In a cute little teal-painted house in the Village of the Arts, big things are happening in world cuisine.
Don’t let the giant gecko with a cookie in its mouth out front fool you. Culinary ground is being broken here.
Meet Bonni Brown. This is her place — Bonni Bakes.
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Brown’s was the second gallery to open in the village when it was established in 1999.
Aside from the colorfully decorated 1910 bungalow and her two-story home out back, Brown’s artwork is her food. The former New York City social worker bakes cookies and other sweet morsels, and masterfully paints her most scrumptious canvas: pizza dough.
But Bonni Bakes is about more than just Brown’s cookies and pizza. It’s about southern cooking, Irish, Turkish, Greek, Ethiopian, Lebanese, French, British and Persian.
Want to sample the flavors of the world? You can do it here.
From Tuesday through Saturday since December, Brown and a handful of chefs have taken area diners on trips around the world. There’s always lunch and sometimes dinner by reservation.
Birth of a ‘good idea’
The road to now began in May 2008. Brown closed the bakery without knowing what she’d do.
“Every 30 years, I get a good idea,” she said.
“I just thought, I get bored easily. I like variety. There isn’t a whole lot of variety here compared to other places I’ve lived. Wouldn’t that be interesting?”
So she put out an ad on Craigslist for passionate chefs and cooks, and she got 14 responses. She pared down to four: Vicki doing tapas, Anna’s macrobiotic, Walter’s French, and Bonnie (not Bonni) and Hector doing Caribbean-Latin.
Chefs have come and gone since Brown started this culinary journey in December. And once Amy Scott wraps her tenure this month, it’ll be down to Brown and Stephanie Peterson.
“I haven’t met anyone anywhere doing anything like this,” Brown said. “The customers love it. Everyone thinks its a great idea.”
So when’s the next day for Moroccan, French or southern? The next night for Ethiopian?
Brown’s not always sure, so stay tuned to her blog. That’s part of the charm of this place — the not knowing. If you really must know, her blog is usually updated at the beginning of each week (http://bonni bakes.blogspot.com).
So what’s it like?
Something to keep in mind when you come here: It’s not formal — in dress or protocol. It’s like you’re visiting an old friend. Just go inside, walk to the main counter in the back and place your order. No credit cards, please.
Then take a seat. If it’s not hot, sit outside and soak up the day and enjoy wafts of jasmine. Inside, there’s a small dining room with one table and plenty of knickknacks to keep your eyes wandering.
Or sit in the main room. There’s a little more than a dozen chairs there.
Remember, too, this isn’t “fast food.” Leave yourself 45 minutes to an hour for lunch.
I’ve been able to taste three different cuisines at Bonni Bakes: Amy’s Southern, French from Stephanie and Brown’s New York. Some highlights:
n It’s a shame Amy is leaving after this month. (Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday night are your last chances to sample her Southern bites.) The shrimp and cheese grits ($9) were marvelous with a gentle, spicy note at the finish. A side of cool, refreshing apple slaw was a perfect complement. The Key lime square ($3) for dessert (thank you, Amy’s mom) epitomized textural balance: cool, creamy custard with a firm graham-cocoa crust.
n I yearn to dine on one of Stephanie’s Ethiopian nights, but I’ve only been able to sample her French fare thus far. The fish soup Provencal ($4) was my favorite. It’s packed with flavor and chunky bits of fish. The bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce ($3.50) was gone in a matter of seconds.
n Brown’s New York lunches are an old standby here and don’t disappoint. The thin, crispy-crusted pizzas ($6 or $7) are personal-sized and full of pleasing and gentle flavor. She’s generous with the cheese, too.
On the day I visited, she offered a sweet potato bourbon bisque ($4). It was silky smooth and elevated in flavor by the splash of bourbon.