Peter Pan Bakery (727 Manhattan Avenue, 718-389-3676) was established more than 62 years ago in the then predominately Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint (and Polski Meat Market still holds court across the street), when the Dodgers still called Brooklyn home. It would be hard to fathom the shop existing anywhere else in the city. It’s a neighborhood spot that locals hold dear, a place that new residents go as a rite of passage, and a tasty destination for those not lucky enough to live close by.
Donna Siafakas is the face and identity of Peter Pan, and she commutes from Long Island seven days a week. Each morning, she can be found in the back of the shop making the off-the-menu egg sandwiches, which regulars and lucky in-the-know customers will order when the doors open. Heavily scrambled eggs dress your choice of a fresh baked bagel, house made roll, or one of the best bialys in the city.
Donna took over the store in 1993 with her husband, Christos; the couple first met while working together at another, now-shuttered doughnut house. At Peter Pan, they haven’t messed with much, including the design, which hearkens back to the year the place first opened. The black and white signs listing the pricing for doughnuts ($1.10) are original, as is the shelving. There are no tables; the fantastic S-shaped counter is intimate, and it makes you become friends with those sitting next to you. And you’ll be attended to by girls in I Love Lucy-esque green and pink dresses. “Everyone always thinks we’re a Polish restaurant, but it’s only because our girls are Polish,” says Donna. (Both Donna and the original owners are Italian.)
While the Pan opens its doors at 4:30 a.m. on weekdays and closes at 8 p.m., it is basically a 24-hour operation. The first doughnuts for the day are baked around 2 a.m., and Donna says the shop is actually quite busy at 4:30, because people getting off their overnight shifts and many employees of local state departments from around the area drop by then.
And then you get the regulars. Peter Pan is as much about the atmosphere as it is the doughnuts, and that’s what draws diehard repeat business. In fact, it’s common to see regulars sit down and have their food brought to them without ordering, especially around 10:30, when the bottom half of the S shaped counter fills with its daily customers. This group of longtime locals discusses everything from music to doughnuts to new diet ideas. And they’re invested in the business’s success. “Yeah, they have been closed for two days over the last 10 years,” says longtime daily regular, ‘Big’ Bob, the unofficial ambassador of Peter Pan. “It was real rough for those two days. It’s a mixture of old timers born in the neighborhood and youngsters who all come here to get coffee and doughnuts and talk to each other.”
As for the doughnuts themselves, they’re best described as classic, and they’re made using the exact same recipes from over 60 years ago. You’ll find more than 20 unfussy varieties, from sour cream to chocolate to cake and sugar doughnuts. The best seller is the red velvet doughnut, fashioned after the classic southern cake. “When it gets a little warmer outside, we slice them open and fill em’ with cherry amaretto ice cream,” says Donna. “They’re really good.” The shop also makes outstanding filled éclairs, cinnamon buns, crullers, and crumb doughnuts.
No matter what you order, your pastry will be fresh and often still warm from the fryer.
You should eat it while you sit at the counter and rub shoulders with your neighbor. It’ll make you feel connected to the neighborhood and with Brooklyn at large.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 26, 2014