The Thirty-A Review January 2021

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Black Bear Bar b y A n d y B u t c h e r

T ake a little New York City trendi- ness, mix in a splash of West Coast style, and zest with some gold old Southern spice, and you end up with the fresh taste of Black Bear Bread Co.’s dis- tinctive Bar Room. In a relatively short time, the wine bar/light eatery, tucked away in the Shops of Grayton at Grayton Beach, has seen its profile rise as satisfy- ingly as the signature sourdough pulled from the nearby bakery that started the whole Black Bear thing. What began a few years ago as a bit of an experiment by Phil McDonald, then chef at long-time 30-A restaurateur Dave Rauschkolb’s Seaside Bud & Alley’s Pizza Bar, has since morphed into an ever- evolving Black Bear Bread Co. brand that has earned the co-owners a number of foodie plaudits in the business’s short four-year history.

Oysters on the Half Shell

Dave Rauschkolb and Phillip McDonald

There is a $10 corkage fee, but bottles (starting at $17) sell at retail price and come with hand-written staff recommendation tags like you’d find in a bookstore. The wines may come from afar, but most everything else is sourced as locally as possible. Bread from next door, of course. Then seafood from the Gulf and grass- fed beef for the 7 oz. burger from a farm in Chipley. With its emphasis on fresh-prepared—the oysters are shucked in plain view right behind the u-shaped bar, where many of the other offerings are also plated—the menu is seasonal and tweaked almost daily. Customer favorites include clam toast, beef carpaccio, and snapper ceviche. Lest anyone fear that it’s all a bit too frou-frou, there’s also bottles of Miller and Budweiser available in addition to some regional crafts. “Just to let people know we’re not that bougie,” McDonald says with a chuckle. Bypassing culinary school, McDonald developed his distinctive culinary in the kitchen trenches. His resulting guiding philosophy: don’t overdo it. “Over time, you learn to take away,” he says, “strip it to what it is so you can taste, otherwise it’s gray.” Having finally perfected good bread at Rauschkolb’s Grayton Beach events catering location, the pair began selling it at Seaside’s Farmers Market. With increasing demand, they decided to open a breakfast and lunch cafe just a few steps from the ovens, at The Shops at Grayton, in 2017. With its fresh-baked goodies and Stumptown Coffee Roasters quality java, it soon became an early morning favorite for locals and visitors alike. The partners extended into the neighboring unit in 2019, debuting their Bar Room. Meanwhile, they were

Among them was a spot in Southern Living Magazine’s “The South’s Best Bars 2020” for the Bar Room. That nod came for the way, in a crowded local food scene, the location has carved out a creative niche with its focus on natural wines, tasty shareables, and a relaxed vibe. Sparely accented with striking black and gold, the white-walled space is available for private events, with wine tastings also on offer, and there’s live music three nights a week. The Bar Room brings together an eclectic set of influences from now-executive chef McDonald’s kitchen career, which took him from Brooklyn to San Francisco and New Orleans before returning to the Emerald Coast—he’s a Destin boy—to work with former surfing buddy Rauschkolb. Ask him to sum up the result of all those elements at the Bar Room and he will give you a suitably one-word answer: minimalist. The less-is-more approach is evident from the biodynamic wines, through the unfussy plates, cheeseboards and charcuterie, to the striking but simple décor. “Elegant without being stuffy,” he says. Championing the emerging natural wines market, the Bar Room has some 70 bottles on its list, sourced from across Europe and the United States. “We look for the winemaker’s story and their practices—dry vineyards, no irrigation,” McDonald explains. “It’s not just about the environment, though, it’s also about the result. Natural wines are less ‘overdone’,” he says. “They don’t mess with it; it’s basically grapes, fermented. You’re getting the true product.”

Wine & Champagne Offerings

also adding another Black Bear cafe location at Grand Boulevard, Destin; it opened last year, though space limitations there preclude Bar Room features and hours. Last year’s enforced COVID-19 shutdown gave McDonald and Rauschkolb the chance to catch their breath and review their fast-growing Black Bear partnership, whose name recognizes their first satisfied “customer”—the black bear who raided the bakery’s trash bins for its trashed leaven. During the closure they added a covered outside deck that doubled the Bar Room’s seating capacity, introducing extended evening hours when things opened up again in the summer. In keeping with the business’s fast-moving history, there are further expansion plans afoot. At time of writing these included a Bar Room spin-off in the area, somewhere McDonald foresaw as “a little more culinary- forward, more kitchen-cooked.” Black Bear Bread Co. Bar Room, 26 Logan Lane, Unit G, Grayton Beach, FL 32459, www.blackbearbreadco. com, (850) 213-4528, Hours: Sunday: Closed, Monday-Wednesday: 11a.m. to 9pm., Thursday-Saturday: 11a.m. to 10p.m.. No reservations

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