It's refreshing to discover a small, independent restaurant that takes a purist's approach and yet remains inclusive and unpretentious. That might not qualify as gourmet, but as Koh might say, buzzwords don't matter. Bread matters.

Gerald Koh won't make claims for his superlative sandwich shop, Bon Fresco. The word "gourmet" never appears on the menu. The furthest he'll go is a mission statement printed on the back of his takeout menu that begins, "Bread matters."

Bon Fresco is housed in a strip mall in Columbia, and walking in you might think you'd stumbled on a Quiznos or Panera knockoff: a small seating area, counter service, cases stocked with premade salads and desserts, a roster of sandwich options. There's one difference: the wonderful yeasty aroma of fresh bread.

Koh is so passionate about bread that he won't take shortcuts in the 30-hour process that takes him from mixing to kneading to overnight refrigeration to baking. He goes through more than 50 pounds of flour a day for the baguettes, ciabatta rolls, and focaccia that give his sandwiches real distinction.

Bon Fresco is Koh's latest venture in bread. For years the general manager at downtown DC's Breadline, he tried to buy that place when owner Mark Furstenberg put it up for sale. Furstenberg eventually sold to a French company, and Koh moved on, opening the deli Wheatberry in DC's Cleveland Park in 2005 before launching Bon Fresco four years ago. (The name combines the French for "good" with the Italian for "fresh.")

- Todd Kliman, Washingtonian