Passion Bakery: Sweet And Savory

For 15 years Michael Sterioff flew to Italy and sold automotive gauges to high-volume manufacturers. It was during these trips that a romance with Italian bread rose like soft balls of dough, and left him smoldering long after he returned to his home in Michigan.

“When I ate focaccia at a friend’s house it was the most amazing flavor of my life,” Sterioff recalls of a long-ago dinner in Italy. “I never enjoyed bread until that night, and by the end of the evening he gave me the recipe.”

By the time Sterioff mastered that recipe, he taught himself how to make sourdough. An artesian bakery opened near his office, and he worked there, for free, on the weekends. After eight months, he developed a signature line of breads, but had nowhere to sell them.

Three years ago, he and his wife Magda were living on Kaua’i, and he ate a cookie that changed his life. A friend had made the cookie and Sterioff was convinced that it could sell. After tweaking the recipe, he began baking out of the Chevron gas station in Princeville. Soon, a growing business and limited space drove him to open Passion Bakery in April 2010.

One bite of the cookie and I get it. It’s soft, buttery and loaded with macadamia nuts and chocolate chips. That cookie inspired a line that includes a rich oatmeal, macadamia nut and cranberry; a decadent peanut butter cookie with chunks of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and an indulgent cookie loaded with peaberry coffee beans from Kaua’i Coffee Company.

“The cookie got us started,” he says, “but my heart and soul is in the bread.”

Every Wednesday and Saturday, Sterioff gets to his bakery by 4 a.m. and bakes bread. Carefully selected water is this baker’s secret to chewy loaves, and organic flour adds flavor. Today, crusty whole wheat ($5.99), rosemary focaccia ($5.99), and chewy sourdough ($5.99) stack a wooden shelf.

Store-bought sourdough leaves me in a pucker, and I’m surprised by the subtle tang in Sterioff’s. “It’s nothing like San Francisco sourdough,” he explains.

“In fact, some people may not think it’s sour.”

Steamed taro is handgrated and folded into buttery brioche dough. One thousand taro buns are sold each week at the bakery, and are on the menu at Kalapaki Beach Hut, Oasis on the Beach, Marriott, Grand Hyatt, Chevron station in Princeville and The Feral Pig.

Sterioff glazes The Feral Pig’s kiawe-smoked pork with guava jelly and folds a taro bun around it for baked manapua (two for $5). The bread is soft and springy, the pork smoky-sweet.

Glass counters hold cheesecake-filled muffins made with local passion fruit, key limes and mangos.

Apple bananas are used in the walnut-banana bread, and gluten-free cinnamonpecan or coconut cream coffeecake offer alternative choices. Vegan cookies made with almond meal, roasted hazelnuts, rosemary and Alaea sea salt are a delicious combination of sweet and salty.

Passion Bakery makes an aromatic chai tea, and that’s probably because it’s made from scratch. Sterioff grinds his own spices and dries organic, local ginger before adding it to his peppery brew. He asks, “How sweet do you like it?”

“Medium,” I say, and it’s an ambrosial balance of spicy-sweet.

Customers can use the free Wi-Fi while sipping on freshly made Lavazza espresso. “I tried to find a locally roasted coffee that could be used in my Italian espresso machine,” he says, “but it was always too bitter.”

Hot breakfast “eggwiches” are thick frittatas made with meat and cheese sandwiched between slices of freshly baked croissants, taro brioche buns, sourdough or whole wheat bread. My favorite is chorizo and potato on a flaky croissant.

When I’m in a hurry for a high-quality grab-andgo lunch, I can choose turkey, ham, salami or roast beef layered onto my choice of bread. Extra cheese ($2) with tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise and mustard make the sandwich juicy.

If you’re hip, you know you can preorder taro buns ($1.20 each or six for $6.60), raw and shaped cookie dough, or baked manapua to take home. Just pick them up at the bakery,which is tucked along the backside of Kinipopo Shopping Village.

Passion Bakery
Kinipopo Shopping Village, Kapa’a

Open: Monday, 6 to 10 a.m.

Tuesday-Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sunday, 5-8 p.m.