Pine Island Getaway Cafe Bakery

Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Take a Voyage Down Pine Island

The journey down Pine Island to Pine Island Getaway Cafe Bakery is a sunny scenic route, traversing bridges and palm tree-lined paths, one gets a highlight of Florida's best attributes. The island is a retreat from Florida's more urban regions. Reaching the Pine Island Getaway Bakery requires crossing an aquatic preserve filled with dense tropic mangroves and beaches which span the road to Pine Island Getaway café. The main road is lined with easy-going vacationers meandering in and out of pastel colored art shops. The cafe itself is tucked away from the main road of the island, situated next to a small lake. Offering a view the shop is a short distance off from the more tourist dense portions. In this location the cafe shares the same essence of the island - remaining a retreat without being remote.

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Stepping in, the cafe is lined with a counter seeped in sunshine, spanning the wall, windows face a small pine forest. Resort style chairs are arranged under quirky lightbulb lamps. The space is fresh and open despite the storefront being relatively small. But the space was needed to make way for an industrial sized kitchen, the whole place was built to suit the needs of the bakers. The bakery is brand new, opening its doors just over a month ago. "We opened on April, Friday the 13th, which is supposed to be an unlucky day. But it was not so unlucky for us. We had a line out the door."

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The Origins of Pine Island Getaway Cafe

Brothers Thomas and Florent Brunet, originally from the French/Dutch island of St. Martin, then purchased land on Pine Island and constructed a bakery to match their dream. As Thomas explains it, they could have selected a space more central and more costly with a view that didn't parallel what the lake provides. A glance outside makes it clear why this location was the better choice. To the back, a screened in porch offers cozy clusters of seating and the authentic vacation atmosphere that the region is known for.

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The 'getaway' feeling is essential, "we don't like stress, we try to avoid it the most" jokes Florent commenting on the laid back attitude pervasive throughout the community. Originally a weekend trip destination, Florent fell in love. He came from Miami, where he had initially resided in the States while seeking to improve his English. Despite having lived in Miami for five years he found himself a place to anchor his dreams. "I never came back to Miami, I fell in love with it here, the beaches, the lakes, the nature" Florent gestures towards to the idyllic surroundings.

The business climate here is calm, but especially so when juxtaposed with the fierce competition of France. After turning eighteen Thomas left St. Martin and the Caribbean, and spent three years there studying pastry near Bordeaux. He gained exposure to a variety of cooking and management styles from over five bakeries. He describes the culinary work environment in France as harsh and high-strung. "I took the best of all and brought it here ”, cultivating recipes and techniques while abandoning the cutthroat attitude. "Here there are only a few places to compete with-- in France? There's a bakery on every corner. They're saturated.", remarks Florent. But there was a distinct absence of authentic French pastry and cuisine on the island. That fact drew him in, and led him to prompt Thomas to plant their cafe there.

But Pine Island wasn't always on the horizon. Thomas initially envisioned creating a bakery on an entirely different continent. While Florent had remained in St. Martin and then transferred to Miami, his brother moved from Europe to Asia.
Thomas (who appears to be drawn to a variety of islands) journeyed throughout southeastern Asia, where he spent a significant part of time in the Philippines. He originally got the idea to open a cafe while visiting the Pacific island. "The Philippines’ have no French bakeries," Thomas continues with the advantages, "We would have been the only one.".

Shunning stress doesn't signify lack of hard work, Thomas explains. "Some people think we come for vacations, that's not really the case because I'm in the kitchen for twelve hours a day, I go from six am to six pm." . Though the bakery remains a spot for patrons to get away, the Brunet brothers receive no breaks. "There are no vacations. If you come here to work, to make money, that's it. I cannot take holidays...just work, work, work."

Starting a business as an immigrant in the United States is taxing. Thomas recounts the biggest hurdle of opening the operation being obtaining his visa. Between acquiring permits for construction and negotiating with the US embassy there were no shortage of obstacles to getting the bakery off the ground. There is no guarantee that a business proposal will get approval of the embassy. Not having enough experience, not investing enough, or if the office doesn't believe in your project it can be denied. A foreigner working here has to be a creator of jobs and show clear contributions to the community. This adds pressure to do whatever it takes to support the business.


