Hard to go wrong when your order includes the phrase "candied bacon." That's the star ingredient in the first sandwich listed on the lunch menu at Jim's Small Batch Bakery: the shop's quasi-legendary candied bacon BLT, which sells for $8 but could easily go for a mint.
But don't go thinking that it's only pork fat and sugar that makes this sandwich special. Its true beauty lies in bakery owner James Plocharsky's ideal balance of the ingredients that make the BLT a giant in the field of sandwichery. So yes, there's candied bacon, sliced into thick slabs and served crisp, which tastes as great as it sounds. But there's also a generous wedge of actually red tomato plucked from Detwiler's Farm Market by Plocharsky himself, and a heaping helping of crunchy lettuce, a vast improvement on the typical wilted slice of iceberg. Add in a dash of mayo, two slices of tangy baked-from-scratch sourdough and we're talking masterpiece.
You'd be forgiven for stopping at that first sandwich, but there's more to explore at Jim's, situated on the south side of Gulf Gate Drive in the strip that's also home to Oh Mamma Mia! and Crop Juice. Luckily, I've got a guide. The server helping me out provides a quick, friendly tour of the menu and immediately starts calling me by my first name as if I were a regular.
The shop is bustling, but not packed at lunchtime, with diners plopped down at tables that hug a comfortable cherry-colored banquette or settled into chairs along a short bar that offers views of the espresso machine and the Food Network on the TV above. I can see a sliver of the kitchen through a door. A pair of mixers stand at the ready; a clipboard carrying a scrawled-on legal pad dangles above the countertop.
Glass cases protect cookies, slices of pie and sweet bars. Muffins and croissants and other assorted pastries make an appearance, as does a rotating selection of fresh breads. It's Tuesday, dedicated to sourdough and loaves studded with black olives. The latter is one of two breads included in today's grilled cheese ($8). The briny flesh of the olives punctures the goo of three different varieties of cheese, and the bread has been toasted perfectly, bringing a nutty flavor to the proceedings. A side of sliced cherry tomatoes and cucumbers ($3), meanwhile, is well-seasoned but plain. A double espresso ($4) is just all right.
Please don't leave without visiting the sweets selection. The cookies (priced between 75 cents and $3) achieve that ideal balance of soft and crunchy. An almond croissant, meanwhile, comes stuffed with a gobbet of moist, addictive chocolate. It's no wonder Plocharsky and crew have picked up a number of trophies thanks to their sweets. This magazine alone has honored their cheesecake and their muffins, and our readers named it the best local bakery in this year's Readers' Choice survey. I'm learning today that you, yes you, are wise indeed.
Given that this is my first visit, I'm feeling late to the party. But you know the cliché: When it comes to candied bacon, better late than never.
Jim's Small Batch Bakery is located at 2336 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota, and is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. For more info, call (941) 922-2253 or click here.