Generally speaking, I love a good food crawl. In additional to the almost annual Nacho Crawl I put on with my friend Laura, I enjoy planning crawls around NYC for my local friends and out of town guests. So when I saw Grubstreet’s roundup of all the new and notable bakeries in NYC, I knew a casual summer pastry crawl was in order. I shared the idea with my pastry loving friend, James, who is often the recipient of links to every tasty looking NYC baked good I see on Instagram.
We set a date months in advance devised quite an ambitious Google Maps route. Katie rounded out our trio and agreed on a goal of sharing one notable pastry at each stop. Why not more? You gotta pace yourself – using that food crawl wisdom I’ve built over years. Marathon not a sprint, guys. Ok, let the tasting begin!
The first stop was Fabrique, an international bakery chain started in Sweden and at 348 W 14th St, New York, NY since May 2019. They are known for their sourdough and cardamom buns. We of course went for the cardamom bun or kardemummabullar, which none of us had tried before. At 8:30 am, the shop was quiet but there was a pretty steady stream of people coming in and out. We met a guy, luggage in tow, who just arrived from out of town and always made a cardamom bun his first destination in NYC.
When you walk in the door and smell the sweet and pungent cardamom and see the bakers laminating dough in the back it’s clear that they aren’t playing around. It’s a modestly sized and quaintly decorated space to sit and enjoy your food without feeling awkward. (Sidenote, I rarely sit an eat in places with only a few chairs and a serving counter. It’s just too intimate.)
We got some nice bun shots before kinda destroying it to split it three ways. It was way more buttery than I imagined; a pleasant surprise. A bit flakey, but toothsome, with a deep flavor that I’ve guessing come slow fermented dough or starter. It was “not too sweet” and the cardamom was clearly present but not overwhelming. I loved the crispy buttery edges that reminded me of my favorite party of cinnamon twist pastries I used to get at the mall as a kid (not Cinabon, though who didn’t love those in the 90s!?). I’d definitely come back to try their sourdough and scoop another cardamom bun!
Next, we headed to one of my favorite spots, Mah-Ze-Dahr bakery in the West Village (28 Greenwich Ave). This is a place I love taking friends who are in town and I usually find a way to swing by whenever I’m in the neighborhood. It’s a sophisticated and chic spot serving distinct pastries and ice cream. Since I’d tried almost all of their staple items, I let Katie and James pick our purchase. We got a blueberry scone with lemon glaze. Isn’t it a beauty? Usually when I come here alone, I’ll get a “now” and “later” pastry. The “later” pastry is typically eaten within 1.5 hour of the “now” sweet, but I like to get it to go and pretend to myself (and the cashier?!) that I will practice moderation.
As we were chillin at the pleasantly not too intimate bar connecting the main room from a larger back room, we encountered a very cute dog that we soon learned is Toro and belongs to the very impressive chef-owner, Umber Ahmad. I’d seen Umber in the shop before and read about her famous cheesecake and collaboration with Tom Collichio even before her shop opened. With my past Umber sightings, I’ve whisper to my friends “that’s the owner” and stared stealthy in awe, trying to play it NYC cool. Well, not today! After connecting, thanks to Katie BFFing Toro, I got up the nerve to introduce myself (long time fan, first time caller).
The rest was a pastry fangirl fantasy. We told Umber about our crawl and she was curious and asked to review our list. Not only did she offer some great additions, but she shared the must eat bites for a few spots. Noted!
To top it off, Umber insisted we try a second pastry at her shop and guided us towards a donut because there would not be many others on our crawl trek. What did I tell you. Dead. How thoughtful!?! We picked the s’mores donut and got it “to go” and as expected, it was devoured within an hour. The marshmallow cream and tender dough melded together beautifully. We loved the bittersweet chocolate glaze which was just enough and balanced. As I expected, it was both sophisticated and decadent. Sadly, there is no photo as we forgot to take one in our excitement (#regrets). I’m not too worried. We’ll be back.
The third stop was Milk Bar helmed by Christina Tosi. I’ve been many times thanks to their multiple locations throughout NYC and late hours, but James and Katie hadn’t. Milk Bar has become such a quintessential NYC staple since opening in 2008 so it couldn’t be missed. I’ve tried most of the regular menu and the blueberries and cream cookie remains one of my favorites – chewy, buttery and pleasantly tart from the dried blueberries.
On our visit, we chatted with one of the team members who went to pastry school and used to work in their Brooklyn commissary where they serve alcoholic shakes. Yep, we also that learned commissary kitchen is where food is prepared for multiple stores #knowledge. This makes sense as some of their spots, like Soho are literally holes in the wall. We came at sample time so we tried some different cookies (I’d forgotten how good cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip is) and purchased one for the road.
