Finding our happy place.
Livability is a word that loses meaning when yoked to quantification. Not that this dissuades. Publishers and consultants milk it like a numerical tit. Orlando has been rated highly livable. Barely livable. Kinda livable. Certain indices rank even our most desirable zip codes decidedly average. In a statistical context, livability is simply fuzzy noise reverberating off questionably measurable measurables.
Sure, it’s possible to ascribe broad-stroke value or attach a number or two to the things that make places worth living. As a people, we prefer trees to parking lots. More employment opportunity is better than less. It’s nice to send children to a school where they might open a book.
But utopia isn’t one size fits all. Our individual idiosyncrasies form the foundation of what we find rewarding. I prefer my parks unthemed. Sweater weather to sunshine. Trains and sidewalks to cars and sprawl. I don’t want to hop on a jet ski. Ever. You get it. I definitely got it. Let’s just say the livability of my life came into sharp focus the moment I moved from a London where happy came easy to an Orlando where I had to work for it.
Working hard for happy – finding your lil’ slice of livability in Orlando – requires prioritization and compromise. For me, a leafy walkable neighborhood with a bit of commercial density was priority number one. Winter Park kinda sorta offered both. Hello, home. I largely sacrificed parks and the arts and bid farewell to the food-forward but easy everyday eateries of my UK days. Or, so I thought. Hello, Buttermilk Bakery.
Among the many little things that made London livable is its abundance of good bakeries. Like livability, ‘good’ is a semantic shapeshifter. What do I mean? Independently owned, creative, ever-evolving, committed to craft, one that doesn’t mistake marketing for product – where the relationship between baker and baked goods can be seen, felt and tasted. All traits Winter Park’s Buttermilk Bakery has in spades.
Independently owned? Check. Family owned, in fact. The Rebroffs – Lana, Taisa, Phil and Alex – are Buttermilk Bakery and combined they bring baking, writing, and culinary chops to the flour-dusted table. Creative? Yep. Pumpkin pop-tart or potato, bechamel, gruyere & rosemary tart? Ever-evolving? Committed to craft? A love that can be tasted? Yep, yep, yep.
Buttermilk Bakery occupies a quaint standalone space on an increasingly trendy strip of North Orange Avenue. There’s outdoor seating for when Orlando allows you to venture outdoors, they pour reliably good coffee from Lineage, much of the non-breadstuff is from local farms, and just like our favorite bakeries in London, you can expect a queue at the counter. We’ve learned to arrive earlier than later to ensure desired bites are on hand.
Owing to what have now become regular visits, we’ve managed to gobble our way through a wide array of spot-on sweets and semi-sweets, including chocolate caramel bread pudding, peanut butter cookies with sea salt and countless croissants – most of them almond. Almond croissants are Munch’s happy place and at Buttermilk – where they crackle under tooth like nutty ambrosia – she is very, very happy.
On weekends, the Rebroffs roll out an extended brunch menu (literally – on wall-mounted paper) that includes various egg dishes, inventive pastas and other plates. Our last brunch bite was a satisfyingly rich take on tortilla española – served in a small skillet, plumped with caramelized onions, sliced potatoes and aged mahón, and topped with garlic aioli and fresh local greens. A straight-ahead bit of A-OK.
We also recently enjoyed a brunch smørrebrød special featuring dueling tastes: the first, quick-pickled cucumber with scallion cream cheese and dill, was excellent palate prep, but a salt-baked beet with goat cheese, walnuts and pear stole the two-act show. Earthy, aromatic, creamy, crunchy. Both served atop a gorgeous, dense Danish rye, both suffering only from lack of an aquavit or three.
As we fumble our way toward a conclusion, it’s worth quickly highlighting two additional savory bites – everyday menu items that are very much worth ordering. An avocado toast made distinct with dukkah and my go-to – a deviled egg tartine – the egg bronzed with pimentón, livened with dijon, and served atop a wonderfully crusty sourdough with a soft, tangy crumb. Bitefuls of creamy and smoky offset by the vinegary vibrancy of pickled cucumber and onions. Lovely.
In sum, there are lots of reasons for you to love the Rebroff’s small, family-run Winter Park bakery. We already do. And where does this love leave us? Writing a restaurant review. Quantifying livability. Assigning a number to happy.
While singing the praises of Buttermilk Bakery, we’ve heard more than one person exclaim, “it doesn’t feel like you’re in Orlando.” The implication being that this is a good thing. Unfortunately, it often is. But, in creating this impression, Buttermilk is also helping change it. Orlando becomes a city where places like it exist. Places that make our city more livable. Happier. Tastier.