Counter Intelligence: Frank Morales and Rustico's Speakeasy Breads

Melissa McCart of Counter Intelligence goes behind the kitchen line to see what's cooking at DC-area restaurants.

Rustico's Frank Morales is busy. In addition to continuing work on DC's Birch and Barley, the beer-centric restaurant set to open this fall on 14th Street, the chef has been baking rustic hearth breads with beer as a key ingredient. And one of his creations goes on sale Friday morning at a sort of bread speakeasy.

Starting tomorrow at 7:30 a.m., Morales will start selling "speakeasy bread" — specifically an Achel 8 Degrees Trappist Trippel sourdough — at Rustico's side door, Monday through Friday until they run out. Look for a sign that will indicate where to knock for a boule — $3 apiece, cash only, exact change, please.

Why is baking bread in house becoming so popular for restaurants? "It's a natural during an economic downturn," Morales says. "To break bread. Put bread on the table. People gravitate to it. It's inexpensive comfort food." What's more, "bread was the original amuse bouche."

The Achel 8 will only be available through the "speakeasy" operation, but Morales will offer four additional beer breads, including an Orval and Westmalle, on a rotating basis in the restaurant. He also makes a New York rye, a honey wheat, pullman loaves and baguettes in house.

Unlike Patrick Deiss at 2941, Morales bakes rustic loaves in his hearth oven. A dry, high heat from a hickory-log fire caramelizes sugars. Since his kitchen is always in production — doors open, fire heats the room, temperatures change — Morales has to closely monitor heat and humidity. "I've been learning as I go along," he says. When it comes to these artisan loaves, so far, so good.