Manousheh (193 Bleeker St), a Beirut-inspired spot serving different versions of man’oushe, beloved Lebanese flatbreads was the 4th stop. I’d heard about this place soon after it opened in 2015 and was excited to try it. I’d always loved the zaatar and olive-oil coated pita’s my friend, Stephen would make as a stand-in for the Man’oushe he’d grown up eating in Lebanon and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the real deal.
When I finally made it there, I was not disappointed. It’s hard not to like made-to-order hearth baked bread; in this case, topped and rolled with tangy, savory, cheesy and fresh things. In Lebanon, this is typically a breakfast food, so it fit perfectly as a savory breather in our morning crawl.
We ordered the “Cocktail” which is half zaatar and half Akkawi cheese. Zataar is a spice blend of thyme, sumac and sesame seed. My first encounter was homemade zaatar that Stephen’s mom in Lebanon made for him. I was hooked. Why he shared this precious seasoning with us I’ll have no idea, but I’m forever grateful. While there’s no match for his mom’s homemade zaatar, I’ve found tasty versions that still hit the tart (shout out to sumac), herbal and nutty notes that make it so addictive.
We took our precious man’oushe baby around the corner to the park. The comparison to a quesadilla is hard to avoid, but the tender texture of the bread and tang from the zaatar sets it apart. I must say it was a little less toasty than I like and have had before, but it was still delicious. I was raised to like most carbs “golden brown” and fear soft things, so perhaps a personal preference. Regardless, I would definitely recommend Manousheh to any gluten-eating person who likes delicious things.
DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY
Up next was original NYC Dominique Ansel Bakery (189 Spring St), a place I’ve long wanted to visit. I was in NYC during the cronut craze, and though it has since calmed, there are still lines most of the time I walk by. As a 10 year NY veteran, I generally have a no-line policy but the Pastry Crawl was the right time for an exception. As far as line-waiting goes, we had a good run.The weather was pleasant, they gave out samples and it moved relatively quickly. It was actually a good breather and time to bounce back after our 3 earlier stops.
We’d been tipped that their must try pastry was not the cronut, but the Kouign Amann. We passed many beautiful, whimsical novelties; pastries that look like NYC foods but remained focused. That was until we neared the counter to order and I saw a cronut on someone’s plate. If we already waited, we might as well try it, right? We got the salted caramel pretzel cronut and DKA as it’s known and made our way to the surprisingly large, quite charming garden in the back of restaurant. Who knew?!
We soon learned that the cronut was clearly not designed to be cut with a plastic knife. I definitely felt like a jerk trying to separate the flakey cream filled layers with minimal contact with my fingers. My verdict: a little crispy, chewing, creamy – definitely tasty, but I’m glad I did not wait several hours for this. The caramel icing was a bit over the top, but again I like my sweets a little less sweet.
Now on to the Kouign Amann… I’ve had several versions of this pastry which is essentially croissant dough coated with sugar that caramelizes around it while baked to form a crunchy golden exterior with a flaky, buttery (obvs) interior. Basically, what my pastry dreams are made of. I can say as fervent, amateur pastry eater, the DK version epitomizes this dessert. For some reason, they serve it upside down. We flipped it over to get a good look at the layers (sounds creepy?). If you like croissants or butter and sugar generally, do yourself a favor and get one or a few of these.
Our 6th and final stop due time and not appetite limitations was Chanson Patisserie (20 West 23rd St). They are also known for their Kouign Amann (which are on my hit list) but also eclairs and beautiful, jewel-like pastry creations in general. The presentation of each pastry really showcases the artistry (see my lil video).
Here, we got a few things to take on the road as we were sadly parting ways. I got the Lemon cake, strawberry shortcake and chocolate eclair. My favorite was the strawberry shortcake that was almost too pretty to eat and contained a delicate strawberry mousse under a strawberry glaze on a vanilla cookie crust. Chanson has a seated dessert bar with a tasting menu where desserts are paired with cocktails that I’d like to comeback and try.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Well that brings us to the end of what we renamed Pastry Crawl Part I. Our original list was quite ambitious so there are at least 5 more places we’d like to hit up on the next one. Do you have any NYC pastry spots we should add to Part II? Leave a message and let me know!
Pastry Crawl I List (Mainly NYC west side)
Check out these spots for yourself! All are within walking distance from one anther except for Chanson. I’ve added some pastry recommendations for each stop that include I’ve enjoyed on other trips or want to try.
- Fabrique – Cardamom Buns, Cinnamon Rolls, Sourdough
- Mah Ze Dahr – Donuts, Cheesecake, all things
- Milk Bar – Blueberries & Cream Cookies, Crack Pie, Ice Cream
- Manousheh – Zataar, Cocktail, all things
- Dominique Ansel Bakery – Kouign Amann, Cronut, Madeleines
- Chanson Patisserie – Eclairs, lil Cakes, Kouign Amann (Take the F train)