Benjamin's Bakery & Café in Surfside Beach, SC, is where locals go to break bread and rev up their morning engines with steaming mugs of locally roasted, fair-trade java. The "love child" of the popular 1990s eatery, Benjamin's Bagels, and its wholesale bagel sideline, this reincarnation offers more than just bagels and coffee. Named for the son of owners, Lee and Wendy Zulanch, Benjamin's is enjoying a second heyday, serving a loyal following of café customers and supplying more than 100 local businesses with breads, bagels, cookies and pastries.
Snag a seat on a comfy sofa, snap open the morning newspaper and nosh to your heart's content in the laid-back beach-meets-bohemian café. If you're interested in behind-the-scenes dynamics, manager George Martorella is happy to take visitors on a back-of-house tour. There, you'll witness vats of flour, water, yeast and salt being kneaded into submission by giant dough hooks, loaves browning in ovens as big as coat closets, and a bagel machine shooting out perfect "Os" of dough that Wendy arranges on cornmeal-dusted baking sheets.
The mix of aromas is heady, and your mouth will confirm that everything tastes as good as it smells. If you like to start your beach day with a bagel, you've got mad options: Asiago, blueberry, cheddar, cinnamon raisin, cinnamon sugar, French toast, garlic, onion, jalapeno, poppy, salt, sesame, everything, sunflower nine-grain and whole wheat. Mornings don't get much better than a custom-made latte and toasted onion bagel topped with a lip-smacking schmear of herbed cream cheese. For a decadent morning treat, try a "dossant," a pastry that marries the flakiness of a croissant with the sticky chewiness of a glazed doughnut - finger licking permitted. Either way, you'll have plenty of fuel to see you through a morning of fishing on Surfside Pier, or a day of wet daring-do at Wild Water & Wheels waterpark.
If you're a heartier eater, you won't leave Benjamin's hungry. Sandwiches and wraps are designed to fill all kinds of belly and taste bud expectations. For breakfast, try the Surfside Beach: egg, turkey, avocado, provolone, tomato, spinach and bacon pressed on a basil pesto mayo-slathered panini baguette. Lunch features traditional BLTs, freshly made chicken and tuna salad, a Reuben panini and "adult" grilled cheese sandwiches. When it comes to Benjamin's wraps, forget all those dainty connotations. Prepare for an adventure as you sink your teeth into the likes of a Hang Ten, a panini-pressed wrap bulging with potatoes, zucchini, tomato, onion, spinach, red peppers and provolone, and dressed with basil pesto mayo. Ask for extra napkins.
Benjamin's Bakery & Café, located at 810 Third Ave. South in Surfside Beach, is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week. If you're on the go, fresh-brewed coffee is available by the box and bagels by the dozen. There's also a kids menu for smaller appetites.