It's been well over two years now since the hungry writers at Bay Area Bites mentioned Big Sur Bakery. I figured it was time. Now, I can't quite pin down the exact moment I became obsessed with Big Sur Bakery. It was well before the recent Bon Appetit mention and even before the stunning My Nepenthe cookbook came out. I feel like it's always been this legend-like place that I've been trying to get past relationships, friends, and family to tag along and try. But most folks always have the same reaction:
You want to drive 5 hours round-trip to go to a bakery? In one day?
And I usually reply something like this: No, no. Clearly these people are missing something. It's not just a bakery--it's a cafe as well. With real food, too.
Oh, sorry. Let me get this straight: So you want to drive over five hours to go to a cafe?
And then I met my friend Danielle. She and her husband drove down Highway 1 on July 4th and had a chance to join in the Big Sur Bakery's special festivities (Danielle swears she's never enjoyed baked beans until she'd tried theirs). Oh and did I mention they did it in one day just for the heck of it? Reason #1 why I like Danielle. Reason #2 came to light when she mentioned how we should drive down and eat lunch there someday because she hadn't had a chance to try the normal, non-holiday menu. I didn't need much convincing. I'd found the best mini road-tripping, foccaccia-loving, landscape-gawking, jelly-donut eating companion ever. Our friend Janet had a chance to join us last minute, and we all set off on a recent cloudy Wednesday morning eager to see what all the buzz was about.
I was initially surprised at how small The Big Sur Bakery is from the inside. There are probably about ten tables and a nice wrap-around deck outside. The folks having lunch were a mix of tourists (donning hiking boots and cameras) and locals swinging in for a quick treat to take with them as they continued down the road. It has the kind of slow pace that makes you want to order a little something else when you're finished with your meal just so you can sit and languish away the afternoon. If you go for lunch as we did, do know that it's counter service only and the menu is much more limited than it is during dinner. Limited, but darn good. They display the lunch specials of the day in the bakery case right when you walk in, so you simply order and pay and they'll bring it on out to your table.
My two dining companions each ordered the seasonal corn soup and a slice of foccaccia: one with local tomatoes and caramelized onions and the other with leeks and goat cheese. Big Sur Bakery makes all of their breads and foccaccias on site in their wood-fired oven and it's apparent from the first bite. The crust is pleasantly soft yet chewy, and the toppings are thoughtful and would've been utterly delicious all on their own. That's the thing about the folks at The Big Sur Bakery: they're adamant about using local eggs and produce whenever possible, and you can taste this decision in the final product.
For my own lunch, I decided to try the potato frittata and a side of house greens. The frittata was perfectly seasoned with a mix of herbs and a little salt and pepper. And the greens with shallots, roasted carrots and a lemon poppyseed dressing were quite memorable. A perfect compliment to the more substantial frittata.
Danielle was smart enough to take home a Citrus Morning Bun for the next day and reported back that it was a little pillow of heaven (yes, those were close to her exact words).
And my friend Janet made the wise decision to buy a jelly donut on our way out. They just looked too good to pass up. We had every intention of waiting until later that afternoon to try it, but we barely made it out the front door.
This is, quite possibly, the best jelly donut I've ever had. We puzzled over what made it so extraordinary and decided it had to be the heaps of homemade strawberry jam, the fact that it seemed like the jam was actually baked right into the donut, the light airy dough, and the gentle and completely perfect dusting of sugar. If I lived close to Big Sur, I could be in a whole lot of trouble if this is a standard breakfast item.
I've been thinking about how to sum up our few hours at Big Sur Bakery. It's a special place-- that you can gather through recommendations from friends, numerous media reviews, and their very lovely cookbook. But I think the reason it remains so special is because there's a sense still --somehow-- that you've stumbled upon it. You leave feeling like it's your little place, and you can't wait to tell the friends back home who you know would appreciate it. I'll tell you this: I couldn't imagine any other place I would've wanted to be at 1 p.m. that Wednesday afternoon.
Big Sur Bakery
Big Sur, CA 93920
Hours: Mon 8am-3pm; Tue-Sat 8am-8:30pm; Sun 8am-2:30pm