Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bits & Morsels: Brian Noyes and his Red Truck

The fabled red truck, bought online from Tommy Hilfiger.


by Carol Joynt

Red Truck Bakery owner Brian Noyes is a perfect example of the kind of innovative person who adds reward to the general appreciation of all things culinary. The reward is chiefly for his customers, but there’s plenty of pleasure for Brian, too.

He didn’t have to go into the food business; he couldn’t help it. Once upon a time he was an art director at magazines like House & Garden, Smithsonian and Preservation, but the lure of cooking was a constant. He’d had some formal culinary training, which helped fuel the passion.

Ultimately it pulled him to Virginia’s Rappahannock County, where he bought a small farm and honed his talents growing fruit trees, making jams and baking bread. Soon enough he mastered pies, cakes and pastries, and finally took the big step, opening Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton.
Brian Noyes, chef and owner of Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va.
Red Truck sits at the heart of “old” Warrenton, and it can’t be missed, thanks to what’s parked out front: a 1954 red Ford truck which once belonged to Tommy Hilfiger. “I saw the truck for sale online,” said Brian.

“It wasn't until we needed to finalize the sale that I found out who the owner was. Tommy Hilfiger kept it on his Connecticut farm; I've received a few supportive notes from him as I started the bakery and named it after his truck.”

Tommy should have taken payment in baked goods, because Brian is a master, and its not just cakes, cookies, pies and tarts. He makes knock-out soups, too. In recent weeks I sampled two excellent chilled summer soups: a peach and yellow tomato gazpacho and watermelon-ginger.
The Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va.
For locals, Red Truck Bakery is a regular stop. For Washingtonians, it’s an hour drive, and literally on the route from DC to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Inside is a simple front room with a counter, where the bakery displays a range of specialty items as well as a chalkboard menu offering sandwiches and specials. There’s a middle room with a communal farm table and then the kitchen. Everyone who comes in the door seems to know everyone else, or will meet them soon enough over breakfast or lunch.

Brian understands his clientele and his limits. “We're a small rural bakery and I don't see us expanding anytime soon; it takes us all night to bake enough to keep our storefront stocked and our customers happy.” Would he like to see his baked goods for sale up north? “I can't imagine being able to bake enough to stock New York stores, although the residents up there haven't had much trouble finding us online.”  I’m not surprised. Brian’s creations bring to the table an authentic taste of Virginia.
The communal farm table.
Another view of the room set up for communal dining.
The local newspapers.
“I don't think we could have found a better region than the Northern Piedmont in which to open our bakery,” he said. “Our emphasis is on fresh, local seasonal ingredients, and we get most ingredients within a 20-mile drive. Our honey — a big part of our wheat breads and granola — comes from just up the road, as do our cheeses, eggs and other dairy items. We're really pleased with our local farmers, who provide produce and fruit, and when they have an over-abundance of crops we accept their challenge to use them. We don't use canned or frozen fruit.” 

When I stopped by Red Truck I snooped in the kitchen to get an eggy, cheesy whiff of fresh quiches just out of the oven. A couple arrived at the front counter to pick up their “Moonshine” wedding cake, because they are fans of Brian’s devilish Double Chocolate Moonshine Cake. I’m nuts for the Island Rum Cake, and will patiently wait for the Havana Fruit Cake, Mincemeat pies and Almond Stollen to be in season. Speaking of nuts, there are colorful tins of delicious Red Truck cashews, and salted, barbecue-seasoned or butter toasted peanuts.
Brian Noyes' fresh baked bread.
Pies, cakes and cookies on the Red Truck Bakery counter.
Quiches, fresh from the oven.
What does the baker favor? “I much enjoy the more rustic items, such as free-form tarts and seasonal pies, especially our current local-peach pies with a beefy lattice top. I also like coming up with slightly offbeat items, like the harvest wheat bread with dried cranberries, walnuts and golden raisins.”

Brian is the first to admit an enterprise like Red Truck Bakery is more than a one-man band. “I have a good baking crew: two top-notch bakers with their own specialties. One handles fine pastries, decorated cakes and cookies. The other is a more-rounded chef, and together we come up with great seasonal soups and unique sandwiches. I do love soups - the more innovative, the better.” No kidding about the soups. As stated above, I can vouch for them. In fact, I could live on them.
Ready for the table: Key Lime Pie.
The Chocolate Moonshine wedding cake at Red Truck Bakery.
Labor Day weekend apple pie at Red Truck Bakery. Granola, made fresh.
What’s particularly interesting about an urban ex-pat like Brian Noyes, and what he shares with other talented artists who have been drawn to Warrenton and environs, is that he is committed to the region. He could be anywhere in the world but he chose the Virginia Piedmont.

“I'd say that autumn is my favorite season here,” said Brian, with a nod to hikers and the imminent leaf-seeking tourists. “The farms, by-ways and mountains are beautiful with fall color and a coolness in the air. Apples are in season and we use them - and apple cider - in just about everything. This week I'll be piling the back of the ol' red truck full of hay, wooden crates, mums, pumpkins and apples.”
Cashews, but also various flavors of peanuts.
When peaches are in season Brian Noyes puts them to good use: Peach Tea Bread.
Incredible rum cakes.
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