Date of Visit: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: City Bakery came as a recommendation during our visit to New York City, and ended up being the last breakfast we had there. We arrived about 20 minutes before they opened, and so we wandered around the neighborhood briefly.
…and took the opportunity to enjoy it.
ATMOSPHERE: City Bakery is a big place, bigger than it looks from the outside. It’s one gigantic room with an upper level balcony and huge pillars running down the middle.
Apparently they’re known for being a bakery, a restaurant, a chocolate shop, plus a beer/wine bar. So many things in that one space. We got to experience some of the above – obviously not the beer and wine at 10 a.m. – and we were treated with some delicious food. Maybe not the best breakfast of New York City, but a few items really stood out.
It took us a little figuring out what was what – there weren’t many signs explaining things. On the lower level, toward the back of the space, was a hot bar of breakfast foods. There were eggs, big triangle slices of French toast, bacon, and more. We found out (after asking) that you paid by the pound for your breakfast.
Behind the hot bar was a counter with bagels, toppings, cold foods, and more. Overall, a pretty big selection.
After you loaded up at the hot bar, you took your tray along the large center bar, which carried drinks, pastries, and more. The pastry selection was B-E-A-utifully laid out. It’s what every Panera hopes to to be!
FOOD: Along the pastry line, you can order said pastries and cookies, your drinks, and other accoutrement. Amongst that lot is…
…the sumptuous hot chocolate. We had heard tell – along with the pretzel croissant – of City Bakery’s hot chocolate, and on a chilly January morning this was the perfect complement to our breakfast.
The best part was watching the slow preparation, stirring up the thick chocolate, tantalizingly pouring it out…
I opted for a simple plate of eggs, bacon, and the three-dimensional French toast. All pretty simple and straightforward, but hot and fresh. The eggs were a little dry (always a challenge on a buffet line), but the bacon was great, and the French toast a lot of fun. The toast was lightly seared and had a lot of the maple syrup sweetness baked into it.
And finally, the famous pretzel croissant. Warm, fluffy, crispy on the outside. Indeed, the perfect melding of a pretzel and a croissant. I don’t know why we don’t hear about more of these.
SERVICE: I know we caught the City Bakery folks just as they were opening, but the service here still left a little to be desired. It had that same surliness we experienced at Ninth Street Espresso, but without the ultra-good product to back it up. The nicest person we met there was the girl who ran the hot bar in the back. Everyone else either didn’t talk much, scowled, or just made you feel a little unwelcome. The woman who checked Beth out got all flustered over the fact that Beth had put her own bagel and toppings together, when there’s no sign saying otherwise, and when it seems perfectly obvious – the way everything’s laid out – that you should do so. A little unacceptable to fly off the handle like that.
OVERALL: Thankfully, City Bakery’s food makes up for the weird service. The location is stunning, there’s a huge selection of breakfast foods – for as big or as small of a breakfast you want – and a few menu items are particularly strong. Definitely, definitely worth a visit, if only for a hot chocolate and a pretzel croissant.
SIDE NOTE ON WEBSITES: City Bakery’s website, while nice to look at, highlights a problem I had with a number of NYC restaurant websites: too much Flash animation or extended intros, and not enough straightforward information! Just look at City Bakery’s website: http://thecitybakery.com. It’s nicely designed. But if you wanted to find out the hours of the bakery, or their exact address, or maybe a menu… you can find it eventually, in the small text of one of the paragraphs – not the hours, though. Or… well, which alternate website listed below do you choose? The one for their catering, the one for their chocolate festival, or the one about building a green bakery? Fortunately, there’s the one about the pretzel croissant, which leads you through a slow Flash slideshow to a single page with their address, a note that says they’re open 7 days a week (still no mention of hours), or… a link back to their original website.
Not to be overly critical, but I was just amazed by the poor/strange quality of some New York City restaurant websites. I figured that if any place would have good restaurant websites, it would be freakin’ New York City! But, alas… I ran into sites like Jing Fong’s, which looks like a placeholder page from my cable provider, or Sarabeth’s, whose appealing website has a fairly out-of-the-way link to menus or location information, or even Kitchenette’s, which has a light version of the flash intro (with no option to skip it). The internet is about fast information (albeit often too fast, yes), but I personally get frustrated when restaurants make it difficult to find the information I need, so that I can bring my business to them.