SRQ Magazine | January 2017
“Make Cornbread Not War,” read the weather-worn baseball caps atop the heads of brother-sister team Jamie and Crystle Otto as they knead and roll in a cumulus cloud of flour, in fits and starts the dough shaping into soon-to-be pies, buns and, most importantly, biscuits. All the while, Kathy Otto mans the slick wood counter at Buttermilk Handcrafted Food, siphoning Perq cold brew and nitro coffees from a three-pronged tap, doling out sweet rolls with cold brew caramel frosting, savory rolls with black forest ham and sharp cheddar, vanilla oatmeal pie, mocha and salted chocolate chip cookies and spicy Mexican hot chocolate truffles. Between the three Ottos, the little Buttermilk bakery lives rapt in farmhouse purity, with a tangible spirit of the Deep South.
With childhoods rich in hot Southern summers, husband and wife duo Jamie and Kathy have created a menu that induces dreamy waves of nostalgia—all the pastry recipes come from Jamie’s grandmother’s hand, the dough for the sweet and savory rolls begins with the same potato mash base she used, the buttermilk cookies springing from memories of sugar-high naps under the Florida sun. “The pastry shelf is a big part of who we are,” says Jamie. “There’s a lot of meaning and emotion behind everything.”
The east Sarasota space now housing Buttermilk was once locals-only dive bar PT’s; “You’ll appreciate the current space a lot more if you’d seen it as the bar,” says Jamie with a sly smile. Now, the building bears nothing to suggest anything seedy once existed, the mood alive with a tactile fervor—Jamie proudly explains that nothing occupying the shop was purchased, the barn wood ceilings, the communal and two-top pinewood tables, the varnished wood bar spanning the front bay windows (basically anything wood) all built by Jamie and his friends. After a career in carpentry, it’s no wonder that Jamie’s vision came to life in the bespoke, solid elements that define Buttermilk, the Southern bent seen in clean white subway tiles adorning the back of the frontispiece and the simple Ball jars lining the hand-made shelves, the rolling barn door hiding the WC, the deep horse-flank-hued polished concrete floors and the emerald pasture grass out front welcoming patrons.
The food holds a similar warm, neighborly-style, the little menu an ode to buttery biscuits. Crystle arrives at 2am to begin the baking process, watching the flaky golden spheres rise and steam, preparing for the day’s variations on classics that incorporate her sublimely pillowy, yet toasty treats. The handwritten wall menu sports a mishmash of delectable options: biscuit with home-made pimento cheese and sweet ham, biscuit with Grove Ladder chicken and sweet peppers (reminiscent of the insides of a chicken pot pie), biscuit with “egg bake” (egg, cream, cheddar from Dakin Farms and spices) and bacon jam (made from Benton’s bacon in Tennessee) and, of course, the superlative biscuit with sausage gravy. Ask for a pat of butter and you’ll get authentic, hand-churned stuff from Georgia’s Banner Butter; ask for iced tea and you’ll get a cup brewed-to-order with bags from Tampa’s Teabella, with notes of distinctly Southern sweetness; ask for a hot coffee and you’ll find a rotating roster of blends like the rosehip-, blueberry- and molasses-tinged Ethiopia Nano Challa by Heart Roasters; ask for cold brew and you’ll recognize Perq Coffee Bar’s signature caffeine buzz pouring from the tap. And though the pastry cabinet has been nearly empty at the end of each day since opening, the leftovers go to community organizations Safe Place And Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC) and Training Ground.
While Buttermilk has only been open since this past September, the Ottos already have big plans. First on the to-do list: get some downtime. “We have a little dog that is like a child to us,” says Kathy, who is also a nurse in the ICU at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. “We’d like to be able to get out of here before 5pm and actually go on a walk with him.” Gluten-free is becoming a priority as well, with GF granola already bagged and ready at the counter and a batch of gluten-free cornbread blueberry muffins in the testing phase. While Mondays currently see Buttermilk’s doors closed to the public, Jamie says they’d like to start doing a family-style dinner with a set menu. And once Buttermilk is running fluidly, the ultimate goal: “What we originally thought we would do with this space—a pizza place,” says Jamie. “Just a few seats with both the mill and the oven.” For now, Buttermilk’s sweet Southern hospitality will have to do.
Buttermilk Handcrafted Food, 5520 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota, 941-487-8949.