A cozy new brunch spot has cropped up on Monmouth Street in Newport, nestled behind the bright windows of a garage-door-style front: The Baker’s Table has been serving local, seasonal cuisine to the masses since December 2018.
“I wanted to make everything from scratch — and make the bread to serve it on,” says chef and co-owner David Willocks. “The bread is the canvas our food appears on. This is what makes food unique and personal and inspiring.”
As such, the menu reads like a love song to biscuits and brioche and sourdough sandwiches. Options run the gamut from breakfast pastries, like cinnamon buns and cornmeal-cherry scones, to biscuits and gravy with Eckerlin pork sausage and a veggie sandwich with roasted beets, feta and hummus on a house focaccia.
Willocks runs the Baker’s Table with his wife, Wendy Braun, a designer who created the look of the restaurant. “Everything down to the soft chairs is meant to make people feel cozy and welcomed,” she says.
She designed the space to be like an open-floor-plan home, with designated areas that come together as a whole.
“One of the things I like about these older buildings in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati are the historic spaces with high ceilings, natural light and big windows,” she says. “We realized that we are tapping into the tradition and craftsmanship of food on one hand, and we wanted to get to the heart of artistry and craftsmanship with the décor.”
There’s a bar at the entrance with a hardwood mantelpiece behind it; nearby, a bright yellow velvet couch and vintage chairs serve as a café-like spot or a waiting area during a busy brunch rush. The main seating area extends almost back to the kitchen, but right in the back is the namesake of the eatery: a 25-year-old table that seats 16 and still bears the scars and marks of its life in the kitchen of Jean Paul’s Paradiso bakery in Anderson Township.
Before moving to Cincinnati, Willocks worked in restaurant kitchens in New York and then relocated to California to learn more about the origin of his food. He lived on a farm for a year before becoming the head chef at a meditation center where he cooked vegetarian cuisine.
“I focused on ‘California cuisine,’ which is inspired by French and Italian cuisine through the lens of local, seasonal food,” he says. “The fruits and vegetables were the point.”
He also cooked throughout the Bay Area before coming to Cincinnati, where he worked at various restaurants and bakeries before opening the Baker’s Table with Braun.
Just like in California, Willocks found his inspiration for the Baker’s Table and its menu by figuring out where he could get the best quality local ingredients.
“I wanted to understand the rhythm of farming in this new place; I needed to understand seasons here,” he says.
He was energized by a visit to Dark Wood Farms in Petersburg, Kentucky, which he went to after trying their produce at Findlay Market.
“Annie (of Dark Wood) invited me out,” he says. “The produce was beautiful, so I went to the farm, we’d pick food and then make food and eat lunch. That was one of the reasons for the restaurant: I wanted to capture that excitement where you walk around, see what’s growing, and that is what inspires you to cook. That was a motivation of this whole thing.”
The result is a menu that prizes simple, highest-quality farm-to-table cuisine that changes with each new season’s bounty. When Willocks gets great ingredients, they form the core of the day’s special or a new seasonal menu.
“I bought a case of Brussels sprouts, and I looked at them and said, ‘Well, what do you want to become?’ ” he says. “I want to represent the ingredients to the customers in ways they get excited about.”
The restaurant launched in winter, but the entire staff cannot wait for spring — fruit season, in particular, has them excited for strawberry and rhubarb to make new seasonal variants of their core menu.
When it comes to staff culture, Willocks wanted to avoid any of the stereotypes of unhealthy or imbalanced habits the restaurant industry invokes, instead focusing on the ideals that should govern a great workplace.
“We want to stand for growth, family and respect; we talk about these things when we hire people,” he says. “The big picture here is about creating an ideal of what a balanced, sustainable diet looks like; farm-to-table is how most people have eaten for thousands of years, and we want it to be incredibly approachable.”
Braun emphasizes how much the restaurant has been a family affair. Beyond her design and marketing work and Willocks’ cooking, the restaurant has been a labor of love for their families, including their parents. Even their baby daughter spends time in the restaurant nearly every day. Braun affirms how much they’ve learned in the process.
“I think we’ve learned to say ‘yes’ to each other more,” she says. “We have learned where we can support each other’s ideas to grow them into great ideas that work really well. We’re both passionate and animated people, and we are really excited that we are making something we’re proud of.”
The Baker’s Table is located at 1004 Monmouth St., Newport. More info or reservations at bakerstablenewport.com.