LINCOLN SQUARE — You've never seen oats like the oats at Baker Miller.
Dave Miller, co-owner with his wife Megan of the new bakery and millhouse which opens Monday in Lincoln Square, poured a measure of the grain into his hand.
"It looks like wheat," he said, holding out his palm for a visitor to inspect.
Patty Wetli explains what you can buy at Baker Miller, even if you're a baking novice:
They'll be rolling their own oats at Baker Miller, Dave explained, and then demonstrated the process: The raw oats go into the top of a mill — think wooden coffeemaker — Miller flips a switch, and rollers inside the mill press the grains into the familiar flat flakes that most of us civilians know as oats.
Why go through the trouble of reinventing a wheel that Quaker perfected 150 years ago?
Because perfected is a matter of opinion, according to the Millers.
For fear of sounding too precious, "There's 'terroir' associated with this," Dave said, referring to a French word for what wine tasters refer to as specificity of place.
"Where it's grown [and] how it's grown matters so much. It changes the flavor. Our strength is, we're sourcing amazing oats," he said.
Welcome to Baker Miller.
Not a pie shop anymore
The Millers are already well known to Chicago foodies as the founders of and former partners in Bang Bang Pie Shop.
And yes, there will be pie at Baker Miller — Megan is particularly proud of a butterscotch pie that draws on a recipe passed down from her grandmother — but "we're not a pie shop anymore," said Dave.
"Being liberated from that, we found so much inspiration," he said. "We've had a lot of these skills and just haven't been able to showcase them."
Grains — wheat, corn, oats — will be the star of the Baker Miller show, he said.
The word "millhouse" in the shop's name isn't just a whimsical flourish. The Baker Miller Flour Co. will produce its own blends of stone-milled flours, produced by the four mills stationed on a countertop in the rear of the storefront.
The size of small kitchen appliances, the mills, imported from Austria, are capable of cranking out 100 pounds of flour an hour for use in Baker Miller Bakery's sweet and savory menu items.
An oatmeal dish, for example, will feature Baker Miller rolled oats, figs, pecans, raw sugar, nutmeg and cultured cream.
An oat porridge bread will serve as the base for a breakfast "toast" — think open-faced sandwich — topped with prosciutto, dandelion greens, a poached egg and house-made chevre.
Pastries will include popovers — puffy hollow rolls — and cookies, including take-and-bake chocolate chip dough, that might have a stone-ground rye as their flour.
There will be artisan breads, perhaps containing emmer farro, an ancient grain that dates back to 16,000 B.C., remnants of which were found sitting in a clay pot in an Egyptian tomb.
"It's really, really distinct," said Miller.
Part of Baker Miller's mission, he said, will be educating consumers about these different flavors — don't expect pie crust made with Baker Miller flour to taste like pie crust made with Gold Medal — as well as teaching people how to bake at home with Baker Miller flours, which will react differently than their commercial counterparts.
"Nothing's a secret here," Miller said. "We'll be giving away our recipes for free."
How not to be hippy dippy
Dave Miller still remembers an early review of Bang Bang that criticized the owners for handwritten labels.
"Something we learned was how not to be 'hippy dippy,' which is how [Megan] and I lean," said Dave.
A lack of attention to detail is something the Millers can no longer be accused of. Every aspect of their new enterprise, to the extent possible, has been thought through with great care.
Baker Miller has contracted with a farm in Iowa to raise a capon-type rooster for the restaurant — a bird that's less expensive than other heritage (ie, free-range, non-GMO) types, meaning Baker Miller can keep its prices affordable.
Lard, which the Millers once touted in their pie crusts, has been banished — "It's just too much fat," said Dave — in favor of unsaturated coconut oil, which Megan freezes before incorporating into her doughs.
"I put it on popcorn," she also confessed.
Sparrow Coffee was chosen as the shop's purveyor after Dave and Megan conducted a blind taste test of scores of brews, and they're undertaking a similar process with apples for pies.
A special warming oven was purchased for the sole purpose of quickly heating up baked goods before they make it onto a customer's plate.
"Hot pastry, to me, is just so much better," said Dave.
Come Monday, customers can taste for themselves.
Baker Miller, 4610 N. Western Ave., will open at 7:30 a.m.
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