I love brunch food, pancakes especially. What other meal virtually demands that you eat cake and syrup as a main course?
Luckily, New York is a city that takes its brunches seriously. And among the numerous cozy restaurants sprinkled around Manhattan, the Clinton Street Baking Co. shines from its spot on the Lower East Side.
It has long been praised for its famous blueberry pancakes. A quick look on yelp.com pulls up around 500 rave reviews about these allegedly magical pancakes. The bakery has also gathered extra hype recently due to a feature on Bobby Flay's Throwdown on the Food Network. Well, what's good enough for Bobby, and thousands of other happy diners, is good enough for me.
So off I trekked on a blustery Saturday morning. (And blustery is not an exaggeration. It was probably -10C that day). I was hoping to beat the rush by arriving a bit before prime brunch time, so I put my name on the list at 10am. After waiting a little over an hour (outside, in the cold... I was determined to get my table), my brunch companion and I were seated a tiny bar by the window. It's not surprising that the waits are so long; the space is not large at all (maybe accommodates 40 at a time?) But it is every bit cozy and quaint as a brunch place ought to be.
I had the famous blueberry pancakes, biscuits with jam, and sugar cured bacon. I was initially skeptical about these pancakes, but oh my were they worth getting frostbitten during the wait. They are thick and fluffy, with the perfect sweet and salty balance. They're also loaded with fat, sweet, fresh blueberries. They keep their shape during cooking so when you cut into them they release their steamy, jammy goodness. And if that weren't enough, they're served with maple butter. Let me just say that again: maple. butter.
Our sides were also lovely. The biscuits were a bit bready (I prefer flakier ones) but the crust is quite unusual, in a good way. It's thick and very crunchy, strangely reminiscent of a nice rustic yeast bread. The bacon was also delish, and the sweet, salty, smoky balance was perfect.
As our meal went on, the tiny restaurant filled up with diners trying to avoid the cold while waiting for tables. There was a considerable lineup outside as well. Call me evil, but I suppose we indulged in a little schadenfreude as we sat by the window savoring that steaming stack of pancakes, in full view of those waiting in the cold. Ah, they'll get their turn.
Since I couldn't get enough of their delicious goodies, I got a mixed berry scone and a cranberry walnut muffin to-go. Honestly, the muffin was good, but not mind-blowing. And as my brunch companion had noted, they are sadly lacking that crucial, crunchy domed top created when the batter spills over the sides of the tin as the muffin bakes. The scone was a different story. It was chock full of fresh berries, and had the perfect not-too-sweet but buttery flavor. The crust is thick and crunchy (almost like a shortbread cookie) and sprinkled with coarse sugar.
I don't think I need to write much more to encourage you to eat here should you every visit NYC. Just go. It would be preferable if the temperature were above freezing, but if it isn't, then just suck it up. You will be rewarded.
P.S. They don't take reservations.
Clinton Street Baking Co. and Restaurant
4 Clinton Street (btw. East Houston & Stanton)
New York, NY 10002
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