The Early Word: Astor Bake Shop
The Astor Bake Shop's blueberry butter tart.
About a month ago, George McKirdy opened the Astor Bake Shop on a quiet residential corner in Astoria. According to Astor's website, McKirdy, a pastry chef who counts Butter, Café Boulud, and Veritas among his previous employers, had wanted to open his own place "for so many years." And Astor Bake Shop is clearly the product of a great deal of care and love.
The space is beautiful and unfussy, designed with an eye to both plainspoken hospitality and laid-back elegance. There are tables made from reclaimed farmhouse wood, expansive glass display cases, exposed brick walls, and soaring ceilings. Sunlight filters through the tall windows, lending everything a pale radiance. The place feels less like a café than an off-duty cathedral.
And based upon the blueberry butter tart and carrot cake that we tried, the food is also likely to inspire a fair amount of worship.
The tart lives up to its description. It tastes predominately of fresh blueberries and sweet butter. The filling is contained by a classic French tart crust, whose texture and flavor recall a shortbread cookie. About the diameter of a coaster, the $3.95 tart makes an excellent summer dessert: Much of the sweetness comes from the fruit itself, which in turn prevents all of the butter from becoming too rich and heavy.
Carrot cake isn't a dessert typically associated with light summer eating, but McKirdy's is the rare slice that isn't crippled by the weight of too much oil, cream cheese, and walnuts. The crumb is moist and spongy, dotted with fat golden raisins and bits of carrot, and tastes very faintly of pineapple. The cream cheese frosting is applied with a judicious hand, so that it's neither excessive nor stingy. It's got a gentle sweetness and happy tang, and is so good that it would sell even if it weren't smeared over a hunk of cake. Taken together, the sum of the $4 slice's parts is gorgeous -- lush enough to remind you that it's cake, and ethereal enough to let the carrots take center stage.
Astor also offers a number of savory items; given our experience with the sweet side of its menu, we'll definitely be back to try them.
Astor Bake Shop 12-23 Astoria Boulevard, Queens 718-606-8439
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