Sunday, February 25, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

Indulge your sweet tooth first thing in the morning.

Sometimes the smell of Dunkin’ Donuts’ jelly doughnuts wafting through the air is so beguiling, so inviting, that it’s all but impossible to pass a franchise without — literally or figuratively — inhaling a half dozen. But after a visit to the Lower East Side’s Doughnut Plant, you realize that indulging in anything but these perfectly puffy fried cakes borders on sacrilegious.

Even if you’ve never been to “the plant,” there’s a good chance you’ve seen these monstrous doughnuts around the city. The gooey, doughy, sometimes square treats are sold everywhere from Dean & Deluca markets to Bubby’s restaurant in Tribeca. Whether you’ve tasted them, or just feasted your eyes on them, you know they’re something special.

From the flour in the dough to the fruit and nuts in the glazes, Doughnut Plant uses all natural ingredients based on recipes from owner Mark Israel’s grandfather. The Tres Leches and Chocolate Blackout cake doughnuts are so moist, there are actual pools of creamy milk and chocolate baked into them. The yeast doughnuts are equally divine. Light and spongy, sweet and delicious, they come glazed or filled with jelly or cream, in flavors like blackberry, vanilla bean, and banana pecan. And in case you need excuses to return again and again, Doughnut Plant also cooks up new recipes for holidays and seasons throughout the year.

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand Street

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Haute, Haute, Haute!

The best thing about winter? Duh. Hot chocolate.

Baby, it’s cold outside. But thankfully, it's bustling and warm at The City Bakery. This Flatiron uber-bakery and café is filled with the beckoning scents of fresh baked goods. Unfortunately, it's also filled with New Yorkers looking for a fix of something good — "good," in this case meaning either good for you, or just yum-good.

The Bakery boasts an enormous salad bar tucked in the rear, and it's nothing to turn your nose up at. Parsnip chips, buckwheat noodles, scrambled tofu, and macaroni and cheese are made with greenmarket ingredients, vibrantly colored and decadently dressed. But what's more decadent are the baked goods up front — pretzel croissants, lemon tarts, peanut butter cookies — and a vat of hot chocolate that is so thick, a mini-waterwheel device keeps it stirring so it doesn't coagulate into a solid block of chocolate.

This is the crème de la crème of cocoa.

The chocolaty treat, served in a sturdy white crock and dusted with cocoa, is the most decadent cup in the city. Super thick and rich, it warrants a "wow" and a totally satisfied smile — maybe even a fit of giggles. If you want to be positively sure that it can’t get any better, order it topped with a sweet homemade marshmallow. Is enduring the hustle and bustle and long lines of The City Bakery worth their famed hot chocolate? In a word, yes.

The City Bakery
3 West 18th Street

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Raising the Bar

After a trip to chocolate bar, you’ll never look at a Snickers again.

Upon entering Alison Nelson’s chocolate bar, it takes the discipline of a monk to pass by the Kahlua-and-cream bonbons or decline a peppermint mocha. But ultimately chocolate bar is the destination for — you guessed it — chocolate bars. Happily, it doesn’t disappoint.

With flavors like milk sesame and white chocolate infused with lime, the big blocks of Brown Label chocolate ($6.25) are for true gourmands. Me, I went straight to the two lines that are more kid-in-a-candy-store-fun.

Retro Bars ($3) boast such nostalgic ingredients as raspberry jam and caramel apple, but are made with today’s high-quality cocoa. Of the six flavors, the Salty Pretzel is the most popular with its nearly perfect sweet-salty balance and delicately crunchy texture. But for my money, the scene-stealer is the Peanut Butter Caramel, which tastes like a Tagalong Girl Scout cookie — very nostalgic, indeed.

To counter the guilt of chomping into a 2.25-ounce chocolate bar, try an Artist Bar ($4). The ten flavors come in wrappers designed by cool pop artists, such as Gary Baseman and David Horvath, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Third Street Music School Settlement in the East Village. The Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts is enveloped in a portrait of a red Cyclops in mid-bite, and is all the invitation I need to tear in myself.

Chocolate Bar
48 8th Avenue

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hey, Cupcake

The cupcake brigade just keeps getting louder.

“Look at these cupcakes! They’re ridiculous!” This is exactly what you hear, standing in line at the new Crumbs on Eighth Street. What started in 2003 as an Upper West Side bake shop is now a sugar magnet for locals and tourists alike. At the newest café—the fourth in the city—NYU girls duke it out in front of the display case with parents toting baby strollers and pirouetting two-year-olds for a view of the candy-studded creations. It’s the sort of perverse glee that pretty, sugary pieces of cake inspire.

Carrot and raspberry swirl cupcakes are relatively modest in appearance, if slightly oversized beneath their dollops of buttercream frosting (“Mini” cupcakes, about the size you’d bake at home, are also available). But what Crumbs does really well is inventive and irresistible flavors. Reese’s Peanut Butter, Fluffernutter, S’Mores and Banana Split are just a few of the 25+ options, many of which are topped with chunks of candy and drizzled in chocolate.

The cake is moist; the frosting, sugary; and they’re next to impossible to eat with any dignity. But who’s thinking of dignity with a Devil Dog cupcake in hand? As another fan put it, “We’re coming here for breakfast tomorrow.”

37 East Eighth Street