TOP BREAD IS AT THE TOP OF THE HEAP
Two years after it's opening in 2015, Top Bread has established itself among Bostonians as a popular Chinatown hotspot.
By Christopher Polito
There are a lot of "musts" when it comes to art in Boston.
This might seem like a given to any native to the city on the hill, or anyone who lives in any big city, but it is a fact nonetheless. Getting a good winter coat is an absolute fashion must if you plan on surviving the long, grueling winters with the biting winds and copious amounts of snow. Finding the perfect performance venue is an absolute music must if you ever plan on seeing your favorite artists perform live. Knowing the best restaurants is an absolute culinary must for you to both enjoy great meals and sanctuary for good conversation. Finding the perfect book store is an absolute literary must if you wish to indulge a riveting book on a chilly afternoons away by the fire. Learning what the best movie theaters are is an absolute cinema must in order to fill you weekends and evenings with entertainment and enjoyment. All of these are things that the given Bostonian can probably exemplify with a specific place or item in mind. So what about a favorite bakery?
That is where Top Bread comes into play. Located at 77 Harrison Avenue, in the heart of Chinatown and just on the edge of the Theater District, this favored Chinese bakery and cafe is sure to bring a smile to any customer with it’s delicious delicacies, each baked daily and with an artistic perfection.
On a chilly Sunday morning in April, the cafe has already run out of certain treats, only after being open for one hour. A focused woman who has been in the back, most likely baking for several hours, quietly comes out to see what is in demand, what is missing, and then returns, to replenish the missing goods. A woman stands at the counter, icing cupcakes, each strawberry on top getting a pair of small, icing eyes. It adds on to the time it takes to craft each treat, but she continues, knowing it will be worth it to see her work ever-so briefly displayed in the glass cases before being sold to appreciative customers. A young woman outside of the store front shivers in the biting wind, holding her white baggie with a hot, fresh sweet treat. When asked, she says she had heard about the bakery from a friend when she had moved to Boston in the fall of 2016 for college. She pulls a red bean yolk pastry (a known specialty of the bakery according to their online Yelp reviews) from her paper bag and takes a large bite. She smiles and simply says, “Delicious!” This is just another day for Top Bread: the employees hard at work and the customers completely delighted by their purchases.
Despite the strong foundation Top Bread has in Boston, the bakery has only been open for two years. The cafe has had a short lifespan thus far, and yet it already feels as though it is polished in the area’s history, in it’s culture, with the array of Chinese foods, traditional Chinese decor sprinkled around, and a flood of people at all times. The store is almost always constantly packed with customers, some from Chinatown and others from neighboring neighborhoods, each looking for their favorite of the cafe’s wide selection. Because the store is always packed to the brim with hungry customers, it is possible for any item to be temporally out of stock at any given time. That having been said, they are baking all day, replenishing their goods with immense rapidity. It is not a big store and, thus, it might feel a bit claustrophobic at times, especially when it is crowded. However, there is no place for sitting, so it is a quick in and out process that is run by it’s incredibly effective staff.
Said employees are the heart of the cafe. Though they are currently looking to hire at the moment, all of the employees who were asked said they had been working at the establishment for the two years the store has been opened in Boston. The people who work there get to the bakery at 6:30AM every morning to began preparations for the twelve hour day, opening at 9:00AM and closing at 9:00PM. This cornerstone of the town is purely an effort of love and labor by it’s employees. Open seven days a week, these people help this hotspot thrive and their efforts are rewarded by the simple joy of all those they serve every day.
The bakery specializes in traditional Chinese baked goods. The items available for purchase are of a wide variety. The cake options range from traditional icing-covered birthday cakes (some in the shapes of fun characters such as Pokemon or Hello Kitty) to classic cream cake rolls to more unique treats. These dishes that would be harder to find at other bakeries located throughout Boston include gelatin based mango cakes, rolled green tea red bean cakes, or pineapple ice skin moon cakes. From formal cakes, drenched in chocolate and doused in decorative fresh berries, to cartoon character cakes that read “Happy Birthday!” in a careful cursive to a cake that is known as a traditional Chinese delicacy, Top Bread has it all and they are all crafted with precision and an exertion of kinetic, loving energy. They have basic loafs of bread, as well as delicious items you would be hard pressed to find in other neighborhoods, such as salmon bread (a unique concoction of flour, sugar, salt, yeast, milk, cream, black pepper, onion, mayonnaise, and, of course, salmon). This also shows the dichotomy of the cafe, having clearly mastered both the sweet and the savory. It does not stop there, as they have a wide array of smaller indulgences, such as Portuguese tarts or cute cupcakes with icing designs resembling a smiling panda’s face. Behind the counter, bubble tea is available in a variety of flavors made with fresh tapioca bubbles.
The bakers are artists; there is no denying it when you look at their craft. Top Bread is not just a local favorite. It is a place that is both rich in Chinese culture as well as a spot that holds a special place in the Boston experience.