For a while after it opened last fall, The Cottage Café Bakery & Tea Room remained one of Bluffton’s best-kept secrets. In the middle of Calhoun Street in what locals call Old Town, the restaurant welcomed its first guests during one of the Lowcountry’s coldest, wettest winters in years.
By spring, folks were lining up to score a table on the breezy wrap-around porch. This summer, many are stopping by to cool off at one of 13 cozy inside tables. The Cottage is the place to be during farmers markets on Thursdays. Many come to sample the amazing array of desserts, which are owner Leslie Rohland’s specialty.
“They say that opening in a recession may be one of the smartest things to do because competition is limited,” says Rohland, who was formerly general manager and vice president at The Jazz Corner on Hilton Head.
Because she needed a creative outlet, Rohland started baking and became one of the original ten vendors when the Bluffton Farmers Market opened in 2007. She planned to open a bakery in the new promenade across May River Road, but then met Thomas Viljac, who owned the Carson Cottages property and was looking for a new tenant.
“It was like walking into a fairy tale,” says Rohland, “like a little piece of Nantucket right in the middle of Bluffton’s historic district. As soon as I saw it, I ran home and changed my business plan.”
Serving breakfast and lunch daily, The Cottage recently tweaked its already ambitious and eclectic menu. New items focus on unique recipes and classics with a twist.
“I have this thing about historic American salads,” Rohland says. The Cottage’s Crab Louis features lump and claw crab meat and baby shrimp tossed in a light dressing made with Thai chili sauce, lemon and mayonnaise, served over mixed greens with tomato, marinated asparagus, kalamata olives, and egg.
Rohland, who says she doesn’t consider herself a chef, grew up as the daughter of an Army officer, and was exposed to many different cultures at an early age. She said her childhood allowed her to become multifaceted and taught her “to adapt and survive.”
The lunch menu at The Cottage reflects this multifaceted approach. In addition to daily specials and a tempting list of entrees, there are grilled pizzas, pot pies, lettuce wraps and more than a dozen types of panini melts, ranging in price from under $10 to $14.75. Most lunch plates come with a house salad or fresh fruit, and guests are welcomed with a complimentary platter of celery, carrots and crackers with pimento cheese spread.
The breakfast and Sunday brunch menus offer a mix of Southern favorites and more elegant fare. On the menu are shrimp & grits and the Cottage’s own Dietz & Watson corned beef hash topped with a poached egg and accompanied by creme fraiche. Eggs can be prepared 15 different ways, and all come with fresh-baked corn bread and maple butter.
All the desserts are homemade by Rohland, and the array is impressive. On any given day, expect to find Georgia peach pie, pear tartlet, New Orleans bread pudding, carrot cake, espresso brownies, lemon torte, warm scones with clotted cream, and a southern classic, hummingbird cake made with pineapple, coconut and bananas with a cream cheese icing.
The Cottage is canine friendly and the effcient, personable staff is made up mostly of Rohland’s friends from years in the restaurant business.
“We love what we do here and try to make good energy that feeds more than your stomach,” she said.