The food: bakery café fare
In advance of the short trips I take to New York, I carefully plan every meal. I have to, in order to mix tried and true favorites, like the lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar, with new dishes and restaurants I want to try.
Falling into the new category on my last trip down, in April, was the Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant on the Lower East Side.
E and I arrived at around 11:30 am on a Thursday and were surprised to find a lineup of mainly hipsters waiting for tables inside the tiny shop counter area, with more hipsters milling about outside on the sidewalk. A welcoming host took our name and assured us the wait shouldn’t be too long, since people who left their names often bailed. Sure enough, we were seated within 10 minutes, after the same host called out six or seven names ahead of ours and got no reply.
We squeezed into a small table for two, and quickly ordered: for me the wild Maine blueberry pancakes with maple butter (voted best pancakes by New York magazine in 2005), and for E, the buttermilk biscuit sandwich, made of scrambled eggs, melted cheddar, and homemade tomato jam, and served with hash browns. Because we’re bad that way, we also ordered the onion rings that looked so delicious on a neighbouring table.
I found the pancakes and maple butter to be delicious indeed, and so did E, when I gave him a bite. E was less pleased with his biscuit sandwich – the biscuit was too bready and heavy for his taste. We both liked the onion rings, which had a delightful hand-crafted, flaky quality to the batter, but we couldn’t finish them. On the way out, mindful we’d be eating another big meal for dinner that night, we declined to buy any baked goods but decided we would definitely return sometime. For the pancakes.
Back home in Toronto in June, we tried School Bakery & Café , a buzzed-about new joint in Liberty Village, a former factory and industrial neighbourhood that’s being gentrified with new condos and design shops.
We arrived at School at 11:45 am, on a Friday, and found the largish restaurant – it has two good-sized interior rooms, and two good-sized patios as well – fairly empty. It was almost full when we left an hour later, though, of some hipsters, some office workers on a lunch break, and at least one family with kids.
E obligingly ordered the Chipotle Cheddar Biscuit Sandwich, made with a fried egg, pepper Jack cheese and back bacon, and pronounced it better and less overwhelmingly biscuity than the Clinton Street version. For comparison purposes, I should have ordered blueberry pancakes, but I was in the mood for fries (as always), so I had the SBC Fried Chicken with pepper biscuits and gravy, and we ordered a large fries to share.
The chicken was crunchy and juicy, and, like the neighourhood, had an artisanal rather than industrial look and texture, with a refined, peppery sauce. The fries, though skinnier than I usually like, rated pretty high on my fry index – they were fresh, soft and hot, and the rosemary and Parmesan cheese they’d been tossed with added flavour.
On the way out of School, we picked up some baked goods: a sour lemon scone, a blueberry almond orange muffin, and some 25¢ each chocolate chunk cookies.
The scone had a nice lemon bite but was a little heavy-textured for me (E liked it, though), the muffin was pleasant but unexceptional, and the cookies were excellent and addictive. For them, I’d definitely go back to School. And buy multiple packs. Maybe I’ll try the pancakes then too.