36-21 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria
Unlike Manhattan, you won't find a Starbucks on every single, solitary corner in Astoria. What you will find, however, is a slathering of Greek bakeries, which are sometimes quite disappointingly hit-or-miss. While I will never turn away a honey-soaked sliver of baklava or a warm, citrusy cream-filled phyllo galaktoboureko, I am sad to report that not all of the patisseries in this greco-centric neighborhood pop out the best of the baked goods.
Although I have waited in line many-a-time for a tasty morsel at some of Manhattan's notorious sweet shops like Magnolia or Crumbs, I can honestly share that my favorite bakery is, in fact, in Astoria... and one worth traveling to in lieu of the city's generous offerings.
Martha's Country Bakery has been satisfying my sweet tooth since I very first moved to New York several years ago. Though I pride myself in cooking my own dishes to take to dinner parties, when in a pinch, this is one of the only places I will cab it to for a last-minute pie worthy of my endorsement on a table spread. I may or may not have one time brought one of Martha's mixed berry pies to a party, and upon receiving such rave compliments, may or may not have neglected to reveal that the homemade pie had not exactly been made by me in my own oven... shameful... I know...
Though I try not to indulge in Martha's every single time I crave it, I most recently returned for a ridiculously fun lunch date with the uber-hilarious and multi-talented Travis Barr, alternately adored as Anita Buffem of Sunday Morning Mimosa fame (click here to read my previous entry about the side-splitting comedy troupe). It was Travis's maiden visit to the bakery, and I was thrilled to show him the ropes.
"Bradley Hawks, what are you trying to do to me?!" I just laughed as we took in the overwhelming selection. Dare we try one of the muffins? Which one?
Besides the muffins, there were countless varieties of butter-cream cupcakes, bread puddings, pound cakes, even gelato...
It was an unseasonably gorgeous day, and so after perusing the insane myriad of options in the seemingly endless glass cases, we finally settled at a table on the sidewalk cafe for a slice of cake and coffee al fresco...
Everything at Martha's is immaculate and beautiful. Look at how you can even see the sky reflecting in the polished knife in the picture above. Travis settled on the most delicious piece of red velvet cake I have ever tasted. The cake itself was light and moist, but the decadent cream cheese frosting was absolutely out-of-this-world.
Do you see that? Are you kidding? The caramel cake was sinfully divine, with alternating layers of chocolate cake, and creamy chocolate and french vanilla mousse, all drizzled with buttery caramel and crowned with ruby strawberry.
Though Martha's features both classic and contemporary American desserts, we at least threw a nod to the Greek neighborhood with a particularly tasty frappé. A frappé is an extremely popular Greek java concoction -- essentially a shaken, foam-covered iced coffee drink. It can traditionally be ordered sweet (2 teaspoons of spray-dried instant coffee and 4 teaspoons of sugar), medium (2 t. coffee + 2 t. sugar), or plain (2 t. coffee with no sugar)... and also with or without evaporated milk. And yes, as you may have surmised, we indulged in a "sweet" frappé-milk (the proper term when ordering).
The next time you find yourself in Manhattan contemplating waiting in some heinous cue for a pastry... hop on the train and take the short 20-minute ride on the N or W to the Ditmars stop, and enjoy the five-block stroll to Martha's Country Bakery. Not only will you save yourself from wasting time standing in line, but you'll find yourself on a field trip to what is probably a far superior bakery in one of New York's most colorful and diverse neighborhoods.