Restaurant Bread Is Not As Fresh As You May Think

Ever heard the saying "All that glitters isn't gold?" News flash: That intoxicatingly aromatic basket of bread in the center of your table might not be so fresh after all. Restaurants are fun, exciting places to try new dishes or celebrate special occasions — but, first and foremost, a restaurant is a business. Just as a guest deliberates over whether to splurge on the 2016 Zinfandel or order a glass of the house red, everyone has a bottom line to keep in mind. That's why, believe it or not, restaurants are often serving up pre-frozen loaves.

Typically, the way it works is restaurants will order their rolls and breadsticks partially baked and frozen solid, then slam 'em in the oven to cook through right before serving. What emerges is the warm, toasty rolls with impossibly perfect crumbs that foodies know and eagerly anticipate before the entrée course. Sounds a little off-putting? Consider the alternative: frozen beats stale any day. Not all restaurants subscribe to this industry secret, though. Chains like Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobster, The Cheesecake Factory, and Cracker Barrel, for example, all make their own bread.

Fresh ... sometimes frozen

For a time in fine dining history, the freezer wasn't even the biggest threat to the sanctity of your complimentary bread basket. As Anthony Bourdain shared in a 2001 episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "This is the first rule of classical cooking: Use everything, waste nothing ... A lot of restaurants recycle their bread. Busboy sees a basket of untouched-looking bread, chances are he's bringing it right back into the kitchen, turning it around, and sending it out to you."

However, the times they are a-changin', and the FDA Food Code 2022 explicitly states: "[A]fter being served or sold and in the possession of a consumer, food that is unused or returned by the consumer may not be offered as food for human consumption." Today, that preliminary bread basket can safely rescue a dangerously hungry foodie from getting grumpy at the table. But, as Bourdain told Oprah over 20 years ago, "Understand, things are better and cleaner now in professional kitchens than at any time in history. But, there are some items that are traditionally more likely to be handled poorly." In other words, contemporary diners can feel confident that their bread basket didn't just come from the kind folks at table three. (It may, however, have been pulled from the freezer mere minutes ago.)