The Kitchen 

During the conversation rapid French interjections emerge from the kitchen, the brothers communicate through the walls to continue work. Despite being closed on Monday production doesn't cease. Making fresh pastries from scratch takes time. On top of that, the particular type of pastries themselves are quite labor intensive. French pastry, being known for its layers and complex flavors, require a lot of effort. Croissants, a popular French classic, take at least two days to prepare. Thomas reveals two lumps of dough on their second day, proofing in massive chillers that keep the butter intact despite the Florida heat.

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But the brothers are no strangers to heat, St. Martin's proximity to the equator make Florida seem moderate in comparison. "Here it can be cold and you see palm trees.", Thomas has fond memories of the warmth of his birthplace. He recalls the joy of the beaches, to which he testifies the Dutch half of the island has more fun. Growing up in the French section provided their introduction into the world of baking.

But baking French recipes with American ingredients can be hazardous. They lament over the horrors of bleached flour and its acrid effects. "You can taste the quality of the ingredients, it shows through. Florent states that his biggest challenge is sourcing ingredients that provide the level of flavor they seek. Not everything is American, with great pride they show off French butter, recently imported. On another counter Dutch chocolate rests, waiting to be incorporated into pain au chocolate. The butter and chocolate are both used in these batches of croissants.

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The pair is quite capable of multitasking, they work together, but separately. Florent prepares two plates as he discusses the best places to source items. Thomas contributes as he whips up meringue for the dessert.

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Pine Island
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The Food

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Make no mistake, much more than pastry can be found in Pine Island Getaway Cafe. The focus of the cafe is directed equally towards the meals and the pastry. The pastries rotate with a variety of French treats. Serving unfamiliar tarts, chocolate éclairs, flan, and mille feuille has posed some challenges. But the use of samples quickly puts any qualms to rest.

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I am beyond eager to see what has been prepared for me. To ensure that we would have time for the interview I've been invited to dine on a Monday, when the cafe is closed. Periodically throughout our visit, potential customers approach the door. Thomas greets each one of them apologizing for the inconvenience, they reassure him they will be returning. He even sends one particularly passionate woman off with a few goodies.

Because they are closed they offered to make a special meal and dessert, asking my preferences. Having a deep love for all French food after my own experiences of working in a bakery and limited preferences I tell them to surprise me.

We make our selections from an array of high quality coffee drinks, as well as a variety of beverages such as juice. Florent prepares an iced latte, offering: almond milk, soy milk, and whipped cream as options. Returning to the front of house, Thomas brings out our meal, which he informs us is the Vol Au Vent Forestier.

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The plate consists of two main elements. There was a simple salad with mixed organic greens, sliced tomatoes, freshly shaved cheese and an olive oil based dressing. It was light and paired perfectly with the Vol au Vent. The Vol Au Vent Forestier had a perfectly crisped flaky puff pastry base topped by chicken and mushrooms prepared in a crème white wine sauce. The texture of the pastry is a result of a dough folded with no shortcuts, each paper-thin layer present. The richness of the sauce, the butter of the pastry, and the chicken, is elevated by the simplicity of the salad. The freshness speaks to the European ideals of high quality local ingredients. A portion that appeared moderate was very filling, but so deeply satisfying that one would forget they had another round of food coming. After cleaning and clearing our plates we advance to dessert.

 

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We're presented two toasted meringue swans sitting atop a glossy pool of lemon custard. These avian-esque edibles are their lemon tarts. The swans are made of a decadent marshmallow-y Italian meringue. The custard is smooth, full of citrus flavor and encased within a firm buttery crust. Every bite is consumed and we're left feeling full and content.

Bienvenue
Pine Island Getaway Cafe is the culmination of cross continental influences. It is the result of adventitious events guided by a vision and dedication. The brothers' roots in St. Martin, time in France, and inspiration found in the Philippines come together, expanding the palate of the community. The Brunet brothers welcome a challenge, they are aware continuing will not be a simple task. They await, earnest to serve and share with their new neighbors.

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Visit

Pine Island Getaway Cafe
Address: 5281 Doug Taylor Circle.
Saint James City, FL
Phone: 239.283.3602

 

From the Author:

"Some of the biggest elements that comprise my identity are my passion for politics and activism. That focus stems from my position as a queer, biracial, first-generation American. I am interested in exposing disparity within our food systems and developing sustainable solutions to food scarcity. Captured by the concept of 'critical eating', I explore an intersection of anthropology and economics. This delves into the relationship between agriculture and food production. Part of my approach consists on educating consumers on the mechanics of how we provide for ourselves. My intentions are to improve conditions and cultivate an appreciation for those who feed us. I hope contributions to Uncle Sam's will help towards the goal of uniting communities around a common table."

