Levain holds the title of “best cookie[s] in all of New York”. Queues snake down the street for them, dozens of rave reviews appear in praise of them, and Blake Lively calls them her “one true love” – is it all just hype, or is Levain Bakery really the holy grail of the humble cookie? You might not think so upon first glance. The bakery sits slightly below ground level on 167 West 74th Street, largely inconspicuous but for the long queues outside – the only indication that something special is there. I have learned that this is characteristically New York; the best gastronomy is found in the most unassuming of places. True to the formula, these cookies were indeed the stuff of legend – and I assure you my benchmark for a cookie is high!
These cookies aren’t ‘pretty’ – they cut the crap and get to the chase. Giant globs of dough that have baked in the exact shape they were flung into on the tray – soft, gooey and chunky, you can’t get better than this. I had the double chocolate chip cookie and the closest I can get to capturing the experience with the power of language is: it’s like biting into a big gooey chocolate cloud.
Levain’s knack for getting just the right amount of softness in their cookies also applies to their banana chocolate-chip bread, which is worth trying if you love banana bread as much as I do.
The hype is real. Those cookies are in a league of their own, and to tell the truth I can’t quite decide how I feel about it. I’m glad I tried it – but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy another cookie again. My sweet tooth will be salivating after Levain’s creations until my return to NYC.
167 West 74th Street, on the Upper West Side neighbourhood of Manhattan.
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel’s chocolate chip cookie shots have been the subject of much media coverage and it’s not hard to see why. These shot-glass shaped cookies are filled with an ounce or two of Tahitian-vanilla-infused milk. (Eat in-store and you can get endless re-fills of milk!) Amazingly, the cookie doesn’t get soggy or disintegrate, and it’s all thanks to a layer of heat-resistant chocolate glaze set on the interior of the cookie ‘shot glass’ that keeps it water-tight. A talking point for the whole table, this quirky dessert was also one of the most delicious I’ve ever had. There’s no way you can hold one of these cookie shots in your hand and not feel like an excited kid again, especially since these sweet treats only ever appear after 3pm as an ‘after school snack’ intended for students attending the school nearby. After-school snacking has never been so good.
189 Spring St.
Big Gay Ice Cream
Honestly, this ice cream is nothing special. Taste wise it doesn’t pack much punch – it’s just another quick soft serve. Having said that, I’m also a sucker for creativity, colour and a great photo, and luckily this is BGIC’s crowning virtue: their totally Instagram-worthy transformation of the humble soft-serve. Your choice of soft-serve flavour is dolled up with everything from sprinkles to chocolate coating (if you want both, get the Merlin like I did), a winning recipe not for the palate but for a particular type of feed – the Instagram feed – or so the many people taking pictures with their cones would suggest. The photo came out great, but the ice cream itself is pretty mediocre. If you need a cold sugar hit, there’s no harm done in necking this soft-serve. However, if you do take your ice cream seriously and want to savour it – steer clear, there’s better out there!
125 East 7th Street (East Village) or 61 Grove Street (West Village)
Birdbath Neighbourhood Green Bakery
I’m so glad the internet tipped me off on this hidden gem. We had one cookie, then had to come back for another one almost immediately – that should say enough. Crunchy around the edges and soft at the core, Birdbath combines the best of both worlds and is THE classic cookie. I particularly liked the stacks of cookies on display in the shop windows – this is my kind of window shopping!
160 Prince St.
Junior’s, which sits on the corner of Broadway, claims it is “home of the world’s most fabulous cheesecake”. I myself am not a cheesecake guru so I decided to wait on the word of my partner in gluttony, J, who brought us to Junior’s in the first place. There are not many desserts he puts on a pedestal, but cheesecake is number one. “How is it?” I ask. J turns to acknowledge the camera, his face melting with joy. He nods vigorously and there we have our verdict: excellent. I took a couple bites myself and could instantly see why ‘Junior’s’ is the only name that’s been synonymous with New York cheesecake for over 6 decades. It’s not too sweet, and definitely no where near being too light. It’s rich, smooth, creamy – definitely something you have to share with someone else, because a single slice goes a long way. No wonder why a Kuwaiti prince once flew several cakes home on his private jet – this truly is the ultimate cheesecake.
