By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Bread & Butter / Michelle Wildgen

Book Review:

"Bread & Butter," by Michelle Wildgen, Random House, 2014

Brothers Leo and Britt are successful restaurateurs who run popular, upscale Winesap, named for the apple trees in the backyard of their childhood home. When their much-younger brother, Harry, moves back to their hometown and announces he, too, plans to open a restaurant, they have a hard time taking him seriously.

After all, Harry has spent a decade bouncing from graduate program to Alaska fishing boat to Maine goat farm to yet another grad school. He doesn't have the experience or the ability to settle down needed for the daily grind of the food business, Leo and Britt think.

In "Bread and Butter," the three brothers rediscover one another and themselves as they cook, interact with their staffs and friends, and deal with day-to-day crises.

Michelle Wildren's latest novel is a feast for the food lover, as well as the reader. She indulges her own passion for food as she describes the dishes served at Winesap and Harry's restaurant, Stray. She also offers an insider's look at the workings of restaurants -- everything from the quest for fresh vegetables in the Pennsylvania winter to expediting service during the dinner crush to the planning and plating and pacing of each course.

Winesap, for instance, is the more traditional of the restaurants -- lots of steak, cream sauces and molten chocolate cakes. That's what customers want, but is it too staid, too boring? wonders Leo, who started the restaurant and hired Britt to run the front of the house.

Stray is all about small plates and innovation. Its pastry cook -- who left Winesap because he couldn't flex his creative muscles there -- comes up with desserts such as an orb of chocolate that releases a mentholated cloud when cracked. Genius or too weird? Britt and Leo wonder, but Harry embraces such cutting-edge dishes with gusto.

Britt eventually decides to invest in his younger brother's endeavor. His support is welcome, as is his business advice, but when it comes to food, Harry rules. That's how braised lamb's neck becomes Stray's signature dish -- certainly an entree that gets attention from critics, but a controversial selection embraced by only the most adventurous diners.

"Bread & Butter," on the other hand, will appeal to most readers' taste.


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