My first choice for dessert week was obvious. I had the day off of work and headed straight to SoHo (South of Houston) to my favorite dessert spot, Balthazar Bakery. Balthazar Bakery (aka Balthazar Boulangerie) is a small shop adjacent to the full-fledged Balthazar restaurant. Both have separate entrances and are connected by a single door that is rarely used. While the main restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and almost always requires a reservation, the bakery next door is limited to coffee and baked goods to take away.
Stepping into the tiny boulangerie is like being in a crowded subway car at rush hour, but the similarities with the city outside end there. Balthazar’s turn of the century French atmosphere will calm even the most frantic New Yorker, and make any guest feel immediately at home. Freshly baked bread, brightly colored fruit tarts, rich cakes and a variety of muffins, scones and brioche line the walls and completely envelop you in pure sweetness. A handwritten sign announces the seasonal specials, but only experience will tell you all that this little bakery has to offer. Many of my favorites (including the oat scones) are displayed in the back without a sign, so be sure to look past the eye catching front counter to find the classic and often less expensive items. You can take your pastries and coffee back to the comfort of your own home (the coffee comes with a convenient sliding lid that keeps the cup closed as you walk) or on a warm day you can enjoy your selection on the benches outside.
What I bought: Oat Scone ($2.50). The oat scone gets my vote for one of the most perfect breakfast items ever created. Perfectly thick and crumbly without being overly sweet, it will leave you satisfied without feeling heavy. A local hint: Balthazar sells some of its pastries, including the scones, to coffee shops throughout Manhattan. I regularly buy the oat scone from Oren’s coffee shop in Grand Central Station for $1.75. Oren’s is more convenient and cheaper, but not quite the same atmosphere as the boulangerie.
Cost: Balthazar boulangerie is much less expensive than its restaurant counterpart (French toast at Balthazar costs $13). The high quality coffee and pastries are reasonably priced and well worth it.
Wait: There is always a line at Balthazar. The boulangerie staff realizes the tight space that everyone is waiting in and keeps the line moving quickly. Customers rarely wait more than 5 minutes to order.
Atmosphere: Beautiful turn of the century atmosphere. Always crowded, but you’ll be so busy admiring the pastries and beautiful decor that you’ll quickly forget about the people. The space is small and the only place to eat is on the few benches outside.
Uniqueness: This atmosphere, quality and selection may be commonplace in France, but you won’t find anything that compares in NYC.
Clientele: Young couples, SoHo shoppers, families and tourists.
Location: Great location in the middle of trendy SoHo, directly across from the #6 Spring Street subway station.
Staff: The staff on my visit was efficient but not particularly friendly. (On previous visits I have ordered from a gentleman who treats customers like French royalty. Very professional and refined.)
Final Verdict: A must see in New York City.
80 Spring Street (at Crosby)
Open daily from 7:30am to 9:00pm