It’s not every day that you walk into your every day quick-stop-sundries-shop and find a basket full of beautiful, fragrant, homemade bread. I’ve been running in and out of the City Marina Shop virtually every day for anything from Diet Coke to Gatorade for over ten years, yet that’s exactly the sweet surprise that happened to me a few days ago.
A pretty basket stacked with loaves of artisinal breads wrapped in clear plastic, tied with paper strings adorned with seashells beckoned from the front counter. The ladies at the front counter raved about it, and despite the fact that I was packing for a short trip later that day, I bought a loaf of simple white bread. It wasn’t even five minutes after I got to the house that I broke into said bread. Slathered with butter, the ultra-fresh (it had been baked that morning), pillowy, slightly sweet and aromatic bread, was like a slice of heaven. In short order, I (with the help of my principal taste tester dog, Tann Mann) were easily through 1/4 of the loaf.
The baker behind the magical bread is named Alberta Freeman, but she goes by “Berta.” The Charleston native has been baking bread most of her life. It really picked up steam when her college room-mate’s mother gave her a bread starter as a gift.
Berta’s bread, like all bread really, begins with a starter. Hers is prepared simply with potato flakes, water and sugar. In many ways, it was the reason Berta’s Bread was born. “If you don’t use it or feed it, it dies. So, I have to make bread every five to seven days,” says Berta. She and her family couldn’t eat all of the bread, so she started giving it away. People were “really enjoying it,” so the former professional caterer and recent empty-nester decided to turn Berta’s bread into a small business.
Officially one year old last March, Berta bakes bread one or two days a week, eighteen loaves at a time, from a professional caterer friend’s kitchen, Caroline’s Market on James Island. Her product line currently includes nine flavors: White,($4.50), Whole Wheat ($5), Whole Wheat Walnut Cranraisin ($6), Whole Wheat Pecan Raisin Cinnamon ($6), Whole Wheat Sunflower Seed ($6), Whole Wheat with Rosemary ($6), Seedalicious ($6), Sundried Tomato Asiago Cheese ($6), and Sister’s Three Coffee Cake ($7).
The inspiration for the flavors come from all over. Not long ago, for example, Berta was at Harris Teeter and saw sunflower bread there and said to herself, “I can do that,” and voila, she did.
Even through bread is her passion, Berta doesn’t desire that her business morph into something very big and would rather keep her product line rather limited. “I love that I make some money, but I want my hands to be on each loaf,” says Berta. She’s so passionate about every aspect of her bread, Berta personally goes out to the beach to find the pretty shells she attaches to each and every loaf. “I watch t.v. most nights and make my little shell things,” she says with a soft laugh.
For now, the distribution is also limited. You can email or call Berta directly to order/buy bread, or stop by Carolina’s Market or the City Marina Shop to pick up a loaf. Deliveries are made on Tuesday morning. By the way, the ladies there rave about the Sister’s Three (the name of Berta’s former catering company) coffee cake. Berta loves to have people come by her house where she keeps a large stash of bread in her freezer (it freezes very well).
Thank heavens for happy surprises, especially when they come in the form of beautiful bread. Here’s how to find Berta’s Bread:
Call Berta directly at 843-345-7704 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
City Marina Shop
at The City Marina, 17 Lockwood Drive, downtown Charleston, 29401
55 Windermere Blvd, Behind EarthFare on Folly Road
Charleston seems to be getting closer to its Euro-roots nearly every day. Fromageries & Patisseries are becoming nearly as prolific here as they are in Paris.
Whisk Bakery is the latest, delicious addition to Charleston’s expanding Euro-inspired culinary camp. A soft opening in mid-February has already landed the old brick wall-lined shop a loyal, eager following at the corner of Meeting Street and entrance to the parking, and main entry to Charleston Place. When I arrived at about 10 a.m. earlier today, the line was reaching out the door and two German gentlemen were enjoying Germany-native Executive Chef Vinzenz Aschbacher’s oven-warm, flaky whole grain croissants and paper cups full of steaming, strong coffee, which they declared “just like you would find in Europe.”
Naturally, the intoxicating aromas of fresh baked daily breads, pastries, tarts, croissants, cream puffs, and more, would be authentic. Aschbacher has quite the arsenal of training and experience under his toque, including stints at the Art Institute of Charleston, Red Velvet Catering, and Charleston Place Hotel. Then, there is the small fact that he’s from Germany and speaks with the charming lilt of his native language, beaming with pride for his craft as he does. He seems particularly well-suited to the small, intimate open-kitchen environment here – more relaxed than his Charleston Place days. It’s as if he’s in his element and it comes across in the food and entire wonderful Whisk experience.
