Kurt Zoss, owner and namesake of Zoss the Swiss Baker, doesn’t start baking until 10 p.m., after precisely six hours of sleep. His Cleveland Heights shop is as no-nonsense as a Swiss watch, with just two cooler cases, steel racks on the walls, a cash register and a white board for the specials. The ability to leave not a grain of flour out of place comes from a lifetime of experience. Zoss, 59, has been baking since he was a 16-year-old apprentice in Zurich. With his wife and co-owner Barbara, Zoss opened up shop 23 years ago and began baking crusty West Coast-meets-Alps favorites, from deeply tangy sourdough loaves to the Great Lakes Brewing Co. brewpub pretzels made from the brewery’s spent barley. While they must be oh-so-carefully dipped in a lye mixture that could burn the skin with a single slip-up, Zoss knows the risk is worth it for that perfect caramel texture. Even with scads of goodies around, Zoss points to palmiers, a Mickey Mouse-shaped bit of puff pastry, as one of his favorites. “It’s simple,” says Zoss. “But once people try that, they’re really hooked on it.” 12397 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-368-4055
Our Pick: Zoss knows the secret to good sourdough is about where you start. Zoss has kept his starter yeast going for more than 20 years, so it’s no wonder the country sourdough ($4) is his most popular item.