Discover Datils and Other Good Eats at Hot Shot Bakery N’ Café.
As Sherry Stoppelbein snapped our picture, I wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into. But Simon and I were committed to earning our spot on Hot Shot Bakery N’ Cafe’s Wall of Flame, so we each took a bite of Datil Popper… and smiled. Yes, the chocolate dipped pepper was hot, but oh so delicious.
Setting the Taste Buds Atingle
Hot Shot Bakery ‘n Cafe serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week. The café has become famous for creative takes on the classic panini sandwich served on fresh bread, sweet treats and other items that have been taken to new levels of flavor with the addition of Sherry’s unique twists.
Sherry makes everything herself: the brined, roasted turkey and pork, the pickles, potato salad, condiments, baked goodies and everything else served at Hot Shot.
As if all this isn’t enough to put Sherry in a class of her own, she has made excellent use of the Datil Pepper. Brought to St. Augustine by early settlers from Minorca, an island off the coast of Spain, it has flourished in the friendly soil and climate of the area.
Never heard of Datil Peppers? Well, you’re not alone. St. Augustine is one of the few places where they’re grown. This flavorful pepper, according to Sherry, is half as hot as the habanero and twice as hot as the jalapeño. It varies in color from bright green to gold. The more golden it turns, the hotter it becomes.
But heat isn’t the only thing the Datil has going for it. Sherry has harnessed its bold flavor to conjure up three types of jelly, four hot sauces, a barbecue glaze, mustard, relish, pickle spears and her famous chocolate-dipped Hot Poppers.
Sherry, AKA Duchess of Datil, sells her award-winning Datil products at the café, and local restaurants buy her hot sauce by the case. Mellow Mushroom even invented a special pizza based on Sherry’s Datil hot sauce.
Simon and I had the opportunity to sample some of Sherry’s Datil hot sauces, and they were extraordinary. The first thing that hit us was the aroma. Vinegar, a mild sweetness and the pepper itself beckoned us to taste. When we did, the aroma became a burst of flavor that tickled our palates and concluded with a back-end kick.
We were delighted to find Sherry’s sauces not as sweet as most. “That’s not what I’m after in my sauce,” she said.
For lunch we split a turkey, bacon and avocado and a Cuban panini. The bread was fresh and firm, the meats tender and juicy and the avocado creamy. “I think we have the best sandwiches in St. Augustine,” Sherry said. Not having eaten a single other sandwich in St. Augustine, we had nothing on which to base that kind of opinion. What we can say is they were amazingly good, and some of the best panini we’ve had anywhere.
One of Sherry’s secrets may truly be in the sauce, which she uses on her sandwiches and wraps. She also uses it in her potato salad to give it a slight kick.
Sherry adds fresh garlic and other seasonings to the water in which she boils her potatoes, infusing them with flavor as they cook. She then tosses the hot drained potatoes with mayo, mustard and other ingredients the combination of which also makes this dish among the best we’ve ever had.
Meet the Duchess of Datil
“This is a fun story,” Sherry chuckled, when asked how she ended up in the restaurant business.
Born and raised in St. Augustine, Sherry was a devoted stay-at-home mom until her eldest daughter went off to college, leaving her heartbroken. With her second daughter poised to soon do the same, Sherry decided she needed something new to occupy her time.
Not one to do things in half measures, Sherry enrolled in culinary school, and found she loved it. That was over 30 years ago and she hasn’t looked back since.
Sherry’s first venture was into the world of catering until she opened Hot Shot Bakery N’ Cafe. From this location, she continued to operate her catering business, while serving up the creative, Datil hot sauces, panini, and baked goods that soon made her a local celebrity.
The chocolate-dipped Datils became the catalyst for Sherry’s Wall of Flame. If you look hard enough, you might find our faces among the many others who stepped up to the challenge of the Datil Popper.
The wall’s center bears images of the winners of the annual Poppin’ Pepper Palooza pepper eating contest. This is where serious hot pepper poppers have the opportunity to show off their skills. The contestant who downs the most Datil Poppers in 5 minutes, wins a cash prize and a fire hydrant trophy.
Sherry has a well-trained staff to help her run her business.
Being community minded, she also hires homeless individuals from St. Francis House, when appropriate, in order to give them an opportunity to take control of their lives and live with dignity.
Hard Times and Hope
On the sunny day Simon, Otto and I first met Sherry, she was working out of a small space without a proper kitchen, or even a full-size oven. Yet she had been serving her signature panini, homemade Datil Pepper condiments, luscious baked goods, and all-day breakfasts, as well as operating her catering service from this location since 2002. And what a location it was. Situated on Granada Street, across from Flagler College, and a short walk from the Lightner Museum, three iconic churches and other attractions in St. Augustine’s historic downtown area, Hot Shot became a magnet for hungry locals and tourists alike.
I said ‘was’, because the welcoming interior and the charming outdoor area where we had lunch became a casualty of Hurricane Matthew early in October. Devastating as this calamity was, Sherry had the good fortune to have opened a second bakery and café a short distance from the original location before Matthew descended. This Hot Shot remained intact, and Sherry’s business is back up and running.
The Cordova Street location has given Sherry more seating, including an upstairs dining area, as well as outdoor seating. But perhaps best of all, she now has a completely updated kitchen with an oven for all her magnificent baking.
St. Augustine took a major hit from Matthew, and many residents lost their homes and businesses, or sustained severe damage. For some, the holiday season, which is just around the corner, is a peak time for both the sales and service industries. Working to salvage what they can in time is a daunting task for business owners affected by the flooding.
“We’re struggling,” Sherry admitted sadly. But in the midst of all the destruction and despair, people are also working together, and helping each other out. The spirit of St. Augustine has been bent, but not broken. The heart of this coastal community is alive, and will not only survive, but thrive. Sherry Stoppelbein and Hot Shot Bakery N’ Cafe will continue to embody all that is good (and good tasting) in St. Augustine.
If You Go
Hot Shot Bakery N’ Café is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday, 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM, Friday and Saturday, 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM, Sunday, 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM.
Hot Shot Bakery N’ Café
47 Cordova St.
St. Augustine , FL 32084
Disclaimer: Although we were Sherry’s guests at Hot Shot Bakery N’ Cafe, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.