There’s a lot of sad salads in the world.
But at The Buzz Bakery and Cafe in Monrovia, you’ll find no limp spinach, no dejected heads of iceberg. In fact, you might find the best salad you’ve eaten in weeks. That was my experience, at least, with the Bama Breeze salad, a kicky combination of mixed baby greens and a crackling mound of toasted coconut.
The normally sweet garnish got a chance to explore its savory side on the bed of lettuce, acting as a crunchy foil to bright Bing cherries (mind the pits!) and a beautiful wedge of grilled pineapple. With juices caramelized and dripping with flavor, the pineapple was the star of the dish, tempered just a bit by a tart and zingy vinaigrette.
Want to try it? Act fast. Menus at The Buzz rotate every two weeks, an effort by owner Tracy Jones to use as many seasonal ingredients as possible.
A Lake Linganore resident, Jones said you can usually find her scoping the Thursday farmers market or working with small business owners to source her ingredients. All of the eggs at the cafe come from a farmer in Mt. Airy. The bread comes from Stone Hearth Bakery in Frederick. The coffee now comes from Potomac Coffee in Ashburn, Virginia, after Lavazza — an Italian brand — started self-distributing.
“I’m always thinking, ‘What’s in season? What can I source locally?’” Jones said.
That doesn’t mean she always pictured running a local cafe. Sure, her parents live in Mt. Airy, and her first job was at the now-closed Megan’s Bakery. But for the first half of her career — after graduating with a degree in professional baking from the Baltimore International Culinary College — Jones specialized in luxury pastries. First, at a casino in Atlantic City and then as one of two bakers at the former Joy America Cafe, a Peter Zimmer-helmed restaurant above the American Visionary Art Museum.
“That was 20 years ago, when we were doing really high-end, $15, $20 plated desserts,” Jones said. “Things like a Thai mango pudding with macadamia nuts and pineapple or this really amazing chocolate mousse topped with spiralized deep-fried sweet potatoes. It was really a dream job. One of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
After Zimmer left the restaurant, Jones moved to Boston, met her husband, and took more than a decade off from the industry to support his military career and raise their two sons. But when the family moved back to the area, Jones found another baking job at The Buzz, then run by a local named Minda Metz. When Metz wanted to sell, Jones decided to take the plunge into small business ownership.
“On our first date, I told my husband that I wanted to run a bakery some day,” Jones said. “So, he told me, ‘You have to do this. If you don’t, you’ll regret it.’”
At 11 years old, The Buzz is so ingrained in the local community that I’m almost embarrassed to review it. Really, the restaurant isn’t for me. It’s for the parents taking their two sons out to lunch after swim practice, or the aunt buying a cookie for her glossy-haired niece. Still, there’s a lot to recommend. And unless you’re ordering a custom cake (like the almond tier with raspberry preserves and homemade buttercream Jones still remembers from one particular wedding), I’d recommend bypassing the bakery case completely and sitting down for breakfast.
The plates don’t always come out picture-perfect. But even when the aesthetic leans more toward neighborhood diner than $20 desserts, the taste delivers. I figured that one out after I grabbed several bites of a friend’s challah French toast, topped with burnt Chex cereal that initially made me raise my eyebrows a little. Disregarding the cereal (which the dish really didn’t need), the sweet breakfast tasted subtly of cinnamon and maintained a nice, custardy consistency. It helped that it came with fresh whipped cream and real maple syrup — important details when you’re talking about a local diner.
Even better was the ultra-rich breakfast grilled cheese, topped with a creamy Mornay sauce and bursting with flavor from the four different cheeses filling the sandwich. The meal was a mess — especially given the sauce and an even runnier poached egg — but in the best possible way, accented by crisp bacon and nicely grilled sourdough bread.
If there’s one constant on the menu, it’s a strata, which arrives at the table as a thick, golden-brown slice. The most recent iteration offered uniform layers of thinly sliced potatoes and soft curds of cooked egg, blended with meaty ham that migrated toward the edges of the slice. I would have loved a crispier top, but the dish, as a whole, was comforting and satisfying.
The same could be said for most of the sandwiches, especially a messy sloppy joe stuffed with ground turkey. I could see the finely diced celery, red pepper, and onion in the flavorful sauce, which lent a nice crunch to the elementary school favorite. There was also some tang from a slice of soft cheddar cheese. Sure, it was nothing fancy, but it was approachable and fulfilling — everything you’d expect from a neighborhood cafe.
Our current food critic, Kate Masters, has been writing food reviews for The Frederick News-Post for the past two years. She has taken culinary classes at the Hospitality, Culinary, and Tourism Institute at Frederick Community College. Her culinary experience spans more than a dozen countries and 13 years of home cooking experience.
Follow Kate Masters on Twitter @kamamasters. A complete list of the food review guidelines can be found on 72 Hours online.