Meet the Sunshine State’s signature slice.
If you order “Beach Bread” at any restaurant outside the state of Florida, your request will probably be met with a puzzled look from your waiter. To outsiders, Beach Bread could be anything from the sandwich slices packed in your cooler to a fresh loaf baked by a local seaside bakery. But for Sunshine State natives, Beach Bread isn’t just any carbohydrate you eat near the ocean — it’s a Florida staple that’s developed a cult following.
While Beach Bread’s exact origin is up for debate, its birthplace is someplace in the greater Fort Myers area. Dave Chetwin, the chef-owner of The PierSide Grill in Fort Meyers Beach says the appetizer first popped upon his radar at The Gulfshore restaurant over twenty-five years ago. “It was a cheesy garlic bread, lots of time used with day old hoagies,” he recalls. “That’s how it originated. It was a simple thing back then.”
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Even though Beach Bread is loosely defined as cheesy garlic bread, the thing that sets it apart from typical Italian fare is what’s added on top of it. Chetwin, after sampling numerous recipes around town, put his own spin on the staple by upgrading the bread to sourdough. Next, he combines together a trio of cheeses — blue, mozzarella, and cheddar— before finishing it off with onions, green olives, and diced tomatoes. “That way when it’s baked, it will be super colorful,” he explains. “Then it’s served with marinara for dipping.” However, some chefs, like Pete Walker, the owner of Sneaky Pete’s in Bonita Springs, cook up a simpler combination with mozzarella, provolone and fresh tomatoes. While other restaurants like Smokin’ Oyster Brewery have a version dubbed “Island Bread” that’s loaded with blue cheese, scallions, tomatoes and mozzarella.
“Florida has wonderful coastline and has so many beaches and beach towns, all with bars and restaurants,” says Walker of why he thinks Beach Bread is such a local staple. The unique menu item catches the attention of many visitors to Florida’s West coast as well — with many tourists spending their trip trying different recipes. The reason for its popularity among native Floridians and travelers alike? In the words of Chetwin, it’s just “so darn good.”