A vanilla slice of life

A vanilla slice of life

For thousands of years, the greatest minds on the planet have pondered the truth behind the pursuit of happiness… but none have yet thought to seek this certain fortune within the depths of a freshly baked, South Australian vanilla slice. (Image source: Nahum Gale).

By Nahum Gale @NahumGale

If there is one thing South Australians love, it is our bakeries, but the question remains: why do we love them so much? What attracts us to these little homely eateries?

It has become such a hotspot in our communities for people to commune to with family and friends, whether local or not. Bakeries ride that sweet middle line of being both safe and reliable for customers but also individually unique enough to attract out of town attention. In many ways, bakeries inhabit the almost perfect package for people looking for a cheap place of quality to eat out at… but what exactly is the bakery experience and how does it equal happiness?

I compiled various public voices on an Instagram poll to shape a general idea of what the bakery experience is for most people:

“The bakery experience is a transient one where you can feel local in a foreign place.”

“The bakery experience is a wholesome experience filled with fresh food and friendly faces.”

“The bakery experience feels nostalgic and familiar […] homey and casual.”

But still, generalities are not enough for me. So, in the past few months, I have travelled SA to bring an insight into the quintessential bakery experience.

Seen on the provided map are the bakeries I have visited in four separate areas: Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley, the Fleurieu Peninsula and some outliers. Uncovering the best of the best and some hidden gems, I plan to learn how bakery simplicities can equal happiness.

The Suburbs of Adelaide

Bakery on O’Connell (Image source: Nahum Gale)

Our quest begins in North Adelaide. Here we find the densely populated Bakery on O’Connell.

Located on one of Adelaide’s most notorious food hubs, O’Connell Street, Bakery on O’Connell is a bustling hotspot for locals and tourists to socialise 24/7.

One local is Abaigh Curry, a student studying a Bachelor of Law at the University of Adelaide, who praised the bakery for catering to veganism.

“Bakery on O’Connell is my most frequented bakery because of the convenience of being open 24 hours and the large vegan range. A late-night trip [to the bakery] works as an excuse to catch up with a loved one or old friends,” said Ms Curry.

Abaigh Curry (left) with friends at a late night visit to Bakery on O’Connell (Image source: Nahum Gale)

To further my knowledge of how Bakery on O’Connell has continued to amass such a supportive community and remain a major hallmark in the crafting of the bakery experience, I caught up with the bakery’s manager Georgia Huppert.

Upon visiting, it became obvious that the social aspect of Bakery on O’Connell was its defining trait, with midnight crowds brimming from the doorways to share intimate catchups.

“The social aspect is huge for us! We are a 24-hour business, so our night customers are the majority of people trying to socialise.

“A lot of our clientele in the afternoons are people catching up for a coffee or a cake. During the day, we have a lot of families come in […] for birthday parties and little events like that,” said Ms Huppert.

So, if Bakery on O’Connell places importance on the social aspect of the bakery experience, what about the food?

Thanks to Ms Curry, I discovered a bakery that has stayed under the radar, especially when considering the quality of their food. In Forestville, situated on the opposite side of the city to Bakery on O’Connell, is the delicious and entirely vegan Cherry Darlings Bakehouse.

Tim Salmon, owner of Cherry Darlings, was quick to highlight his idea of the bakery experience as “a collection of baked goods.”

For Mr Salmon, it is important savoury items have “good pastry and flavourful fillings” and sweet items “spark nostalgia or [are] something that excites.”

And upon trying the baked goods at Cherry Darlings, I am convinced food comes first at this vegan hub. The flavours of their cheeseburger pie were unreal and the assorted desserts were impossible to comprehend. It’s spots like Cherry Darlings which assures people that vegan options are not taboo but should instead be welcomed as just as flavoursome as regular meat options… and most of the time, much healthier as well.

“I am always happy to drive almost an hour to Cherry Darlings purely for their vegan options. I think having these options in more regional bakeries would make travelling with friends and the bakery experience so much easier, more enjoyable and more accessible for everyone,” noted Ms Curry.

The Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley

Tanunda Bakery and Café (Image source: Nahum Gale)

Leaving Adelaide, I decided to venture out into the two areas that keep South Australia on the map: the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley. Known best as the state’s wine region, it’s also well-known by locals that the area is a gold mine for good quality country bakeries. So, what does a country bakery have over a city one, and does that mean location matters when considering the bakery experience?

I chatted to happily married couple, Rhys Whiting and Emily Dorrestyn, who’s adventurous nature and activities led them to comment on how bakeries can serve a definitive purpose for out-of-towners.

“Tourists love bakeries because they give an insight into what a town is actually like. You can step into a bakery and meet the local baker, read a newspaper, eat a local pie and take it for a walk down the street. Bakeries are a great way to understand the town you’re visiting,” said Ms Dorrestyn.

I tested this theory when visiting Tanunda Bakery and Café, situated in the Barossa Valley. Sitting on the edge of Tanunda, the drive through the village before arriving at the bakery allows visitors to soak up the township. Upon entering the bakery, you are given a warm greeting, space to sit amongst locals, and newspapers to read.

