Black Bear Bread Co. Is A Local Favorite in Grayton Beach
November 30, 2017 by Zandra Wolfgram
“This is the first time I’ve had good bread in America in 30 years,” Delphine Debono matter-of- factly announced in her French accent as she made her way to the front door of Black Bear Bread Company located in a charming white cottage at Shops of Grayton.
It wasn’t the first time the fiery French woman stopped in for breakfast. On this visit, she and her companion enjoyed the Farm Egg Frittata with turnip greens, Gruyere cheese, local greens with pickle pepper vinaigrette ($13) and the Organic Stone Ground Grits served with a sunny farm egg, scallions, pickled peppers and parmesan ($12), and a sweet treat from the glass case.
“I meant to get the kouign amann to go, but … I ate it all,” she said with a sly smile as she licked her fingers.
This appears to be a common dining hazard for those tempted by this French pastry of croissant dough baked in a muffin tin glazed with granulated sugar and a hint of sea salt (pronounced queen ah-mahn). If you want to snag this popular crowd pleaser, or any of the other creative confections made on site by head baker Debbie Swenerton, be sure to come early. By the time the doors open (7 a.m. Monday through Saturday or 8 a.m. on Sunday) it’s not uncommon for a line to have already formed.
Debono’s kind quip is particularly heartening for executive chef Phil McDonald, who opened the bakery/café with managing partner Dave Rauschkolb this past summer after market-testing various menu items at the Seaside Farmer’s Market. This is not the first venture for this dynamic dining duo. Rauschkolb, founder and owner of Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant in Seaside, invited McDonald to oversee Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar in 2014. After perfecting his house-made pizza dough, McDonald began experimenting and eventually created what is Black Bear Bread Company’s “starter” dough.
Swenerton, who relocated to the area from California by way of Salt Lake City, took it from there and applied her 30 years’ experience to the bakery operation. Though she can churn out 48 loaves in 38 minutes if she needed to, she bakes each day with one ingredient you won’t find at the market. “When you put your heart into baking, you get instant gratification, which is great” she says. “I love making people happy with a little sugar.”
It’s all about the bread here. “We are a classic bread shop as you’d find in Europe or New York.,” Phil McDonald says. “We hope the experience is one you’d find on the streets of Paris. This is a place to stop, relax and reconnect with others. The atmosphere reminds me of how 30A was 20 years go.”
Black Bear Bread Company is aptly named for a mama Florida black bear that would occasionally forage the “starter” bread dough from the trash bins behind the bakery for her cubs. Inside the charming story continues with the high contrast of an updated vintage-inspired black and white design motif well done by Santa Rosa Beach interior designer Libby Baker.
Warm white-washed floors, are dotted with pale gray marble bistro table tops paired with black bistro chairs. A worn black buffet and coffee bean grinders are warm touches to this fresh, clean and inviting cottage cafe. The space is minimalistic, but two things are impossible to miss: a large reproduction of Lee Crum’s famous 1976 black and white photograph of “Banjo the Bear” and the Black Bear Bread Company logo on a white-washed ship-lapped wall, which not surprisingly has become a popular backdrop on Instagram.
As adorable as this cottage café is, the real draw is, of course, the tasty breakfast and lunch menu featuring dynamic, seasonal offerings, you simply cannot find anywhere else on this stretch of the Northwest Florida Gulf coast.
A bakery-centric bistro Black Bear serves up naturally leavened artisan breads. The country sourdough bread in the centerpiece of the menu, but there also is multi-grain sourdough, fruit & nut, olive, miche and baquettes. As for pastries and sweet treats, in addition to the popular kouign amann, you can also enjoy classic French croissants, cinnamon rolls, bear claws, cheese danishes, scones, saucer-sized cookies and homemade bagels (that take two days to make).
For breakfast Chef Phil points to Grains as one of his “stellar, healthy” menu favorites. It is a poached egg, farro, quinoa, pecans, avocado, greens, tomato and fresh herbs served in a bowl ($15). The menu also features Steel Cut Oatmeal and House Granola (served until 10:30 a.m.). But if you love breakfast, as we do, you can order Breakfast Sandwiches all day, served on either fluffy housemade biscuits or croissants; or a variety of Tartines ($7-$14), including Avocado, Banana, Sourdough Toast (with sea salt butter and house-made jam), or Chef Phil’s favorite, Smoked Salmon, which comes with a schmear of crème fraiche, radish “salad,” preserved lemon, extra virgin olive oil on toasted multi-grain bread. A special brunch menu is served Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The lunch menu (served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a bit later in season) includes Local Greens, Braised Cranberry Beans, Sardines and select sandwiches ($12-$15) include Mortadella & Coppa (Italian salami), Tall Pines Roast Beef and Jambon de Paris. All served with a crisp slice of sour pickles straight from Brooklyn, N.Y., where McDonald worked for a time.
Beverages are just as tasty including Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters’ fresh-brewed coffees and teas. You can also enjoy a rotation of craft beers and carefully chosen select wines imported from around the globe. We paired our Smoked Salmon Tartine with a crisp Muller Thurgau Borell-Diehl white wine from Pfalz, Germany.
This cheery eatery is already attracting visiting and local foodies of all ages. Among them are Brittany Godbee from Santa Rosa Beach and her six-year-old daughter, Harper. “We love the atmosphere,” Godbee says, “Black Bear is the something that was missing here in South Walton. It’s wonderful. We’ve been here seven times at least since it opened.”
Chef Phil hears the spontaneous review and smiles. “It feels really great to hear that and it’s really cool to see people genuinely happy about this place,” he says at the end of a day that began long before the sun rose,” and that is what keeps me going.”