: Dago Bagel. It’s a derogatory term for Italians you thankfully don’t hear so much anymore, but after it was fired his way as an insult from a neighborhood crank, Tony decided to turn it around and own the slur. It’s certainly one way to deal with name-calling.
As for the bagels, they’re New York-style (they’re rolled and twisted by hand, and boiled in liquid malt in a kettle) and baked on custom-made, burlap-wrapped pine boards in his special Cuppone panettone deck oven imported from Italy (the first in the U.S.), which they are still fine-tuning—there are some issues with the steam injectors, but he’s still managing to bake some magic with it. The bagels are tight, with a chewy and crusty texture, and a deep golden bake. The Bay Area difference is the fantastic and freshly milled flour he’s using, giving these bagels that extra, quality touch—they are naturally leavened, with a little bit of rye.
They come in plain, Maldon salt, poppyseed, sesame, everything, and he even made blueberry for a minute (they’re $2.50-$2.75). You can order in-house schmears (including a delicious honey butter) and smoked salmon to go from the counter, plus toppings for customers to build their own bagel sandwiches. They sell out around lunchtime, so don’t lag (they’re currently doing 400 bagels a day).
As for the bread bakery, that falls under the Toscano Brothers name, offering chewy baguettes (instead of total roof-of-the-mouth scratchers), pagnotta (with cured black olives and rosemary Tony grows on the back patio), and the surprise creation: a sour cherry and chocolate sourdough batard that has a hint of Maldon salt—it’s the perfect afternoon snack, and you’ll want to warm this up for breakfast with some butter. (Tony is experimenting with some other ingredients, too.) All the breads are naturally leavened sourdough, and he’s using freshly milled flours from Central Milling Co. for his own sourdough mix, as well as doing some milling in-house, including a spelt flour he’s adding to the pagnotta.
You’ll also notice some pre-made panini stacked on the counter, simply made with salami, prosciutto, or mortadella, with provolone, and a drizzle of olive oil inside. This is the perfect panino: a few ingredients on fresh bread, what more do you need? It’s marvelous.
The next phase to the bakery will be Antonio’s Pastries—he’s working on what that lineup will be, so that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, you can join the folks standing in line for their bread and bagels, and you can grab an espresso (featuring coffee from Caffe Trieste—he likes to keep things extremely local), and have your moment for a little banter or a hello with Tony, who really is a fixture in the neighborhood. It’s wonderful to see so many people who say hello, and he has a little backstory on everyone, whether they’re a well-known photographer or work at a neighborhood restaurant. I commend Tony for his appreciation and upholding of old-school values and what makes a good neighborhood, and that’s taking care of your community. Open Thu-Sun 8am-3pm (or until sold out). 728 Vallejo St. at Powell.
Tony Gemignani outside his new North Beach bakery, Toscano Brothers. Photo: © tablehopper.com.