A Small Batch for Big Hunger

When James Plocharsky emerges from the flour-haze of his kitchen, it’s like spotting an endangered animal. He arrives at 4am and too often remains until as late as 8pm—on some days he literally won’t see the sun. Such is the life of a man who adheres so strictly to an artisanal, small-batch mentality that his goods are infused with more Old-World charm than a 19th-century French shepherd humming a folk tune in a field of wild lavender. Except, where even the French have resorted to the use of mass-produced sheets of laminated dough in their national pastry, the croissant, Plocharsky still rolls his by hand. If that sounds painstaking, that’s because it is. But his attention to detail has given Jim’s Small Batch Bakery two highly desirable traits for a business—longevity (open since 2011) and a demand that outpaces supply. “I’m still here, and I never over-produce,” he says with pride. In the course of an hour-long visit, Plocharsky might politely inform a dozen inquiring customers that all bread produced for that day already has somewhere to go. Walk-in customers fare the same, though they have the great fortune of selecting from a wide assortment of viennoiserie pastries or no-nonsense sandwiches that feature the freshly baked bread that’s so hard to come by. Plocharsky jokes, rather morbidly, that if he had to save his own life with a pastry, he would undoubtedly choose the Kouign-amann. This Breton cake is considered the original salted-caramel flavor, with its savory, buttery dough and its caramelized sugar. The dual flavor profile makes for a broad appeal to the palate and, conveniently, means this pastry can be had for breakfast or snuck into lunch and dinner. His Grilled Cheese Sandwich, capitalized for effect, is both simple and complex. It may present like an ordinary pressed sandwich, but it features two different slices of bread–olive and asiago–and three different cheeses–Havarti, cheddar and chevre. The effect on the flavor is subtle, with a hint of brine from the olive loaf fused gracefully with the savory three-cheese blend. The cheddar feels familiar, the Havarti gives a nice stringy-stretch and the chevre adds a little French twist to an American staple. The pastry and sandwich are two worthy consolation prizes should one forget to pre-order a loaf of potato-chive sourdough, a crusty baguette or a 1.5-pound loaf of challah bread.  —A. Fabian

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Sweet Tooth Science

Stroll down 13th Street in Bradenton and you could almost miss it, but for the odd little sign with what appears to be a laboratory beaker gradually transforming into a fully iced cupcake. Follow the arrow and step inside Sugar Cubed Pastry Lab, where owner and executive pastry chef Dana Johnson works his saccharine sorcery, whipping up cakes, pies, cookies and treats of all sorts. It’s a new location for Johnson, who previously started Sugar Cubed in the Bradenton Village of the Arts as a little niche bakery where he could work his craft and create opportunity for his former baking students from Manatee Technical College, but, after four years, success merited a bit of an upscale. Though currently building out the location, the ovens are up and running and former students (though now from places like Keiser University as well) still make up an important part of the workforce. And regulars have adjusted their morning walks accordingly. Cappuccino muffins made with chocolate chips, espresso, cinnamon and a dash of white chocolate fly off the shelves as fast
as they can be made, alongsideKey Lime danishes and cinnamon scones, introduced this March.
A fan favorite remains the Key Lime Pie, which sells so well that it can be found on local restaurant menus as well, but Johnson admits he enjoys the tiramisu the most, with its nuanced flavors—just a hint of coffee with that vanilla—and involved process. “Believe it or not, I’m not a sweets person,” Johnson says a bit sheepishly, which also explains Sugar Cubed’s penchant for natural flavors, such as seasonal fruits, instead of mounds of sugar. “It’s not just overly sweet stuff thrown in,” he continues. “You want a balance.” For a bit of fun, keep an eye on the ever-changing Cronut of the Month—raspberry and white chocolate for February, Lucky Lime for March and something matching bourbon and chocolate
for April.

