Rockmill's Big Bun Bet

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
The Tavern Burger from Rockmill Tavern is made with beef sourced from RL Valley Ranch via The Butcher & Grocer and cheddar from Oregon's Tillamook Dairy Co-op.

When constructing a hamburger, squishable potato rolls and sesame buns are safe bets. Ciabatta is not. The Italian white bread is usually too chewy, jagged and cumbersome for a pleasant burger-eating experience.

The ciabatta roll used for Rockmill’s Tavern Burger is the exception. Since opening in 2016, the Brewery District restaurant has sourced its burger buns from one guy: Matt Swint, a baker and owner of Matija Breads.

The partnership started when Rockmill’s former executive chef, Andrew Smith, contacted Swint about baking bread for the restaurant. Swint brought the chef two samples: a ciabatta roll and a potato roll. “He was very sure of what he wanted,” Swint says. “I did not agree with him at all. ... I’m like, ‘Ciabatta for a hamburger? Here’s what happens: It’s a good, crusty, very chewy bread. Someone’s going to bite on the front of their hamburger, and it’s going to come shooting out the back.’”

That’s not the case with Swint’s bun, which is a hybrid of ciabatta and the focaccia dough he grew up making with his Slovenian-Italian family. The bread is chewy yet forgiving, sturdy yet soft. Swint’s small wholesale operation, inside the co-production space at Food Fort, delivers 20 to 40 dozen ciabatta rolls per week to Rockmill, now led by executive chef Jay Kleven.

Another secret: Rockmill lets the bread rest in the refrigerator, which Swint says is “usually the death of bread.” Chefs then grill the ciabatta before serving it. “Instead of this super-chewy, hard Italian roll, you get this really wonderfully toasted bread that soaks up all of that good juice without it falling apart,” Swint says. “It was a smart way of going about it.”