Restaurant News & Reviews

Utopia in San Luis Obispo is baked heaven on Earth

Utopia's expansive glass display case holds treats such as cheese Danish, cinnamon rolls, mini pies, blueberry turnovers, raisin bran muffins, and cranberry scones.
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Utopia's expansive glass display case holds treats such as cheese Danish, cinnamon rolls, mini pies, blueberry turnovers, raisin bran muffins, and cranberry scones. Read more » Tribune

If you’re a fan of Euro-style pastries, freshly baked breads and strikingly decorated cakes, you’ll be in paradise at Utopia Bakery Café.

A longtime fixture on lower Broad Street, Utopia was up for sale when its internet listing caught the eye of Scott and MJ Lenhoff. The couple had been “looking for a business to buy for a while,” said Scott Lenhoff, and the fact that it afforded them the opportunity to come to the Central Coast sealed the deal.

The Lenhoffs began their Utopia adventure on Jan. 1, and promptly set about reinvigorating the bakery/cafe concept. Though they made a couple significant adjustments to the menu, “we didn’t bulldoze it,” said Lenhoff, and he feels that one of the most important moves they made was “to give our employees a sense of freedom to bring in new ideas, to empower their creativity.”

One aspect of the cafe that’s perhaps benefiting the most from that approach is the specials board. Utopia offers breakfast and lunch specials, such as Potatoes O’Brien with a poached egg, lemon ricotta pancakes, a barbecue pulled pork sandwich, or a turkey club on sourdough.

“It gives us some nice variety in our menu,” said Lenhoff, adding that most of those specials, especially at lunch, feature fresh breads specifically paired with that dish by head baker and general manager Brad Spence.

Sandwiches on the regular menu run the gamut from the familiar — a burger, grilled ham and cheese, a Philly cheesesteak — to more unique creations such as a chicken saté sandwich or a Dutch Bear Claw with meatballs, grilled onions and spicy peanut sauce on a French roll. You can also order several classic deli sandwiches such as Black Forest ham, roast beef or turkey with your pick of cheese and bread, and opt for a lighter “European style” with a little less meat. Salad choices include Thai pasta, Chinese chicken or Chef’s Salad, and there’s always a fresh quiche and a soup of the day on hand as well.

Of course, as tasty as the all-day breakfast and lunch menus are, it’s also all those freshly baked pastries, breads and desserts that make Utopia a destination. The expansive glass display case holds a mouthwatering array of a few dozen treats: cheese Danish, cinnamon rolls, mini pies, blueberry turnovers, raisin bran muffins, cranberry scones, cupcakes and cookies (and that list doesn’t include the custom, special-occasion cakes available).

“All of the pastries are out by 6 o’clock, and everything is made fresh daily, nothing’s ever frozen,” said Spence. He and the rest of the baking team unveil the bread assortment throughout the day, timing it for customers that come by in the afternoon to get breads and such for dinner. The easily 20-plus varieties include baguettes, French batards, several sourdoughs, dark rye, Italian country, and all manner of dinner and sandwich rolls. Spence also continually creates new recipes, such as the recently introduced Asiago cheesebread.

For Utopia fans in the South County that can’t always get to San Luis Obispo, take heart. The Lenhoffs are opening a satellite location on Price Street in Pismo Beach, and it should open its doors in early July. All the baked items will still be made in the Broad Street kitchen, and some might even make the short trip via Utopia’s festive Mini Cooper with the “ ‘Heart’ R Carbs” license plate.

Customer input was part of the reason for the new location, and Lenhoff noted “we’re always listening to them, and we’d really like to help put the San Luis Obispo area on the map for bakeries.”

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