The search for where to open their new restaurant took Pat and Tim Foley almost five years and they even went as afield as South Bend. But the perfect spot was a lot closer as Pat discovered driving along the St. Joseph River in downtown Benton Harbor.
“I looked and saw this place and it was just right,” says Foley who with her husband owns Bit of Swiss Bakery in Stevensville. “I showed it to Tim and we fell in love with the building and the land.”
Formerly Jerry Albert’s Insurance Agency, with its sleek Mid-Century Modern style look of straight lines, brick exterior and windows made of large sheets of glass as well as an expansive interior space, the structure was perfect for what the Foleys planned to create – a small restaurant featuring Midwest American rustic food paired with classical French techniques using ingredients locally sourced farmers, bakers, food producers, vintners, brewers and spice merchants.
Though both Foleys have extensive culinary experiences – Pat is from Riverside, Michigan and Tim from Duluth, Minnesota, they met at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and then worked at well regarded Chicago restaurants, Tim at Ambria, an upscale French restaurant and Pat at Jackie’s Restaurant, where she worked both as a pastry chef and chef, they split some of the duties for their restaurant, bread + bar by Bit of Swiss. Tim focused on the kitchen and menu, with Pat’s advice of course, while she worked on the architectural design and décor.
Tim Foley has always favored French cuisine, studying bread baking in France and being just the second person in the U.S. to have a traditional French bread oven installed at Bit of Swiss. In a few weeks he will travel to Charleston, South Carolina to be inducted into the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, an organization whose motto is “to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development.” 80% of the group’s members are French and Foley will be the only one from Michigan.
Pulling menu ideas from a variety of sources, Foley conceived the idea for their smoked whitefish salad when back home visiting his mother. Visiting a friend at a curling club (it is Duluth, remember), he met a chef who told him about the whitefish salad he made.
“I went and tried it,” says Foley. “It was good but I thought it could be better.”
And so he did, smoking his own whitefish on property, adding Minnesota wild rice, cranberries, and toasted almonds to a mix of spring lettuces and accompanying it with a house made maple syrup vinaigrette.
Because of her background as a pastry chef, Pat developed the desserts such as Pink Lemonade Cake, Butterscotch Brulèe, Michigan Strawberry Shortcake and Coconut Cheesecake.
Determined to create an intimate environment perfect for conversations like the restaurants in Spain, France and Italy and keeping prices reasonable, no entrée costs over $21. Wine prices range from $20 something on up and include unusual vintages not likely to be found anywhere else in the area, cheeses are sourced from Old Europe Cheese in Benton Harbor and salad dressings, stocks and marinades are made from scratch on site.
An outside eating area overlooks the river and is covered by a louvered cedar pergola and one of the large glass windows overlooks the kitchen from the outside letting people see the chefs at work.
There are a lot of up to the minute touches as well including a heating unit under the marble countertop to keep carry out orders warm, a large pass through area from kitchen to the restaurant so waitstaff don’t get crowded out when trying to retrieve orders and the Glycol Tap System with an ice tower for cold, cold beers. There’s even an exhibition window providing a view of the kitchen from the parking lot. And there is also the great view of the water.
“It’s great a sunset,” says Tim, “when you can watch the sun change colors as it sets on the river.”
The following recipes are courtesy of bread + bar by Bit of Swiss
French Onion Soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 sweet onions
¼ cup good quality dry sherry
2 quarts homemade dark chicken stock, recipe follows
3 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
4 slices Bit of Swiss sour dough toasted and trimmed to fit soup bowl
12 slices Gruyere cheese
Melt butter in pot, add onions, and cook over medium heat until well caramelized, 35-45 minute. It’s important that onions by golden brown. Deglazed pan by adding sherry, scrape bottom of pan.
Reduce until liquid is almost gone. Add chicken stock, bay and thyme. Cook 45 minutes.
Reduce soup slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Remove bay leave and thyme.
Place onion soup crocks on sheet pan, fill each bowl two thirds full. Add bread. Top with 3 slices of cheese.
Broil until very bubbly and brown.
About 1 cup hot water
Place chicken bones and vegetables on a pan and bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes at 400° F. Flip bones and vegetables occasionally during cooking process. Remove and place in a large stockpot.
Place roasting pan over two burners, add about a cup of hot water and scrape browned bits from the bottom of pan.
Pour into the stockpot, adding enough water to cover bones by 2 to 3 inches.
Cover and heat stock to a low simmer), then reduce heat and almost simmer for at least 3 hours, 6-8 is better; do not stir as this will combine the fat with the stock and cause it to become cloudy.
Remove bones and vegetables from the stock, then strain stock through cheesecloth or strainer to remove all remaining solids. Let cool to room temperature.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Roast Beef Sandwich
Makes 1 sandwich
1 Bit of Swiss pretzel rolls, available Saturdays
5 ounces highest quality roast beef
1 ounce sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 ounce horseradish mayonnaise, recipe below
1 ounce matchstick potatoes
½ cup arugula
Layer roast beef on roll, top with caramelized onions. Spread horseradish mayonnaise over beef. Top with matchsticks and arugula.
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon grated horseradish
1 teaspoon garlic
In food processor puree first 5 ingredients, add oils slowly, if you go too fast they will not emulsify. Add garlic and horseradish to taste.
Chill until ready to use.