Authors Blog

Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar

When you walk into Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar and speak to Sirac Ergun, you can sense his passion.  Sirac is the chef and co-owner of Pera. He opened Pera Turkish restaurant in 2017 with his brother Ahmet. They are from Sanliurfa which is in eastern Turkey bordering Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Sirac and Ahmet’s long and winding journey to America took them first to Istanbul, where in 1998 they opened Oceans 7, a seafood restaurant with their 5 bothers. Sirac’s dream had always been to open a restaurant in the US so that he could share his traditions and culture. In 2000, with $100 in his pocket, he moved to the United States. He worked 2-3 jobs simultaneously in Italian, Turkish, and Kurdish restaurants gaining the knowledge and money he would need to open his very own Turkish restaurant. His hard work paid off! Ahmet joined him in 2011, and they opened Pera in May 2017 after working for 17 years at others’ restaurants.

Pera is named after a vibrant district in Istanbul full of enticing eateries. It is found on the site of a former Turkish restaurant that had been there for 30 years. The brothers worked hard to rebuild the restaurant from the ground up, both its reputation and the ambience. They faced a huge challenge in welcoming back the former patrons and appealing to a wider demographic. Fortunately for us, Sirac doesn’t shy away from any challenge.  He felt that his delicious food and excellent service would quickly bring customers in and back, and boy was he right!

Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar

Pera is located on Broadway in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. Lakeview is a hip, yuppie area and one of the fiercest battlegrounds in Chicago for restaurants, with one located every few doors.  How does a Turkish restaurant survive and even thrive in this heated environment?  Sirac says, “Having so much competition just makes me work harder and have to be better than my competitors.”  He knows he has to differentiate, and does it so well.  He showers his guests with genuine Turkish hospitality ensuring that people walk in as customers but leave as friends.  His approach with his customers is to “break the ice” by leading with the magic of Turkey by bringing the sounds, scents, flavors and loves of a people whose roots go back for centuries.  His approach to food is to take the same dishes that other restaurants serve and make them unquestionably unique and exceptional.  For example, the hummus served is blended with red beets and the falafel is stuffed with goat cheese.  Although it takes longer, he chops the kebab meat by hand, yielding a far superior taste.  Sirac uses fresh dill.  He prepares everything on a daily basis. It is easy to see that living in America for the past 18 years has not dampened his enthusiasm for the food and culture of his homeland. While his family jokes that he has become Americanized, he really is a proud Turkish man bringing the best of his heritage to his grateful American diners, which is exactly what one wants in an authentic Turkish restaurant.

The ambiance of the restaurant is instantaneously welcoming, warm, chic, and elegant. There is Turkish tile art on the walls and handmade light fixtures from Kutahya.  The white seats give Pera a clean feel.  Sirac and his brother didn’t always agree on the ambiance but Sirac is older so he usually won out as per Turkish cultural norms.  He wanted to make the restaurant kid friendly yet appealing to adults and welcoming to people of all cultures and backgrounds.  The current project is to renovate the upstairs which will be opening in May.  That space will be for private parties for special occasions, birthday parties, showers, and every type of private party.

THE FOOD

Presentation is really important to Sirac.  He wants the food to be as beautiful as it is tasty.  Everything is made fresh daily and is upscale yet warm and welcoming.

Pera Turkish Kitchen & Bar

Appetizers (Mezze Selection) (Top to Bottom and Left to Right):

Turkish food

Red beet hummus:  Sirac has used a unique family recipe to make a twist on classic hummus by adding red beets. This brings a sweet flavor to the hummus and makes it stand out. Presented beautifully on a slate platter with drops of mustard. Grilled Octopus: an octopus tentacle resting on a bed of sautéed eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers.  Beyond the beautiful presentation, the grilled octopus was flavorful and extremely tender. White bean dip: blended with dill, garlic, cumin, olive oil, and paprika served with daily baked homemade bread offered complimentary to every guest. Falafel: stuffed with goat cheese served as an appetizer with a simple bed of greens and a spicy tahini sauce. Goat cheese is unique to his restaurant and not a traditional preparation of the dish. Zucchini Beignet: perfectly crispy yet moist homemade fried veggie patties with feta cheese, fresh mint and dill served with a creamy garlic yogurt sauce.

