Ladies Who Do Lunch
Ladies Who Do LunchThree recipes for success in downtown Fort Walton BeachBy Pamela Watson
Most people zip through downtown Fort Walton Beach with their minds on their destinations or on the closely funneled traffic. They don’t see the myriad of shops and restaurants lining both sides of this narrow stretch of U.S. Highway 98 known as the Miracle Strip Parkway, but they should.
Once the center of what was called the “playground,” the downtown area began a gradual decline after its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s. People went less often, instead, hurrying through downtown to enjoy restaurants on Okaloosa Island and beyond.
Today, there’s change in the air — along with the flavorful smells of cooking and baking — as four female entrepreneurs add new ingredients to the downtown dining mix. Three new restaurants have opened in the past two years, giving Fort Walton Beach more delicious dining options and area residents and visitors a reason to stay in town and do lunch. Each takes a different approach and all are owned by local women.
Sue’s Desserts & More features an ever changing buffet ($7.99) of hot and cold vegetables, salads, pastas and Filipino specialties that are plated and served to your table. Photo by Kansas Pitts
Filipino Delicacies that Delight
When Sue Arnold was a little girl, her mother would go to the market near their home in the Philippines and sell produce from their small farm. When she came home, she always brought with her sweet bread called pandesal, which made the 5-year-old Arnold declare, “When I grow up, I’m going to make this bread the way it lights up my eyes!”
Little did she know that 50 years later, she would be making that bread and many other Filipino delicacies to the delight of her friends and customers.
After 30 years in the food service industry, Arnold decided to retire, but when her brother, William, lost his job with Delta Airlines, she knew she had one more thing to do. As the oldest of 12 children in a close Filipino family, the soft-spoken Arnold decided to follow a lifelong dream and open a restaurant where she and her brother could bring Filipino food to the area.
What began as Filipino desserts became a full-fledged restaurant in April 2010. Located about a block north of Miracle Strip Parkway, Sue’sDesserts & More is the only Filipino restaurant in Fort Walton Beach. Her baked goods, a la carte menu and all-day buffet have become a hit with both locals and visitors.
Sue’s Desserts includes brazo de mercedes, a no-flour egg white and custard cake, leche flan, coconut macaroons and her favorite, halo halo, a refreshing fruit, milk and ice mixture. Many of Arnold’s siblings help out in the family business, and now her 10-year-old granddaughter is showing an interest.
“She watches the Food Network and tells me, ‘Grandma, you need to make this,’ so we try lots of her suggestions,” Arnold says. Clearly, the next generation of pandesal makers is already in training.
An Old-Fashioned Story
Adonna Zehr grew up in a bakery. Her parents owned bakeries and she learned at an early age to hand-roll doughnuts. So when it came time for Zehr to choose a career, baking was not what she wanted to do … or so she thought.
“I’ve lived in Fort Walton Beach for 21 years. When I left my parents’ bakery, I never thought I’d want to get back into baking,” Zehr, a determined woman with bright eyes, explains. “But when the opportunity came up, I knew I really wanted a bakery on Main Street.”
Adonna’s Bakery & Café opened in March 2009. The family business includes third-generation bakers: Zehr’s son, Brandon, who works full time, and her daughter, Serena, who frequents the kitchen when she’s home from studying baking and pastry arts at Pensacola State College. Although her husband, Don, doesn’t work in the bakery, Zehr describes him as her “backbone.”
The atmosphere in Adonna’s Bakery & Café is as warm as the fresh-baked banana cake; Adonna’s Bakery & Café is located in the heart of downtown Fort Walton Beach; All natural fruit pies are baked daily; Patrons are sweet on Adonna’s Buttercream Cupcakes; Adonna Zehr is proud to be a second generation Southern baker. Photo by Kansas Pitts
The main dining room at Adonna’s Bakery has several tables nestled along the storefront window. Four glass-front cooling cases are filled with beautiful breads, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls topped with maple icing and “cake balls” made from pieces of leftover decorated cakes. A back room is reserved for private consultations.
In addition to the bakery, the shop is open for breakfast and lunch, serving fresh croissant breakfast sandwiches, omelets, quiches, deli sandwiches, salads and homemade soups.
“I’m a Southern baker, and everything has got to be up to my standards,” Zehr declares. Everything is. She uses only the freshest ingredients and Boar’s Head meats to go on her fresh-baked breads. Only fresh fruit pectin, not artificial flavorings, gives her banana cake and strawberry buttercream cake their fruity flavors.
Zehr’s intricate wedding cakes are a favorite with brides, and each one is made to order for that special day. She also makes cakes for birthdays, baby showers and special occasions and offers complete catering services for weddings and events.
After two years back in the bakery business, this old-fashioned Southern baker thinks she made the right choice. “Take what you’re good at and do it!” she advises.
Time for Tea and Biscuits
Pamela Goodwin always wanted to open a tearoom, a natural desire for a proper English lady from South London. She just didn’t realize when she married her American serviceman sweetheart that she’d be opening it 35 years later on the sunny Emerald Coast.
But when her artist son, Andrew Kettle, met Atlanta resident Cheryl Parish, the three of them started pouring their ideas into one eclectic teapot. The resulting brew opened in May of this year as Fiddly Bits & Tea Art Gallery Café.
“We wanted a quiet place, somewhere people can be comfortable and enjoy a cup of tea and perhaps read a book,” explains the petite Goodwin, wearing a warm smile. Adding to their own ideas were questions from friends: Will you do tea parties? High tea? What about bridesmaids’ luncheons? Poetry readings? Book clubs?
“The suggestions have been wonderful,” chimes in Parish. “We want to keep them coming, so we have suggestion cards for our customers to fill in and we’re always happy to listen to ideas.”
As its name suggests, in addition to tea, this particular shop has lots of “fiddly bits.” The space is filled with Kettle’s art, as well as that of other artists, jewelry, woodcarvings, gift items, and, of course, teapots, cups and saucers. As Parish tells it, they wanted to offer things that smell good and make you feel good — and everything is for sale.
Fiddly Bits & Tea has helped feed Fort Walton Beach’s renaissance; Cheryl Parish and Pamela Goodwin serve English tea with a Southern twist; Artsy wall murals welcome visitors to park behind Fiddly Bits & Tea; An eclectic gift shop is adjacent to the tea room; The shop was completely renovated into a cozy tea room awash with art by the owner’s son, Andrew Kettle; Jam tarts are a sweet side to English tea. Photo by Kansas Pitts
So what’s for tea? The menu offers two English sandwiches, including cucumber, and two American sandwiches, including Parish’s favorite, chicken salad. There are also quiches, jam tarts, scones, cakes and biscuits (not the Southern style biscuits; in England that’s what they call cookies).
However, Goodwin says the tea shop does have a Southern slant since they serve both hot English tea and sweet iced tea. “We have South London tea and South Georgia tea,” she says with a laugh.
Adonna’s Bakery & Café
201-A Miracle Strip Pkwy. | (850) 226-7552
Hours: Monday–Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Adonna’s Special Baked Items:
Cake balls dipped in chocolate and strawberry
buttercream cupcakes with whipped cream frosting
Fiddly Bits & Tea, Art Gallery Café
222 Miracle Strip Pkwy. | (850) 226-7375
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Pamela’s Special Tea Items:
Cucumber sandwiches and English scones
Sue’s Desserts & More
202 Ferry Road S.E. | (850) 243-6780
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sue’s Special Dessert:
Halo Halo (Filipino for “mix mix”),
fresh tropical fruits, coconut, milk and shaved ice