artisan and the novelty.
Source: Noe Valley Bakery, 4073 24th St. (at Castro), 550-1405, www.noevalleybakery.com.
Toast-appropriateness: depends on how you're toasting it
Not every bread is a soup-dipping bread, a morning-toast bread, or a tea-time snack. Some breads are even more specific in their function, like Noe Valley Bakery's fig bread, which finds its life's purpose in being topped with cheese.
For most of the 15 years of the bakery's existence, Michael Gassen's fig bread has been its signature loaf. It's a nobby, oblong little thing, and it had been so long since I'd bought the bread that I looked askance at my purchase. I sliced in, and found the crumb dotted with dried black figs. The further in I sliced, the more closely the black circles swarmed. By the time I got to the center, I wondered that the loaf held together.
While the dense, dry-crumbed fig bread can take any amount of salted butter you want to slather on it ― I kept adding more, and I punked out before the bread did ― I found it really wanted to be sliced thin, drizzled with a fruity olive oil, toasted in a high-heat oven. Then it called out for cheese. Not an aged cheddar, whose brashness would have clashed with the dried fruit. More like a creamy blue (have you had the Australian Roaring Forties Blue?), a runny, barnyard-smelling cow's milk cheese such as Robiola or Reblochon ― or best yet, a semisoft, aged goat cheese like Humboldt Fog, with enough creaminess to moisten up the bread and just enough tanginess to make the figs taste even sweeter. A few slices of of that, and you've had lunch, snack, and dessert for the day.