taste: Astor Bake Shop

The shiny new Astor Bake Shop is a beautifully light, high-ceilinged cafe on the corner of Astoria Boulevard and 14th street, with huge windows, scrubbed-wood tables, and exposed brick – a bright and airy space for worship at the altar of perfect pastries. There aren’t many places like this in the neighborhood, with a minimalist aesthetic and a custom-blend coffee (roasted by Stone Street in Red Hook), although there are plenty of traditional Italian bakeries and the Bake NYC mini-chain. There are eclairs, fruit tarts, cupcakes and sliced cakes glistening in the chiller cabinet, and the cartoonish wall art notwithstanding, this isn’t a place that venerates cupcakes in some irritating girly way – the flavours are grown-up and true, not artificial sugar bombs that make you crash. The cafe has savory aspirations too, and currently serves sandwiches and burgers with a creamy chipotle-mayonnaise house sauce, and brunch, dinner, beer and wine are coming soon (in the meantime, the salty lemonade is mouth-puckering and addictive.) The neighborhood isn’t exactly hurting for gourmet burgers at the $6-9 price point (Petey’s, Sweet Afton, Bare Burger…) but these hold their own, with rolls baked in house and 50% brisket in the burger. The chef-owner George McKirdy has quite the resume, including recent stints as pastry chef at Café Boulud and Blue Fin, but he’s a casual, friendly host at his new place, which is slightly off the beaten path opposite the Astoria library and next door to the speakeasy-style cocktail lounge Hellgate Social – a corner where a little unobtrusive gentrifying might not be a bad thing, especially if it gets people into the library (what? I’m serious about my love of local libraries.) I know my trips just got a lot more appealing, now that I know I can order books online, and then take them across the street for coffee and a treat like this:

Coconut-lemon-vanilla cupcake at Astor Bake


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