March 2019

The Family Bakery: Take a seat at The French Bakery, be welcomed as family

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography


A delightful selection of sweet treats and pastries at the French Bakery in Shelter Cove Towne Centre.

If you’re going to catch Marek Belka, owner and proprietor of The French Bakery, you have to be quick. “If somebody wants to see me, I tell them to come to my office, because I cannot stop,” he said. In his case, the office is the bakery in the back of the restaurant, where he creates the authentically delicious signature breads found across the restaurant’s menu. “The baking process is running constantly. If I’m making bread, I’m making bread.”

His constantly on-the-go work ethic has driven The French Bakery’s meteoric rise from a long-standing eatery tucked away in Pineland Station to one of the island’s most gorgeous waterfront restaurants in Shelter Cove Towne Centre. It’s hard work, and Belka knows exactly who this hard work is for. “I built this place for locals. This is my customer base,” he said. “I know them by name, and they know me.”

That kinship with his customers runs deep and extends across his entire staff. “My customers know their servers, they know the chefs, and our servers know our customers,” he said. “It’s a good relationship. It’s like a family.”

That deep rapport with his customer base is so strong, in fact, that it’s probably best told in their words. Upon hearing that CH2 magazine was planning on this story, French Bakery regular Corinne Rowe jumped at the chance to share her thoughts. In a letter (which has been abridged here), she wrote:


Nouveau Eggs Benedict: Two poached eggs with crispy Applewood smoked bacon, spinach, asparagus and homemade hollandaise sauce served on top of a fresh baked croissant

“I am an unabashed fan of The French Bakery and proud of it! I’m lucky enough to live on Hilton Head Island, and that means I can drive over to the conveniently located French Bakery as often as I want to. My friends feel the same way and we go often—more often, in fact, than we did in the former location. We go for the delicious cooked-from-scratch breakfast, lunch or Sunday brunch offerings, but we also make the short trip to pick up some heavenly baked goods, which rival those of Paris, or to have a cup of the best coffee on the island.

“Let me tell you why we are so enthusiastic. There are menu items that appeal to those who love the traditional breakfast, lunch and brunch staples including all kinds of scrumptious egg, quiche, French toast and sandwich offerings, but there are also inventive dishes that appeal to the more adventurous. My friends and I love the quiche Lorraine, or the finely executed BLT, but who doesn’t want to try a twist on an old classic such as eggs Benedict with asparagus spears, bacon, homemade hollandaise sauce on a freshly baked croissant or a tuna club sandwich featuring seared ahi tuna, bacon, provolone cheese, lettuce and tomato? And you get to choose your favorite signature bread!

“As difficult as it may be, we do make our choices and are always pleased, but that is half the story. Every time we step into The French Bakery, we are always made to feel welcome—almost part of the family—because as we have come to know, our French Bakery is a family affair. Marek Belka, the owner and chief baker, and his son the head chef and daughter-in-law have become friends, and the staff members feel like extended family. It’s a warm and friendly environment where we all linger over our food, coffee or wine and enjoy every minute. Locals are treasured and welcome, of course, but island visitors get the same warm welcome, superior service and terrific food.”


Barbecue Chicken Salad: Grilled chicken breast tossed in barbecue sauce, Roma tomatoes, potato chips and Feta crumbles on a bed of fresh Romaine served with spicy Ranchito dressing

Extended family. It’s a theme that tends to come up when talking to both the staff and customers at The French Bakery. Simply put, this is a place that loves its locals. “One thing we’re rolling out now is a special Sunday brunch as a way to say thank you to locals,” Belka said. With specials like duck confit and beets carpaccio, the Sunday brunch came about due to the large post-church crowds Belka noticed coming in every week. And when he talks about it, his eyes light up with the chance to find one more way to delight his customers and keep things fresh.

But then, keeping it fresh is sort of the idea at a restaurant renowned for its made-to-order dedication to its cuisine. “Everything is homemade, so you eat just like you’re at home,” Belka said. Speaking of keeping it fresh, there are more great things on the horizon for The French Bakery. We’ve been sworn to secrecy but rest assured, as much as locals have come to treasure this island institution, they haven’t seen anything yet.

The location may have changed, but since Belka opened his doors more than seven years ago, in this 20-year run of The French Bakery, the unique blended atmosphere of old and new, family and friends has remained unchanged. When you first enter The French Bakery, your gaze will wander across vibrant artwork by local artists such as Candace Lovely and to the tranquil waterfront view. From there, your senses will reach a new level, listening to the soulful sounds of Belka’s favorite music playlist in harmony with the murmured conversations and laughter, soon followed by yet another sense reveled in the mouth-watering artistry of every unique dish prepared with equal parts skill and love.

It’s blissfully serene, even if it contrasts starkly with the never-ending energy of the man behind the scenes. So, when does Marek Belka unwind? “When I’m on my sailboat,” he said. “If you want to see me relaxing, that’s the place.”

Until then, the dough is always rising, and the food is always fresh at The French Bakery.

The French Bakery is located at 28 Shelter Cove Lane, #120 at Shelter Cove Towne Centre. For more information, visit www.frenchbakeryhiltonhead.com or call (843) 342-5420.

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