My partner and I, antique shopping in Tanunda. (Image source: Nahum Gale)

Thanks to our visit, my partner and I were directed towards the town’s best antique shops which led to a beautiful day of antique shopping.

So, in many ways, location seems to assist the bakery experience, and the bakery experience seems to also assist location.

Similarly, The Lobethal Bakery, having originated in the town of Lobethal, now stretches as a chain, weaving through the Adelaide Hills with locations in Woodside, Mt Barker, Stirling and Balhannah.

For this majorly successful bakery, customers are offered the safety of on-brand homely foods but from different townships that welcome healthy travel through the Adelaide Hills. So, if anything, these bakeries showcase how location is a pivotal ingredient to the quintessential bakery experience.

The Adelaide Plains and Beyond

Two Wells Bakery (Image source: Nahum Gale)

A bakery also acts as a time capsule; a place for memories to be made and stored.

To find the type of bakeries that can fulfil this unique necessity, I travelled further north to the Adelaide Plains and beyond, with my first stop being the Two Wells Bakery.

OSHC educator Hanna Kingsmill is one of the bakery’s regulars. She highlighted the spot as a huge part of the Two Wells community and a special hub for her and her family.

“My Papa used to love the honey sticks from the Two Wells Bakery! So, for his birthday, we used to order a honey stick as big as they could make. It would turn out about the size of a cake, and he absolutely loved it,” said Ms Kingsmill.

Kipling’s Bakery (Image source: Nahum Gale)

Further along the road leading north, I stopped in Port Wakefield to find Kipling’s Bakery, the ideal stopover for those on a road trip to or from the Yorke Peninsula.

My mother, Gaile Gale, shared with me how the seagull shrouded bakery played a large role in her childhood and subsequently has remained a cherished memory.

“As kids we would visit my grandparents in Coobowie on the Yorke Peninsula, so we would meet them halfway at Kipling’s Bakery. We would fill up on goodies, including my favourite: the pasties,” said Ms Gale.

You see, any serviceable eatery can accumulate regular customers, but bakeries accumulate something more important for a business and its community: memories.

“The bakery experience is something that is passed down from older generations to younger generations,” said co-owner of Kipling’s, Jacqui Gant, emphasising the personal touch of a bakery over other eateries.

And, sometimes, the best way to make memories is through adventure…

The Fleurieu Peninsula

My friends and I finally arriving at Yankalilla Bakery (Image Source: Nahum Gale)

So, to indulge in the adventure of finding new bakeries, let us head south on the Fleurieu Peninsula, where we can find the ridiculously busy Yankalilla Bakery.

“The Yankalilla Bakery is awesome. Going there takes me back to being a kid driving to the ferry for Kangaroo Island. It was always an essential stop along the way to grab an excellent pastie […] as well as the vibe there, it’s very lively.”

That is a quote from a close friend of mine, Lachlan Dooley, who recommended Yankalilla Bakery which subsequently led me on an hour-long trip from the city centre. Through rolling hills, farmland, various small townships and an eventual stop off at Second Valley, Yankalilla represented the sense of adventure the bakery experience can give.

Long road trips through lovely scenery with friends resulting in a genuinely good, hearty feed of happiness.

So then, with all our ingredients, how do we perfectly encapsulate the bakery experience? If only there was one spot that had the socialness, the food, the location, the memories and the adventure to make the perfect bakery experience…

Oh wait… Port Elliot Bakery!

Port Elliot Bakery (Image source: Nahum Gale)

Port Elliot Bakery is a rich and vibrant spot that is SA bakery royalty.

In terms of adventure, the bakery is located a little over an hour outside of the city which welcomes a socially healthy road trip to access. I joined Mr Whiting and Ms Dorrestyn again to visit this little eatery and, like me, they were impressed with the Port Elliot hotspot – especially its famous surprise donut-of-the-month offer.

Rhys Whiting and Emily Dorrestyn (right) with a friend eating baked goods at Horseshoe Bay (Image source: Nahum Gale)

“Our favourite item was the donut-of-the-month, the crème brûlée donut. The sheer surprise of paying $4.80 for a surprise donut was thrilling,” said Mr Whiting.

The bakery is small and does not have seating, but it is just a 10-minute walk from the gorgeous Horseshoe Bay where customers commune for picnics by the beachside. Subsequently, the bakery excels in location.

“Enjoying such a treat sitting on a seaside bench together transformed that $4.80 into a real human experience that we got to share together,” said Mr Whiting.

“Truly a treasured memory now.”

And there it is, the last tick of approval: memory making.

So again, I ask: what is the bakery experience and how does it equate to happiness? Well, if we were to bake all the ingredients I sourced, including socialness, food, location, memories and adventure, we would probably get The Port Elliot Bakery. But when we bite into the bakery experience, what is it we taste that has us keep coming back?

Well, we taste the simplest pleasures of being alive; a slice of life.

It is as simple as that.

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