We recently reviewed a couple of solid espresso options when you head just south of the Bay Area — in Santa Cruz and Monterey. But what if you head further south through Big Sur? Sure, more of your options involve camp stoves and dodging cranky, caffeine-addicted black bears, but there are a few exceptions. One of them is the Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, which was featured earlier this year in a New York Times Magazine article.
Heading south on Highway 1, just past the Big Sur deli and post office, you’ll encounter a sign for the place. Driving up a dusty, dirt driveway to a Shell station, you’ll find it atop stairs — likely pouring out smoke from their wood-fired pizza ovens. They have several indoor restaurant tables and extensive outdoor patio seating. And it’s definitely rustic here, alright: going to the restroom involves a trip to a plumbed-in outhouse past rusted old Coca-Cola signs like something out of a John Cougar Mellencamp video.
The Big Sur area is rough country for good espresso, of course. And this place seems to take complete advantage of that fact — offering espresso at near-Ritz Carlton prices. They have their own Big Sur Bakery blend from Berkeley’s Uncommon Grounds, and they were selling their Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade organic blend. (The signs of the great Big Sur fires of 2008 were noticeable just across the highway.)
Despite the astronomical prices, they do a good rotation of espresso throughout the day here, and the baristas grind to order. Using one of two La Spaziale two-group machines at the front espresso bar, they pull shots as extra large doppio pours served in a regular coffee cup. It has a patchy coverage of congealed, medium brown crema — though its texture runs thin relatively quickly. And despite the huge pour size, it surprisingly has a decent body. It has more of an earthy, herbal flavor with strong hints of smoke, and it can be served with some grit at the bottom of the cup.
If you thought the espresso was expensive, just wait until you see the pizza prices. Of course, shipping supplies to a remote area costs money. And then there’s labor. And then the seasonal nature of business here doesn’t help — especially when one of those seasons is “fire season”. But we can confirm that we were not accosted by any angry bears while getting our espresso here — unless you include the pack of burly, grizzled motorcycle riders who made it a pit stop for brunch.
Read the review of Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant.
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