It's been more than five years since chef Matthew Tilden shut down his beloved Bed-Stuy bakery Scratchbread, but that doesn't mean we've stopped dreaming about those sticky buns, flatbreads, and grits. Now, after months of wishes and rumors, Tilden and his managing partner Jeffry Olsen are back, this time in Williamsburg, with another superb little shop, 7 Grain Army.
Well, they're almost back. Tilden is taking the opening slowly this time. "The truths about Scratchbread's demise are really about having drawn the line with everything that sucks about running a business here," he told Gothamist. "If you're dealing with a shitty space, or the inability to invest in new revenue streams, or buying in bulk to reduce costs and having to work more hours any human should, and you ain't getting rich? At some point you break."
"7 Grain Army is very, very different," Tilden continued. "We spent about a year perfecting the concept on paper and about 6 months working on recipes and how this can all work and to be sustainable. It's an incredibly humbling thing to have another opportunity. To be honest I left with a lot of unfinished business in my eyes and feel very grateful to be running my own business again."
Last week 7 Grain Army threw a one-day "4/20 Bake Sale" preview party from the walk-up window on Roebling Street and fortunately I was fast enough to secure a preorder, because holy shit this stuff is incredible. And, as the menu says, it's all gluten free, probiotic, mostly plant based, and often vegan. It feels like a miracle.
The core of the 7 Grain menu right now are Tilden's muFins, which he spells with one "F" because "they're not fucking cake." There's no butter involved, no dairy of any kind, and no white sugar, but these plump beauties are unbelievably moist (coconut yogurt does a lot of the work here) and exploding with big, "true" flavors.
"The muFins are super tough to get right, and by right I mean it needs to remind you of an actual muffin," said Tilden. "This isn't just for gluten free folks, it's for anyone who wants to eat less sugar, it's for gut revitalization folks who need more pre and probiotics but don't want shots of apple cider vinegar, it's for vegetable haters to get vegetables, cheat days to feel less guilty and it's mostly about creating a better relationship with the foods we eat."
I had the jammy Blueberry Oat muFin, the dense Chocolate Rice (starring some stellar 64%), the tart and crunchy Lemon Millet, and the sticky Carrot Quinoa, and each was as amazing as the last. When's the last time you were excited about a muffin? Never? Buddy, that's about to change.
Adding to the pleasure are Tilden's homemade butters and jams, a little crock of which comes with each muFin. There's Berry Jam, Mango Pineapple Jam, Toasted Pecan Spread, and Hot Honey Butter, among other choices. And if anything, the Multigrain Coffee Cake was even better, just a massive slab of delicious pastry with a gooey pecan cinnamon coffee swirl hiding inside and a generous banana cinnamon crumble up top.
Don't sleep on the packs of savory Crackers, either. These crackling, craggy squares are excellent on their own--pecan, fennel, chickpea, and mustard are all involved--and also provide the perfect vehicle for devouring a bunch of Tilden's Smoked Almond Romesco sauce, and/or his thick, lemony Sunflower Tahini, which "eats like hummus," as the menu correctly states. Pick up a pairing of these this summer and be the instant superstar of whatever picnic or party you're heading to.
Other current 7 Grain Army to-go creations include Tilden's loaves of whole grain millet and sorghum bread, and pre-cooked packets of his legendary Anson Mills Grits, which you can warm up at home by dunking the bag in boiling water. Various elixirs, like the Balinese Jamu, inspired by Tilden's months-long backpacking adventures around that Indonesian island after closing Scratchbread, and so-called Happy Mylks round out the early offerings.
"A ton of failures got us to this point, and we are still tweaking and figuring out how to maximize our tiny kitchen set up," said Tilden. "We definitely need more ovens, a bigger mixer, and automated depositor to make volume a lot less painful [Tilden and Olsen worked 36 hours straight for the Bake Sale], but it's all giving us a ton of insight finding solutions for all these challenges. So we need some more funds for equipment, but plan on opening, weekends-only to start, very, very soon."
7 Grain Army is located at 88 Roebling Street, at the corner of North 7th Street. Follow @7grainarmy for future Bake Sale and opening-day updates.