Spring is here and summer quickly approaching, along with sleeveless shirts, shorts and, dare I mention, bathing suits. Dieting is on many a mind, but if eating carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie are the way you prefer to add vegetables to your diet, Chatsworth Avenue certainly has the baked goods to meet your minimum daily dessert requirements.
For your waistline's sake I recommend taking the dessert tour on foot. First stop: the newly opened Chatsworth Deli & Bakery. Presently more deli than bakery, the new store is doing a brisk business in panini, wraps and hot table offerings - the fresh roasted turkey is a specialty. But married co-owners Amy and Edwin Estacio tell me they will be ramping up the sweet side of the business too.
In addition to the pastry and bread offerings brought in from a supplier, Amy is an accomplished baker and has already started putting out her own made desserts. If the deliciously dense, moist sour cream cakes, Portuguese flan and banana pudding are any indication, Chatsworth Deli & Bakery will soon become a dessert destination.
To mitigate waistline damage, a brisk walk or jog down the Avenue will bring you to Stanz Cafe. Owned by husband and wife Steve and Nancy Weishaus, the popular breakfast and lunch spot opened 11 years ago. When the team at Stanz is not too busy cranking out fluffy pancakes and buttery omelets, Nancy supplements the dessert case with a few of her own baked items: muffins, croissants and cupcakes.
The blueberry muffin, while tasty, is confounding. Tight and heavy, with a relatively fine crumb, it eats more like a cake. With little blueberry flavor - I counted only four berries – it reminded me more of banana cake. The vanilla cupcake also was decent but unremarkable, the chocolate frosting thick and overly sweet, lacking chocolaty depth.
Like the muffin, the croissant was a conundrum, but one I found irresistible. Although its exterior was pale and not crispy, and the interior less flaky and buttery than I expect from a croissant, it was bizarrely addictive. As I chewed, I imagined Stanz's croissants paired with sweet European butter and fruit preserves, putting the exclamation mark on the café's homey comfort.
Right next door to Stanz is new kid on the block Palombo's Pastry Shop. You might want to do a few - or a few thousand jumping jacks - as you transition between the two, if you're ever to drop that cover up when you hit the beach.
Palombo is not a local business, but the newest outpost of a mini chain. With five locations in the Bronx, Palombo is known for its mousses, cannoli and an extensive variety of Italian pastries and cookies. All Palombo products are baked at a central location and, I was told, delivered daily. Unfortunately many items tasted as if they'd been on a very long haul before arriving in Larchmont.
With the exception of an outstanding carrot cake mousse boasting perfectly spiced moist cake layered with cream cheese mousse and decorated with a bright orange marzipan carrot, the majority of the other mousses and pastries were disappointing. The cannoli shell had good flavor but lacked crispness; the filling was sweet and smooth but void of the distinctive ricotta cheese flavor and richness one expects. Butter cookies weren't buttery, and the cloyingly sweet cheesecake was heavy with lemon. The lobster tail was soggy and, like the lace cookie, long stale. The rainbow cookie tasted of... black pepper.
Now run, don't walk to Bradley's Desserts & Café, a gem of a bakery and one of the best on the Sound Shore. Owner Bradley Smith opened his Larchmont shop in 1994. Famous for the beautifully decorated, delicious mousse cakes, it's not just cakes the self-taught baker has mastered. His brownies are moist with just the right amount of chew. The lemon bars feature a layer of shortbread topped with deeply flavored lemon curd. Both buttery and sugary, it's sweet but not cloying, tangy but not too tart.
A surprise is the chocolate raspberry bar. Dusted with coconut, a layer of sweetened condensed milk between the cookie base and dark chocolate and raspberry jam might sound like overkill, but it works. Pecan bars and thumbprint cookies are distinctly nutty, and the cookies all taste as good as they look.
There are so many choices you might be tempted to pass on the muffins. If you do, you'll miss blueberry perfection. The crispy sugary top is studded with toasted pecans in themselves addictive. As all Seinfeld fans know, the muffin top is the best part, but the dense bottom, chock full of blueberries, did not disappoint. Now put down the muffin and run (you need to). Summer is approaching and, fortunately for those keeping a calorie tab, most muffin tops are not as enticing as those at Bradley's.