By Jane Bartnett
There’s a small corner of France in Gulf Gate that is home to the most French of French delicacies.
At the L’Opera Bakery Bistro, the art of French baking and dining is a family affair. Each morning, owners David and Frieda Cherki and their son Adam, a trained French pastry chef, begin their day baking and preparing French breads, classic French pastries called viennoiserie, and French dishes that have made this charming 4-year-old bistro and bakery a favorite among Siesta Key- and Gulf Gate-area visitors and residents alike.
David, who serves as the manager and runs the front of the house, greets each customer with a friendly “Bonjour” as strains of French music fill the air. Traditional baskets of classic French baguettes and other breads, baked fresh each morning by Frieda (a French chef) and Adam stand at the store’s entrance ready to be whisked off to someone’s home.
“The baguettes and breads generally sell out by mid-morning,” David advised. “It’s a good idea to come early.”
As anyone who has tasted an authentic French baguette will attest, there is nothing quite like it.
The humble baguette, a vital part of French life and made with only four ingredients, recently gained international status when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization named it to its “intangible cultural heritage list.” French President Emanuel Macron went so far as to call these long thin loaves of bread that emerge from the oven with a crispy crust and soft interior “250 grams of magic and perfection.”
Although L’Opera’s baguettes are truly worthy of high praise, there is so much more to discover and appreciate in this welcoming and distinctly French bakery and bistro.
On a recent morning, a steady stream of customers dropped in. Some stopped briefly at the counter and selected several loaves of bread to take home. David quickly seated other patrons who settled in for a late breakfast.
By 11 a.m., the early lunch crowd began to stream in.
At one point, two women came in together, chatting and laughing before taking their seats. Spotting the glass pasty section filled with French baked goods, one of the two friends stood and became transfixed as she stared at the array of delicacies. With hands clasped in front of her face, a look of sheer joy came over her.
While pointing at a tall baked delicacy shaped like a cupcake she said to her friend, “You have to try this! It’s a kouign-amann, pronounced qween-ah-mahn.”
Her friend didn’t know what to say about such an unusually named pastry.
“Oh my,” she continued with great enthusiasm, “once you taste it … well, it is truly life changing!”
David watched the interaction from behind the counter and soon all three were laughing.
“I haven’t seen one since I was in France” the customer exclaimed.
As he delivered a kouign-amann to their table, David explained that this delicacy is seldom found outside of France. “It comes from Brittany and Western France,” he told the two women. “My family and I come from Toulouse, in the southwest of France.”
After taking a bite of her prized possession, the woman was unable to contain her delight. “It’s absolutely wonderful!” she shouted.
“French pastry is much more than croissants,” David explained. “Each one is a special creation that is meant to be enjoyed. My talented wife and son do all the cooking and baking. I just run the business. All the praise is for them.”
While discussing the couple’s decision to relocate to Sarasota from their native France, David explained that his wife began her career as a pharmacist.
“We always had a dream of owning our own restaurant and bakery,” he said. After visiting Sarasota in 2018, the couple fell in love with the area and decided to start a new life. When the Gulf Gate space that had been a bakery became available, they knew that this would be the home for L’Opera.
“It was the right space and the right location. We belong here,” David said.
L’Opera Bakery and Bistro serves breakfast and lunch six days a week. The breakfast menu has a selection of pastries such as plain, raspberry and almond croissants, raisin and cinnamon rolls, as well as tartines with butter and jam. Hot breakfast dishes include quiche, omelettes, French toast and several delectable baguentine selections.
The lunch menu features salads and sandwiches along with hot entrees of beef bourguignon, chicken cassoulet, and coq au vin. A vegan menu has seven selections including a Mediterranean plate and vegetable fougasse.
Having a dinner party for six people or more? Paella, couscous, poulet basquaise and an appetizer buffet may be ordered from L’Opera’s catering menu. All catering orders must be placed two days prior to pick up.
Visit L’Opera Bakery Bistro is at 2336 Gulf Gate Drive. View the menu online at loperabakerybistro.com. Email the business at email@example.com or call (941) 922-2253.
Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.