Behind the Line

Try Pasta Wednesdays at Zak the Baker

First comes sourdough bread and then the pasta, or at least that's been the trajectory of events at Zak the Baker in Wynwood. For about a month, the flagship café/bakery has been serving a single homemade pasta dish every Wednesday. Executive sous-chef Johnny Bacon and the bakery's main dough man, Ruben Ovalle, came up with the concept. Each week, they are charged with executing it from beginning to end. "Zak loves pasta, and he just let us run with the idea," says Bacon, referring to the owner and bread maestro himself, Zak Stern

Both chefs have plenty of pasta experience: Ovalle has opened several Italian restaurants, and Bacon honed his skills working alongside Michelle Bernstein. On a typical day, they don't cross paths in the kitchen, but in order to make the noodles, they must work as a team. One of their biggest challenges is figuring out how to make the Italian staple in an unconventional kitchen that doesn't even have a stove. Still, they make it work — even if it means having to make ravioli à la minute while hungry customers wait in line. That's what happened last week because the first batch sold out by 1 p.m. People just love their pasta. 

On a recent Tuesday, the two toques prep the dough for what will become a pappardelle with exotic mushrooms. The complex process involves injecting the pasta dough with dried porcini mushrooms and cutting it into beautiful flat slices that are laid out to rest. Come Wednesday morning, Ovalle and Bacon will roast maitake, white beech, hen-of-the-woods, and shiitake mushrooms to make a rich and creamy ragù to pour over the already-fragrant pappardelle. 

Thus far, the café has served a pumpernickel pasta with pastrami gravlax and pea tendrils (their take on a pastrami sandwich); spinach tortelli with walnuts, shaved Parmesan, and pesto; and tagliatelle with salmon and cherry tomatoes. The goal is to do something different, says Ovalle, and to offer pastas not easily found at other Miami restaurants. And much like everything else offered at Zak the Baker, the chefs try to make as much use as possible of seasonal and local ingredients. The café/bakery is also completely kosher (dairy), so don't expect to find any spaghetti bolognese here. 

Because of the popularity of the Wednesday pasta dishes, Bacon says patrons can expect to see three to five options offered daily in the near future. So soon you'll be able to have your slice of sourdough with feta and beets and have your pasta too. This is in part because, in a few months, Stern will move his baking operation from its cramped home on 26th Street a half-block east to the 7,000-square-foot location that was once the Van Alpert exhibition space. The original bakery, where a staff of 45 now lines up shoulder-to-shoulder, will become a full-time restaurant. We only wish Zak's delicious challah loaves would become a regular fixture on the menu, but right now they're a Friday-only thing. In any case, our humpdays just got a major boost. 

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Valeria Nekhim was born in the Ukraine and raised in Montreal. She has lived in Manhattan and Miami. Her favorite part of food writing is learning the stories of chefs and restaurateurs.