By KATHLEEN STEWARD
In the heart of downtown, on St. George Street, sits the Spanish Bakery and Cafe. The eatery has long been a St. Augustine institution, and owner Virginia Whetstone intends to keep it that way.
The Spanish Bakery and Cafe changed hands when Whetstone purchased it nearly three years ago from the Adelsperger family, who had owned it since the 1970s. Whetstone transformed the institution by expanding the menu, and adding “cafe” to its name.
Whetstone also added Friday and Saturday evening hours, and now takes bookings for private events.
You can sit outside at any of the 64 seats. The space is an uncrowded oasis, separated from the hustle and bustle of St. George Street by a tall coquina wall. Here you can enjoy baked goods, soups, sandwiches and their specialty, an empanada. This is a Spanish pastry — turnover style — baked with chicken, pork and vegetables.
The bakery and cafe proper is a reconstructed kitchen that belonged to the Salcedo family and dates back to 1790.
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
Whetstone: We wanted to keep the bakery as authentic as it has been since the ’70s when the Adelsperger family owned it. There is a colonial Spanish feel, and teachers love to bring kids here after studying their Spanish history.
Conticello: There is an Old World feel to it. It is a hot spot for the pirates, and they feel right at home.
What is your food philosophy?
Whetstone: Everything is made fresh here. We make our bread, roast our pork and chicken, and create our empanadas from scratch. When I took over, we started to bake the empanada rather than fry it.
Conticello: We offer good quality, homemade food for good value. You can get an entree and a drink for $6.50. We are one of the few restaurants on St. George Street that can say that. On top of that, we are quick.
What types of cuisine do you specialize in?
Conticello: Our baked goods. I make full, round loaves of white-yeast sourdough bread from scratch. You can buy that in loaves or make a sandwich with it. It is a very light, fluffy bread. Our empanadas are authentic and homemade, too.
What is you signature dish?
Whetstone: That is our empanada. I kept the same recipe that the former owners used, and it is fitting in St. Augustine at our Spanish bakery. It is at the heart of the menu.
What would you recommend for a first timer?
Conticello: Depends on [the] age group. Young people can try our Cuban. It fills them up. Our chicken, pork and vegetable empanadas are always a good bet. Take away a loaf of our sourdough, too.