Photographs by Rafael Tongol

The Buttermilk Bakery delights customers with a combination of delightful dishes and unbridled enthusiasm from its owners, including (clockwise from bottom left) Lana, Alex, Phillip and Taisa Rebroff.

On a recent Wednesday, as Lana Rebroff sits at a sturdy wooden table in her family’s minimalist café/bakery, a gangly, bearded young man in his mid-20s can’t help but interrupt. “I just wanted to tell you, that almond croissant was amazing,” he says to the makeup-free mom of three grown children. “The inside had a little warmth to it.”

Responses like that make Lana feel that it’s worth it to arrive at Buttermilk Bakery in the wee hours of the morning, six days a week, to fire up the ovens, start on the day’s croissants and “double bake” the versions filled with almond or hazelnut cream.

Since the bakery’s debut last August on the Winter Park side of Orange Avenue, its small menu has continually gotten a big response.

Lana, a Brazilian native of Eastern European descent, owns the restaurant with her offspring: Phillip, a Johnson & Wales-trained chef; Taissa, a former food writer who trained as a baker in New York City’s Smile to Go bakery and cafe; and Alex, who recently joined the team as a front-of-the-house manager.

Husband/father Vlad lends a hand with paperwork on weekends, the busiest time in this frill-free space. That’s when Winter Parkers wait patiently in line to enjoy a brunch of sourdough pancakes with a housemade dulce de leche cooked for 24 hours. Others love to start the day with Yukon Gold hash made with eggs and baby kale.

The produce in Buttermilk’s creations is generally from Urban Growth Farms or Frog Song Organics, both local outfits.

Buttermilk’s success is based largely on three factors: buttery, scratch-made pastries; crusty, tangy sourdough breads; and daytime entrées made using those breads and/or plenty of eggs.

Buttermilk Bakery toasts its housemade sourdough bread and tops it with creative combinations of savory ingredients. The Rebroffs call the open-face sandwiches “tartines.”

Of course, that’s not to discount the fourth factor. This will sound sappy, but it must be said: These dishes are made with love — open-hearted, mile-wide-smile love. The Rebroffs, in fact, can barely contain their enthusiasm when discussing the day’s offerings, and when describing the intriguing new recipes that they’re testing and tweaking.

They’re particularly giddy over customer reaction to the Morning Buns (croissant dough laced with cardamom, orange zest and brown sugar) and the housemade “pop tarts” (which may be filled with a jam made of local raspberries in one season, malted chocolate or sweet potato and marshmallow in another).

Again, it sounds corny, but visitors are delighted by the family’s obvious sincerity and enthusiasm for their craft. Which, of course, translates to the quality of the food they prepare. “We make people happy,” says Lana after receiving kudos about that almond croissant. “Our motive is to show something that’s really made from scratch.”

With their mismatched aprons and eager attitudes, each family member has a primary function. However, all chip in wherever they’re needed.

For example, Phillip’s No. 1 priority is making the sourdough bread every day. It’s a simple recipe that uses a “wildly fermented natural starter” along with “just three ingredients: flour, water and salt. And love.” (See? They’re all love-struck.) That’s it, except he’s now experimenting with such add-ons as sesame seeds and olives with Herbs de Provence.

For lunch, a slice of toasted sourdough is the base for the tartines, which on any given day may be topped with eggs deviled with smoked paprika, Dijon mustard and pickled red onions, or slow-roasted carrots with roasted beet hummus, arugula, almonds, feta cheese and lemon yogurt. All menu items are listed on a strip of brown paper, and are crossed off as they sell out — which they usually do.

What prompted this earnest crew to make the switch from Sao Paulo to Winter Park? The answer begins with a shared passion for fine food, and continues with a desire to be a part of Central Florida’s burgeoning dining scene.

“We’re a family of foodies,” Lana says, grinning widely. “We love food. When we travel, we’re food-obsessed. We seek out the best bakeries, the best hot dogs, whatever. We’ve always been like that.”

As the kids got older, they started joining Lana in the kitchen. Taissa would bake, while Phil would experiment with savories. “He was always trying something crazy, like smoked mushrooms, just to see how it would go,” recalls Lana, who has taken baking classes.

Once the family decided to turn their shared hobby into a business, they moved from South Florida to Orlando and began selling baked goods at the Maitland and Audubon Park farmers’ markets.

“Orlando is a growing food city,” says Taissa, who as a UCF student often wrote English papers about the significance of food in novels such as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. “Lots of creative restaurants are popping up. There’s an energy, with people who want to try different things. It’s exciting.”

Once they opted to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the Rebroffs found the Orange Avenue location, near the renowned Ravenous Pig, to be ideal. The popular gastropub has subsequently moved, but the proximity offered solid exposure for the Rebroffs’ fledgling operation.

Now the busy thoroughfare has taken on a hipper vibe. Just down the block, trendsters gather at the newly renovated State Auto Building, now The Brewstillery. There you’ll find the Bear & Peacock, which serves its own beer, and the Winter Park Distillery, which makes spirits and sells them retail.

The same complex houses Create Your Nature, which serves up superfoods, while Foxtail brews exceptional coffee. A cluster of outdoor benches has become an informal gathering place for stylish-looking young professionals who frequent some or all of these newbies.

Homemade “pop tarts” are filled with an ever-changing variety of concoctions, from raspberry jam to malted chocolate to sweet potato with marshmallow.

As for Buttermilk’s building, the Rebroffs, not surprisingly, adore it. “It’s a stand-alone building, not in a shopping strip,” Taissa points out. “It feels like home to us. I love it — the simplicity, the beams.”

The Rebroffs are in no hurry to grow. But demand is high for more retail and wholesale products, so they’re thinking — albeit cautiously — about expansion. “It’s a little baby, only six months old,” Taissa says. “Now we’ll take it one step at a time. We’re trying to put out the best products possible. We’re doing great and we’re not ready to say, ‘OK, now let’s hire 20 people. We’re not in a hurry.’”

Meanwhile, the family is partnering with other small local operations. They provide bar food for the Bear & Peacock, for example, and desserts for Farmhaus, which offers meal-delivery dinners.

They’re also lavishing their attention on their own eatery, changing the menu weekly and embracing whatever ingredients local farmers have to offer. Looking toward spring, they’re swapping out roasted root vegetables for citrus, greens, peas and even green strawberries.

“We’ll pickle and ferment them,” says Phillip. “We’ll think about what goes together and play with the flavors to see what pops up.”

The message? I strongly recommend that you visit Buttermilk’s Bakery to feed your body and your spirit. But if you want to try those donuts, those ham-and-Gruyère croissants, those salted rye cookies or those sesame banana bread teacakes, don’t make a rookie mistake and show up after lunch. The tiny retail counter depletes early.

“We’re a small-batch bakery,” Taissa says. “We run out of stuff.”

Buttermilk Bakery
1198 N Orange Ave, Winter Park
321-422-4015
buttermilk-bakery.com