Main Course (Top to Bottom and Left to Right):

Turkish food

Manti: Turkish tortellini crossed with a dumpling, stuffed with mushroom. Light and flavorful, tender pasta with a light sauce – simply delicious Siramarsir:  zucchini stuffed with filet mignon, sautéed onions, and mixed herbs served with garlic yogurt and rice. The   beef and zucchini were perfectly cooked. You will see why this is Sirac’s favorite dish. The dill in the yogurt sauce highlighted  the sweetness of the zucchini perfectly. All the elements of the dish melded wonderfully to dance on our taste buds. Lamb Kebab: Sirac is really proud of the lamb kebabs.  He marinates them overnight.  If he doesn’t have any lamb that has adequately marinated the full 24-hours, he will take the dish off the menu for the day.  He wants them to be perfectly flavored and juicy. Hunkar: This was a favorite of Sultan Suleyman’s wife, Hurrem Sultan and definitely a favorite of ours.  Beef simmered with garlic and tomato sauce is served on a bed of pureed eggplant. The tomato sauce had a deeper and darker silkiness that was well matched to the bold flavor of the meat.

Dessert:

Turkish food

There was a wide array of hot beverages including Turkish tea, apple tea, and Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is cooked with the grounds and served in a small cup. The teas were all served in a beautiful clear tea cup. Kunefe:  If you want a dessert with a “wow” factor, this is for you. It delivers a succulent package, wrapped in a shredded and latticed filo dough pastry, filled with the perfect portion of mozzarella. It was served on top of a gleaming pool of syrup and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Upon further investigation with Sirac we discovered that jasmine flower is the secret weapon of this dish. This dish is simply mind blowing. Baklava: This classic dessert paired with Turkish tea combines light and flaky texture, sticky sweetness and a mild flavor similar to earl grey to produce the perfect balance of flavors. It was served with a scoop of ice cream that at first glance was vanilla but surprised the diner with bits of apricot to add complexity to the texture. The only challenge here was making room to finish it all. For an apertif we were served Raki, a Turkish anis liquor which is best had with water and ice.

Turkish Wine:

Cankaya – a light and mildly fruity white wine reminiscent of a Chardonnay. It was the perfect accompaniment to the appetizer selection. Yakut – similar to a Merlot. Not overpowering but flavorful enough to bring out the light and fun aspects of the grape.

MEET SIRAC ERGUN:

With a wonderful smile and sense of pride Sirac tells us, “The dream never ends.” He strives to open another restaurant either in downtown Chicago or Houston, saying, “It is all about sharing – you have to grow up together to be successful.” We are so fortunate to have shared our evening with Sirac, immersing ourselves in the food and friendships of Turkey.

VISIT:

PERA TURKISH KITCHEN AND BAR
2833 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 880-0063

This article is a group effort by the following…

Boston based Chris A. enjoys dining out with his family as often as possible. You’ll often find him and his wife on bikes enjoying New England.

Edwin P. is a Southern California native techie and vintage video game enthusiast. He enjoys playing golf and going hiking in his free time.

Shilpa R. loves everything about food and lives in the best city for it. In her home in Portland, OR she enjoys eating out and exposing her 3 year old daughter to the weird but delicious tastes of this great food city.

Susie T. resides in Austin, TX but is originally from Chicago. She showed her passion for eating from infancy much to the shock of her mother and delight of her grandmother. She loves food of every kind and is determined to try as many different types of food as possible.

Enoteca Maria – Nonnas of the World

 

Two Restaurants, One Address, 40 Well Seasoned Chefs

If you were out for a noonday stroll in downtown Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs (this one a landing point for the famed, free Staten Island Ferry), you’d no doubt pass Enoteca Maria on Hyatt Street.

A small, inviting Italian eatery and wine bar, this intimate enoteca offers a lunchtime menu plump with iconic southern Italian dishes and imported wines and beers. But come late afternoon and Enoteca Maria transforms into a scene so distinct from the lunchtime landscape that it requires a second name: Nonnas of the World. Nonnas? Yep, starting around three in the afternoon it’s as if your own grandmother – had she come from Japan, Syria, Brazil, Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt or any of another of a dozen or so other countries – had hijacked the restaurant just for the pleasure of cooking for a roomful of strangers.

