Gulf Gate Beat covers the neighborhood activity of Gulf Gate. Sarasota. This is the second of a series of posts that piggyback off the successful predictions of Sarasota Magazine's Mr. Chatterbox Bob Plunket's 2012 article The Next Hot Sarasota Neighborhoods. In it, Plunket chooses Gulf Gate as one of five up-and-coming Sarasota neighborhoods. At the time, I was writing for Sarasota Magazine as a contributing editor. Fast forward six years, and I find myself on the Gulf Gate Community Association Special Events Committee, selling Gulf Gate homes and condos as a REALTOR® with Michael Saunders & Company—Palmer Ranch.
In addition to our foxy location near—well, everything—including the acclaimed Siesta Key Beach, Gulf Gate benefits from the success of our local businesses in Gulf Gate Village, which Plunket credits for the renewal of the "quintessential" Sarasota 1970s retirement destination.
Once a rundown row of better-day reminders, the Gulf Gate Village has become synonymous with fun and entertainment. Not only has it become a popular food and shopping destination, it also boasts the best funky and fun nightspots.
At the time of Plunket's 2012 predictions, Jim's Small Batch Bakery (JSBB) was not a big news story like it is today. That has changed. In fact, Chef Jim's scratch baking has a growing collection of earned media. When I reached out to my next-door neighbors to find out where in they frequented in the Village. Tracy F. replied, "We love Jim's!" And after listing several of her favorite menu items - from chicken salad to colossal cookies - she laughingly resigns, "Unfortunately, nothing is bad at Jim's."
JSBB is right up the street, so I planned to stop and make arrangements with the owner for an interview. When I asked for the person I should speak to for a quote for my blog, I was pleasantly surprised when Owner/Chef Jim Plocharsky popped his head out of the pass-through window and spouted out a quip about learning math and science instead of baking. Then he came around to the counter where I was and chatted.
"Gulf Gate is definitely the HUB for Mom & Pop startups," Chef Jim explains. "It's a great mix of International and American shop owners. It's ebbed & flowed with the economy."
Having opened the bakery in January 2011, Chef Jim has been a part of the Village before Plunket predicted the increase in the value of Gulf Gate homes and condos and the influx of young professionals and young retirees. But it has not been a cake walk for the longevity JSBB enjoys.
Among other disciplines, Chef Jim talks about living within his means. "The first summer we closed the restaurant for a month, so I could do a consulting gig in Salt Lake City," he recalls. "There's no chance we could [close in] the summer now—just too busy."
In preparation for opening the bakery, Chef Jim attended the 2009 International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas where he had an intense experience that made him want to become a better chef. This professional awakening resulted from trying the almond croissants of two iconic French Pastry Chefs: François Payard and Jean-Philippe Maury. After a couple years of research and development, Chef Jim discovered the secret.
"It was a twice-baked procedure that made all the difference! Sacre Bleu!! The don't really say that you know?"
I know I do not have the chops to write what Chef Jim shares in his follow-up email, so I write it as it happened. For the foodies, this might be fascinating. For those of you who might find this a snooze fest, skip down to "The Cutting Room Floor" for a laugh.
THE (CHOCOLATE) ALMOND CROISSANT BITE
It should have a crispy/crunchy exterior with plenty of candied almonds encrusting the outside with a moist pleasant-tasting interior, which tastes of real ALMONDS, not almond paste or almond extract."
Why do you think your almond croissants are better than your competitors?
[Other] places don't take the care to execute it, and it comes out tasting like cold, wet French toast. Sometimes it can have raw frangipane in the middle. That's a bad thing since frangipane has raw egg! It should be moist, but not gooey at all.
Why did you make them smaller?
I started making full-sized almond croissants, and they were huge. Too big of an investment in ingredient cost and an investment in the customer's caloric intake. The going rate for an expert almond croissant was $6.00. That's too much for Sarasota clientele, so I opted to make them two or three bites of perfection. Thus, the almond croissant bite was born.
How many do you make each day?
I make around 3 to 4 dozen each of the Almond Croissant Bites and Chocolate Almond Croissant Bites.
Is there anything I forgot to ask?
Honestly, we're talking about my version of the chocolate almond croissant, but there's really only one item that I would take on Bobby Flay and win on Throwdown with Bobby Flay—my Perfect Carrot Cake! Yes. I said it!
THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
When I reached out for a source from Nextdoor.com, Kirby F. stepped up to the plate as a huge JSBB fan. Over several years, Kirby and his wife have been relying on Chef Jim for their made from scratch staples, buying three loaves of rye at a time, eating one, freezing two. Additionally, after attending morning Mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church on Gulf Gate Drive, the couple swing by JSBB for two pecan sticky buns.
"They must be caramelized in pure butter." Kirby writes. "And they are perfect as-is, so there is no need to heat them up or put any butter on them. The dough is so light. They are perfection. And my wife is most certainly going to have one for breakfast in the morning."
As Kirby is sending me messages about how Chef Jim's pecan sticky buns are second only to his own, his wife reveals to him that she prefers Jim's. "I feel like I just got schooled!" he writes.
Kirby's wife counts the pecans Chef Jim uses on his sticky buns, and that number is reported to be 36. "They are the best quality nuts," Kirby writes. "That provides for a big difference in the taste."
"We haven't tried the almond croissants," he finishes.
Jim's Small Batch Bakery is located at 2336 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota, and is open Tuesday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. It is closed on Sunday and Monday. For more info, call (941) 922-2253 or click here.
Forest Balderson works as a REALTOR® for Michael Saunders & Company.
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