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Rising Stars 

Driving around Downtown Sarasota looking for the perfect spot for their new bakery, Alex Korsykov and Marie Korsykova turn to the topic of branding and marketing. Of course, it needs to emphasize the organic focus. Of course, it needs to highlight that everything is baked fresh daily. Of course, it needs to let everybody know that they can find everything from French croissants to family strudel recipes from Ukraine. Of course, of course, of course, they found themselves repeating, and OfKors Bakery was born. “Every time people say ‘of course,’” says Korsykova, “we want them to think of us.” And while North Port residents may know the husband-and-wife team from K & K Bakery out by Tamiami and Biscayne, many may not know that Korsykov comes from a long baking tradition that stretches across the ocean and back to Ukraine, where his family owns a large chain of bakeries numbering at least 30 in Odessa and more in Kiev and beyond. “It’s in our blood,” says Korsykova. “And in the village, all of them make their own baked goods daily.” It’s in the soil too, and Ukraine used to be known as the breadbasket of the USSR, and covered in mills that now cover the walls. More than an aesthetic, this heritage becomes a guiding principle and OfKors Bakery, where organic reigns supreme, including shipping organic flour all the way from Canada. “We can feel additives,” Korsykova says, her face screwed up at the thought, and it’s this displeasure with American offerings that led them to start their own bakery in the first place. She won’t feed her children bread with 20 ingredients, so she won’t sell it to her customers either. Setting a piece of fresh apple strudel on the table—thin crispy crust sprinkled with powdered sugar and full of cinnamon-y sliced apples—she counts off the ingredients on one hand (not including the family secret). Also available in cherry, peach and blueberry, the strudel has quickly become a signature offering, alongside sourdough cinnamon rolls, French croissants, American offerings like cheesecake and carrot cake (Korsykova’s favorite) and a wide assortment of Eastern European rolls like poppy seed, making OfKors more of a European bakery than a Ukrainian bakery. And with a sophisticated coffee printer that takes coffee art to a whole other level (with only two like it in the US, according to Korsykova), add a jolt of fun and good humor to the Italian coffee that washes it all down. Sights set high and the bakery in full swing, future plans include an OfKors donut shop opening soon in The Landings and eventually a full market at a third location.  —P.Lederer

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Stirring Things Up

Joining Morton’s Gourmet Market in December as the new executive pastry chef, Chef Lauren Bland wasted no time before leaving her mark on the bakery display-case shelves. Hitting the ground running with her team of seven, Bland makes it a point to revamp one section of the bakery at the end of each month, introducing new items and taking advantage of seasonal opportunities. Late January saw the cakes get a makeover, and the debut of the Not So Thin Mint cake—rich chocolate with hints of peppermint and nostalgia—and the Salted Caramel Cake, which Bland thinks may be a keeper. It’s all about reading audience response, and for Bland, former CIA (Culinary Institute of America) with two culinary degrees to match the previous two in fashion and marketing, that’s just second nature. February brought a new take on the bakery’s pies and tarts, taking full advantage of seasonal fruits and berries and the latest trends from culinary hotspots like New York or Chicago. “We can put our spin on it to represent Florida,” says Bland, “and we’ve got berries and citrus and all those fun things that are far more flavorful down here in the middle of February and March.” This latter month saw the team take on the individual dessert section, adding gourmet chocolate domes and other such delectable temptations. But no worries for those with old favorites in the display case. “You can still get the lemon bars that Morton’s has been making for the last 25 years,” assures Bland, but, in that search for old comfort, you might find something new that grabs your eye (and ultimately your heart, by way of the stomach). “We want to hit all those points,” she says, “something comforting that you’re used to, but also something extremely decadent.” This month brings the cycle full circle, with Bland and her team having another go at the cake section, keeping the work fun, the food fresh and Sarasota sweet-toothed snackers guessing. “And if things don’t work, then not a problem, we’ll change again,” says Bland. “That’s the wonderful thing about what we do.” —P.Lederer


Jim’s Small Batch Bakery, 2336 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota, 941-922-2253. Sugar Cubed Pastry Lab, 531 13th St. W, Bradenton, 941-251-4092. OfKors Bakery, 1359 Main St., Sarasota, 941-330-2220.  Morton’s Market, 1924 South Osprey Ave., Sarasota, 941-955-9856.