Not just for pastries, Whisk also whips hot and cold panini, assorted sandwiches, and salads into the mix. The Sweet & Spicy Halloumi Panini ($7.50) showcased a layer of chewy, mild Halloumi, a sheep’s milk cheese that hails from Greece. This was paired with a spread of sweet/hot pickled jalapenos, colorful pepper jelly, and a dash of fresh arugula. Panini pressed and toasted to warm, ooey gooey goodness, it was light enough to invite dessert, but substantial enough to fill most appetites. It was a perfect late morning snack. Eyeballing the cream puffs and croissants that I knew I would be taking home with me, I shared the second half with my neighboring German (by now) friends. Again, they declared it “delicious!” On my not too distant to-do list is the tempting sounding Grilled Mac & Cheese with Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8.50). But first, we have to talk pastries.
All are made daily, in-house (except the bagels which are delivered from another unnamed source), and all are remarkably beautiful and fresh. Aschbacher’s croissant($2.90) is a bit doughier and less flaky and buttery than you will find at Macaroon a little further up town, but it’s nonetheless delightful and divine with a cup of Whisk’s rich and satisfying coffee. A cheerful order-taker who also serves as the resident barista, handled the increasing length of the line well as she neatly bundled the take-away sweet treats pictured above.
In my mind, the cream puff ($2.75), with an elegantly airy choux pastry and ever-so-lightly sweetened whipped cream and the creamy, tart/sweet lemon curd tartlet topped with deep purple, sweet blackberries and a dusting of chopped pistachios ($3.50) out-matched their take-away box companions, but everything about Whisk gives cause to smile and stop by a while.
Seating is limited and comfortable, but it’s just as lovely to take away a bag of Whisk treats and enjoy them at nearby Waterfront Park.
209 Meeting Street Charleston, SC 29401
Vacations mean different things to different people. Some long for hard partying, quiet companionship, travel, museums, tours, learning, drinking, eating, and generally doing something new and different. For me, it’s a little bit of some of those things, but first and foremost, having not taken a real, dedicated vacation in over five years, what I needed most on my recent, delicious break, was rest and relaxation.
On the advice of a Swedish friend, who has visited many Club Med resorts, I semi-reluctantly embarked on a trek down to a Club Med in Turks & Caicos called “Turquoise”. My mind didn’t like the notion of “club” anything. Instead, it embraced the notion of tranquility, but I didn’t want to feel like I was on a desert island, either. And, the promise of sea breezes, turquoise-toned water, lots of tennis, reading and eating good healthy food seemed too hard to resist. I even nursed a fantasty vision of a sexy, French stud sporting white capris strolling down a sandy white beach heading towards me while wearing a dangerous, sultry smile.
What “Turquoise” ended up delivering was all of what I was seeking (well, minus the French man in capris, but there were French Canadians speaking the beautiful French language at every turn) and more. Spright mornings of tennis morphed into lazy afternoons of reading by the pool or the exquisite beach, and in-between all of these stretches of lazy time, there was time to savor the beautiful food.
The food (and the beautiful bread) is what surprised me most of all. This resort houses (at capacity) 500 guests, not counting the extensive staff. Chef de Cuisine Herve Lotz, a native of Strasbourg, France, is responsible for feeding all of them and keeping them very, very happy. No small task, some might call it Herculean even, when you consider what I learned to be the very high standards of Club Med regulars.
Every morning, he gathered his crew for a “tete a tete” for that day’s multiple meal production planning session. He was there most nights until long after the last meal had been eaten. Day in, day out, this man and his team create a spectacularly diverse menu of high quality food, which is even more amazing when you consider the relative remoteness of the island and the inherent difficulties that presents in even getting produce & products to the kitchen.
Breakfast included a hot buffet of waffles, pancakes, grits, eggs, sausage, made-to-order omelets, assorted yogurts, an entire table of fresh sliced fruit, meats, cheeses, and more. Lunch was especially impressive with beautifully plated dishes, salads, stews, soups, gorgeous fresh fish (especially the grouper), burgers, roasted meats, and a beautiful array of sweet treats, pastries and custards. Dinner was more of the same, except on an even greater scale. But, all three meals showcased what ultimately steals the food show at Club Med – the outrageously beautiful bread.
Baguettes, soft country breads, croissants, coconut bread, dark chocolate bread and the ultimate star, the one that had everyone (including me!) raving – the white chocolate bread. Soft, flaky and pliable all at once, it’s studded all over with nuggets of mellow white chocolate. The taste effect falls somewhere between bread and dessert. One bite is all it takes to fall in love with the stuff.
All bread-making at Turquoise is overseen by Boulanger Raphael-Guarionez Baldonado. Bravo to him and his entire staff! They make bread – any bread – so delicious it doesn’t even require butter. I was unable to get the recipe for the white chocolate bread from Chef Baldonado, but I called the corporate offices in Miami after I returned home. They provided the link to the You Tube video listed below which tells you exactly how to make it at home.
I would have had all of this to you sooner, but it took me a few days to get back my real-life stress legs, I was so high on relaxation after getting home. That’s what I call a vacation.
Club Med Turquoise
British West Indies
Turks & Caicos