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It’s late afternoon on the Upper East Side and Herbert Glaser is hard at work upholding his family’s legacy, one apple turnover at a time. The third generation owner of Glaser’s Bake Shop (1670 First Avenue, 212-289-2562), he follows many of the same recipes his father first used 112 years ago.
Herbert’s grandfather, John, first opened the doors to the shop in 1902, during President Theodore Roosevelt’s first term and a full decade before The New York Highlanders became the Yankees. The sweet treats from Glaser’s native Germany were an instant hit in the area, which was once known as Germantown.
With its wooden shelving (circa 1918), original tiled floor, and tin ceiling, the place is reminiscent of those sepia tone flashbacks of De Niro in The Godfather Part Two. Walking in feels like you just discovered a portal to the New York of yesteryear, a time before chopped kale salads and green smoothie breakfasts.
First timers, brace yourselves: Glaser’s makes enough styles and flavors of sweets to be overwhelming. There’s nary a Cronut-like pastry on the menu, but the shop churns out classic cakes, cookies, brownies, éclairs, turnovers, danishes, tarts, doughnuts, and cheesecake.
Per my sister’s recommendation, treat it like going to the Metropolitan Museum: With so many great choices, it’s best to select a few items and focus just on them. What I focus on, and what the relatives in New Jersey tend to receive on high holidays, are the unbelievable two-bite tea cookies, a few classic sugar doughnuts, and always, always, two or three black and white cookies. Many people say Glaser’s has the best black and white cookies in the city, and if there is a better example out there, I have yet to find it.
“It’s actually cake batter that’s been thickened with flour. It’s more like a cupcake than a cookie,” Herb says. The black and white does taste like, well, a cupcake. But this isn’t your typical neighborhood diner black and white; it’s delicate with a texture more akin to bunt cake than a modern interpretation of this iconic cookie.
You could also listen to the advice of your fellow patrons: “To tell you the truth, I really like the prune danishes,” one regular whispered, as if telling me a stock tip. “Keeps you consistent.” Anything to keep the highway from being backed up, I suppose. Glaser’s owes its longevity to the regulars, including one special lady who has shopped there for over 90 years. That’s not a typo; she just turned 100, and she first picked up sweets with her parents in the 1920s.
Or let yourself be lured in by a taste of something: Glaser’s lovely counter ladies — Terri, Rita, and Lisa — always seem to be giving out as many samples as orders. That’s how I found the kitchen sink cookie, made with dark chocolate and white chocolate chips, coconut, potato chips, and pretzel.
“Man, I’d love this at 2 in the morning with a little milk,” I said.
“Yeah, milk and vodka,” replied Rita.
Herbert, who lives above the bakery, bakes during the day, and his brother handles the nighttime shift, which means Glaser’s continues to be family run. Recently, a nephew started helping with production and working around the shop, opening up the idea that a fourth generation Glaser can keep making treats like the apple turnovers the same way they have been made for 112 years.
The shop is open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Sunday.