On a long stretch of coast known for its ruggedness and luxurious accommodations, a little bakery blends the two contrasting qualities just famously. The Big Sur Bakery which has now been open for over a decade, is housed in a cabin behind a mini old-fashioned, and still functioning, Shell gas station, and next to the Spirit Garden which sells art, plants, and human nests. Big Sur consists of about 60 miles of Highway 1, so everything is pretty spread out. Besides the two luxury hotels in the area, the bakery really is in the middle of nowhere, which really says something about how great the food and ambiance must be. People travel hours on a windy mudslide-prone highway to get to the bakery for an experience than can’t even be tarnished by a trip to the detached bathrooms, where a lack of insulation is definitely felt on a winter night
The bakery is very intimate, and never feels too crowded despite the small square-footage. The wood-burning fireplace and rustic decor give additional warmth. The space transforms from bakery by day, to a hopping dinner spot at night that’s frequented by locals, Bay Area weekenders, and celebrities looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of LA. Both times I’ve gone I’ve seen at least one celebrity, Maggie Gyllenhaal this time, and Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show) and her beau Scott Michael Foster (Greek) the last.
The fare is simple, locally sourced, and succulent. I started with a refreshing butter lettuce salad with fennel and tarragon, and my mom had a very pure bowl of split pea soup. Nothing is over-salted, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. For the main course, my mom and I chose two dishes to split: the grilled skirt steak and the red trout. Each entrée includes a choice of vegetables; we went for the horseradish mashed potatoes with mushrooms to accompany the steak, and the broccoli with giant lima beans for the fish. The steak, while its texture called for small bites and lots of chewing, was very flavorful and tangy. It went great with the horseradish potatoes which were surprisingly not very spicy. The fish was nice and light and perfectly seasoned, and was laid in buttery broth accented by pieces of chopped vegetables. The giant lima beans were amazing mushy, and the broccoli was cooked-to-pefection.
There really isn’t much to say about the food because it’s simply delicious. The fresh ingredients and thoughtful preparation do all the talking, and are lended like a dream to the easy-going Big Sur atmosphere. There are no frou-fou ingredients, artsy-plating, or over-the-top flavor combinations to get in the way. The menu is very realistic, featuring things a home cook might make on a sunday night if they have some extra time in the kitchen. The food is no doubt praise-worthy, but it doesn’t ask for compliments. It has an attitude similar to the vibe of Big Sur as a whole. Big Sur has expensive properties, but they’re very secluded, and the value lies more in the land and the view than on outlandish furnishings. Big Sur is not a place where one goes to show off or be seen, it’s a place to relax, have a good time, and enjoy some great food.
Also Noteworthy: Everyone around us at the Bakery seemed to be ordering the wood-fired pizzas, especially the Hawaiian style with pineapple, ham, Serrano chilies, and cheese, and the smoked duck breast with wild arugula and cheese. For the mornings, the breakfast pizza is a fan favorite, particularly for making at home with the help of The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. The pie features bacon, parmesan, mozzarella, parsley, chives, scallions, and shallots. It’s pictured above from the blog Straight From the Farm.