Italian offerings are a constant at Enoteca Maria, but in the evening there is a parallel menu, global in nature and singular to the native cuisine of that night’s featured nonna.

No age limit or nation bias here, only granny-aged cooks need apply. While they may be untrained chefs, these grannies are hardly unsung: they’ve been celebrated in print from The New York Times to newspapers in Italy, the Ukraine, Germany and more. Too, they’ve been featured in a documentary, on NBC-TV, even in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

Food = Love + Culture

“Every time one of these nonnas is in the kitchen,” says Enoteca Maria owner and founder Joe Scaravella, “you have a thousand years of culture coming out of their fingertips.”

Joe opened the restaurant in 2008 using a rotating group of Italian nonna chefs. So it wasn’t much of a reach for him to start thinking more globally. And in a few years he sought out a wider array of grandmothers who were eager to supply the kind of kitchen love and culture that his own Nonna Domenica had shown to him.

“Especially in this time when there’s so much divisiveness it’s important to bring people from different cultures together,” Joe says, “I think food and music and art do that very comfortably, I’m proud to be part of that.

Choosing My Nonna

Since I know nothing of Colombia’s cuisine or culture, I chose the diminutive Rosa Maria Ortega from Medellin as my chef for the night. My hope was that I’d learn–and taste–something new and different. Nonna Ortega didn’t disappoint. Shy, and speaking very limited English, Nonna Ortega was clearly in charge of the kitchen, bustling from stove to table, stopping only for a selfie or two with appreciative customers. Like the other nonnas, Rosa Maria Ortega seemed to enjoy the attention and the gratitude.

Since my Spanish is as limited as is Nonna Ortega’s English, I threw myself on the expertise of the pleasant, experienced wait staff to steer me through the menu and to choose an appropriate wine. Here’s what was on the menu:

¿Qué hay en el menú?

Arepas con Carne; Patacones con Guacamole; Sancocho de Pollo; Arroz con Pollo, and for dessert…

The Patacones con Guacamole turned out to be a dinner-plate ­sized patty of warm, toasty, fried green plantains smothered in an herbed guacamole sauce. In other words Colombian comfort food on a cold winter’s night. And since the temperature outside was well below freezing, I warmed at the sight of my next dish Sancocho de Pollo, a soupy chicken stew made with root vegetables and served with a side of cob corn, avocado and rice. And for dessert? Pudin de Coco, a silky, creamy, custardy concoction, similar to flan, but with a subtle hint of coconut.

Nonna’s Story

Nonna Ortega, one of seven siblings, first came to this country in 1985 using her cooking skills to sell Colombian tamales. After several years however, she gave birth to a daughter Michelle and decided to return to Colombia. But worried that Michelle would not excel back home she returned to the US to stay in 1999. She worked two and three jobs here to try to get ahead. And to give her daughter a better life.

In fact, it’s daughter Michelle Restrepo, who shares her Mom’s story. It was Michelle’s father-in-law who introduced Michelle to Joe Scaravella several years ago. And she quickly thought of her Mom, who has always enjoyed cooking for crowds, as one of the chefs. Nonna Ortega lives in Old Bridge, New Jersey in a Colombian community. Her Mom is delighted to be recognized for her skills. “In fact,” says Michelle, “every time she’s asked for one of her recipes, or complimented on her cooking, or asked for a photo, she calls me just thrilled with it all.” And how about you Michelle, are you a good cook? “No, I don’t need to be. I have my Mom.”

Think about:

  • The restaurant — cash only– is open Wednesday through Sunday; reservations are recommended. But in order to choose your favorite nonna food or to try something new, log on to the nonna calendar for a schedule of upcoming cuisines here.

  • The Staten Island Island ferry trip from Manhattan’s Whitehall Station to St. George, Staten Island takes about 25 minutes. If you can, make your dinner reservation around dusk so that in addition to a memorable supper you can enjoy a stunning sunset view of the Statue of Liberty.

Visit Enoteca Maria

27 Hyatt Street, Staten Island, New York 10301
(718) 447-2777

Please note:  Cash only; no credit cards accepted.