Just off the beaten path from Bluffton’s Promenade and Calhoun Street, Twisted European Bakery is a kitchen with a mission: to bring back the Old World-style bakery.
I grew up in the bakery world,” Stephanie Pisano said. “All my family has bakeries in Philadelphia and throughout southern New Jersey. My grandfather actually had one of the biggest bakeries in Philadelphia for almost 50 years.”
Her partner, Chris Veneris, also grew up in the bakery world. He worked at Stephanie’s family bakery when he was a teenager. When Chris’ family moved back to Greece, they opened two bakeries, a supermarket and a hotel.
Many years later, Chris returned to America and accepted a job working for The Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” All the while, he wondered what had happened to the bakery in Philadelphia where he once worked. After 45 years, he went back to South Philly and found the bakery—closed.
“As he’s standing there wondering—just by a twist of fate—my friend Susan pulls up with her car and the first person he sees is her,” Stephanie said. “He says, ‘Miss, you know this used to be a bakery. I used to work here. Can you tell me what happened?’”
Stephanie’s grandfather had died, and the bakery closed when no one took it over. Stephanie had opened a successful salon in Philadelphia, was a certified life coach and catered on the side. And when she went home in the evenings, she baked trays of cookies.
After Susan sent Chris to Stephanie’s salon, she texted Stephanie about meeting “some guy with an accent” who used to work for her grandfather, and that she had sent him to the salon. The salon was closed that day, but Chris found Stephanie’s number on a sign in the window of the apartments for rent in the building.
“I get this phone call,” Stephanie said. “He says, ‘Hello, my name is Chris Veneris. I used to work for your grandfather. I wanted to talk to you.’ It’s so funny, because even after all those years, I remembered his accent.”
She invited him to her house to catch up on the last 45 years, expecting the funny-talking surfer kid she remembered working by the oven in her grandfather’s bakery. When she opened the door, Stephanie was stunned and speechless to see Chris as a grown adult.
Once they laughed through the initial awkwardness, they were able to catch up on their lives and families. Both had been married, divorced and had kids, and both were looking for the next adventure. By the time they became a couple, Chris asked if she would want to open a bakery with him.
“I was bored,” Stephanie confessed. “The salon was successful, but I learned everything there was to know about the salon industry because I did it my whole life. But I did the catering on the side, so when he asked if I wanted to do a bakery, it’s not like it had totally left me.”
Their search for a warmer climate and a place in need of a bakery brought them to Bluffton in 2016. Chris designed the layout of Twisted European Bakery while Stephanie took care of the interior decorating. They built a menu of freshly made, Old World-style baked goods from Italy, Greece, Germany and France.
In addition to a sweet cookie, pie and pastry menu, Twisted European Bakery offers savory spanakopita, dolmades, stuffed brioche and Bavarian pretzels to go along with soups and stews, such as the Sausage Scallopini (recipe below). One year later and they’ve already won two awards: The Sun Today’s “Best of Bluffton Cakes & Pastries” and the Readers’ Choice Award for “Favorite Bakery.”
So, what about the bakery’s unique name? It’s a reference to the “twist of fate” that brought the couple together and has kept them together, in and out of the kitchen, for more than six years.
Here is a recipe for Sausage Scallopini from the kitchen of Stephanie Pisano, Twisted European Bakery.
This recipe is dear to my heart. My Sicilian grandmother, who taught me so much about cooking, made this dish often for us as kids. It’s a very hearty sausage stew that is great paired with some crusty bread or served in a bread bowl. If you’re looking for more than a typical Italian meal, pour it over pasta or rice. I always make more than needed so I can freeze some for later.
• 5 lbs. sweet or hot Italian sausage links or rope
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 5 cloves garlic (minced)
• 1 large sweet onion (chopped)
• 6-7 red and green bell peppers (chopped)
• 16 oz. fresh white mushrooms (sliced)
• 2 28 oz. cans crushed tomato
• 2 Tblsp. granulated sugar
• 1 Tblsp. salt
• ½ Tblsp. black pepper (optional)
• About 10 leaves fresh basil (chopped)
• 1 Tblsp. dried parsley
• Red pepper flakes to taste, up to 1 tsp. (optional)
• Boil sausage in a large pot until it’s cooked about halfway. Remove from the pot and cool. Slice into ¼-½ inch thick rounds.
• In a separate large soup pot, heat oil on medium low heat. Add garlic and onions. Sauté until transparent.
• Add the crushed tomatoes. Fill one can halfway with water and pour into the other can. Keep pouring back and forth until there’s no more tomato stuck to the inside of the cans. Pour the water into the pot.
• Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a low boil uncovered.
• Reduce heat and cover. Let simmer for 1.5 hours. Makes about 6-8 servings.
Twisted European Bakery is located at 1253 May River Road, Unit A and is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. For more information, call (843) 757-0033 or visit twistedeuropeanbakery.com.
By Amanda Surowitz