Bakery and Bistro Simplicity is at the Core of Two Geneva Food Providers: Normal Bread and The Red Dove Tavern

Dustin Cutler awakens at 4 a.m. three days each week to fire up the ovens and mix dough at Normal Bread, his two-and-a-half-year-old artisanal bakery on Washington Street in Geneva. The “Normal” in the name reflects the simplicity of the product, explains Cutler – organic flour, yeast, salt, water. Bread as it ought to be.

Three hours earlier, the Red Dove Tavern on Castle Street in Geneva closed for the night. Proprietors Rune Hilt and Giulietta Racciatti like that their business is what most other area eateries are not. Their kitchen stays open until midnight serving foods that are far more compelling than the typical fried fare you’d find at other “taverns.” In addition to tavern, they also call their place a “bistro” and “gastropub.” All describe a place that weds food with drink in a simple way, a bar that serves appealing and engaging food but is decidedly not about fine dining.

Whether the etymological idea that the word “bistro” comes from Russian troops occupying Paris in the 19th century is true or not, an anachronistic imagination envisions cold-war soldiers attracted to the “Red” Dove shouting, “Bistrot!” (“Quickly!” in Russian). Rune notes that the real inspiration for his restaurant is Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, where he was sous-chef. “It was a dive bar with awesome food.”

The Red Dove would certainly not classify as a dive, but Rune and Giulietta retain Brenda’s chalkboard menu, fresh and local sourcing, and laid-back atmosphere.

Variety is the spice of life
In addition to daily ciabatta and baguettes, Dustin Cutler mixes up his offerings by making different loaves each day. His lineup this spring featured three-seed, cheddar, and apricot loaves on Wednesdays and seven-grain, raisin, and spelt on Saturdays. These specialty breads typically take levain de pâte, a sourdough, as their base. Because of this simplicity, the specialty flavors explode – the pumpkin, sunflower and golden flax of the three-seed bread each register as distinct flavors.

With its “baked” browns and integration of natural wood, Normal’s storefront reflects this wholesomeness. The ovens and mixing areas are visible from the retail space so that customers can connect the product to the process.

Satisfying in their own right, the salt, yeast and fermented flour in the Normal Bread ciabatta become ideal flavor-intensifying media – perfect for sandwiches served at The Red Dove.

Rune recalls, “I met Dustin before Normal or The Dove opened. I was walking by and stopped in to say hello. We became friendly, and once we tasted Dustin’s bread we knew we had to use Normal Bread as our supplier.”

On each baking day, Dustin puts the dough in the oven at 10:30 a.m. Rune swings by after 11 to pick up the loaves and transport them three blocks to The Dove. They remain warm from the bakery’s ovens for the first lunch orders of the day. The wide, short ciabatta loaf slices into perfect sandwiches, a lunch mainstay served with fresh shoestring fries.

The Dove’s sandwich lineup includes portobello accompanied by roasted peppers, caramelized onion, and provolone; as well as flank steak with grilled red onion and Brie. A cider-marinated pork sandwich enhanced by sautéed spinach, provolone and harissa mayonnaise is always on the menu, and remains one of The Dove’s most popular dishes. It’s not your typical BLT. Still, the ingredients remain uncomplicated. Dustin’s just-fresh bread, local pork, and cider from Red Jacket Orchards contribute to a flavor combination that is complex and satisfying, with notes ranging from the reduced cider’s tartness to the cool heat of Moroccan mayo.

Cider from Red Jacket, also a Geneva-based company, is part of a greater relationship the Red Dove has with this upstate produce grower and juice maker. The Orchards’ Tart Cherry and Strawberry Apple Juices, among other seasonals, are typically mixed with one or two liquors at The Dove. These simple ingredients used in surprising combinations end up as signature drinks. Bartenders pour rye with Red Jacket Orchards’ Blueberry Stomp to create “The Betty Blue,” for instance.

Expanding the menu
The bistro concept extends well beyond lunch, sandwiches and drink specials. Midday pasta dishes include linguine tossed with bacon and ramps, and tapas dishes that feature grilled octopus, steamers or Maytag blue cheese with honeycomb. Dinners become a bit more complex, but emphasize seasonal ingredients that are more juxtaposed than blended. A standout from a winter menu is the Hunter’s Plate – pheasant and venison sausages with apple cider-braised green cabbage and buttermilk mash.

While Rune and Giulietta admit it took a while for brunch to catch on, it is now a busy meal full of students and parents from nearby Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Normal Bread brioche is the cornerstone of The Red Dove’s crème brûlée French toast with strawberries – a perennial Sunday sellout.

At the restaurant’s two-year anniversary last year, Giulietta and Rune showed photographs of the raw space they transformed from a former deli. While they hand-remodeled the location by adding wooden floors, and skillfully created a bar by deconstructing a 19th-century wooden armoire, everything seems original. The couple kept the original deli’s red neon sign to mark the restaurant in the nighttime streetscape and provide space-defining ambience. It was to become the “Red” in their eatery’s name. “Dove” is an homage to Arthur Dove, the formidable American modernist painter raised in Geneva.

The blackboard menus may foster a casual atmosphere, but as Giulietta and Rune point out, blackboards are actually quite practical when your menu changes almost daily depending on foods available from Regional Access and other local suppliers. Their beer selection is curated as a set of complementary ales, wheats, darks; and local, national and international brews, but these change often as fresh offerings by Sly Fox, Otter Creek, Brooklyn and other regional breweries are readily introduced. Customers are so interested in the new experiences that some even ask to kick one keg to force setting up a new offering. Rune and Giulietta cite these moments of discovery as the most rewarding – this culinary couple is most satisfied when the person in flip-flops eating cevice, and the suited city hall lawyer with a sandwich, both become immersed in The Dove’s mission, to “expand palettes.”

Information on Normal Bread and the Red Dove Tavern is available at www.normalbread.com and www.reddovetavern.com.


by William Ganis
William Ganis is an Assistant Professor of Art History at Wells College and resides and writes in Scipio Center.