Fat Witch Bakery
I’m not sure why the internet bestowed the title of ‘best brownies in New York’ on these tiny little packaged brownies, because they’re not. The bakery boasted a decent array of flavours, something that turned out to be totally redundant as they all taste exactly the same. We tried red velvet after dark chocolate after regular milk chocolate, so on and so forth, but there wasn’t even the slightest gradation in taste. It wasn’t particularly chocolatey, nor was the almond-butter-cake texture very appealing. For a bakery heralded as serving the best brownies in New York, this wasn’t as impressive as it should have been.
Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave
Momofuku Milk Bar
– Tried: cereal milk soft serve & cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookie
Not bad at all, just overrated. For all the social media hype surrounding this award-winning dessert bar, I was expecting more than what I got. I suppose the signature cereal milk ice cream was ‘good’ in that it tasted exactly like cereal milk. So if that’s what you want your ice cream to taste like, this is the place for you. Personally, if I want to taste cereal milk I’d just pour myself some milk and cereal in my kitchen. Putting it in an ice cream didn’t work for me, but evidently most people love it considering that this is Momofuku’s most successful specialty. I tried a cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow-cookie, which was much better. I like any dessert with cornflakes in it because it gives it a chewier texture. Unfortunately the cookie was warmed up so much that it lost all structure and became like a floppy disc that completely fell apart in my hands. Levain Bakery’s cookies are hard on the outermost surface but when you crack them open they’re all gooey and ooze chocolate in the middle — Momofuku, take notes! I didn’t stick around to try the birthday cake truffles that all my friends tell me are amazing, so perhaps that would have been the saving grace for my trip here. All in all, based on my admittedly minimal experience at the place, I think Momofuku Milk Bar is a spot you should definitely duck into if you’re in the area, but don’t go out of your way for it as there are better places to visit in the meantime.
382 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
– Tried: oreo milkshake
Boy am I glad I made it to Black Tap. I’m told by friends of mine living in New York that there is a perpetual 2-hour queue going all the way around the block, so when I got there I wasn’t surprised to see they have their very own bouncer at the door! By some miracle (probably thanks to the snowstorm, which made the prospect of leaving the house totally unpalatable for everyone else in New York) I managed to jump in a queue at 4.30pm with only a 15-minute wait. Winning. The doorman led us down a narrow flight of stars descending from street level, into what I can only describe as an underground hip-hop grotto. This cosy, casual space is low-lit with warm red and orange lights. Before I had even eaten anything, Black Tap had already exceeded my expectations. Genuinely good hip hop tunes are a dying art form, but Black Tap’s playlist was a slew of straight-up bangers. Neon signs adorn the brick walls and shakes are made in plain sight behind the counter. It’s these crazy, gravity-defying shakes that I came for. Black Tap is actually a restaurant that serves gourmet burgers and draft beers (according to the waitress their blue cheese-laced Kobe beef burger won the coveted people’s choice award at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s “Burger Bash” competition). But it’s their gigantic, colourful shakes that went viral online and inspired these 2-hour wait lines — I heard everyone in the queue talking about them! You can choose from 12 milkshake varieties ranging in price from $7 to $12. Not for the faint-hearted, these shakes are piled high with the mountainous toppings ranging from entire slices of cake, heaps of fluffy cotton candy, and handfuls of chocolate chip cookies. I don’t even want to know how many calories this sets you back, but believe me it was good. Part of me thought it was all bark and no bite, but this shake isn’t just a pretty picture — it’s even better than it looks. I had the cookie milkshake, topped with clouds of vanilla frosting, chocolate syrup and an entire chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Lord forgive me for I hath sinned.
529 Broome St, New York, NY 10013, USA
– Tried: x2 scoops of cookie dough
The recently opened Cookie Do store serves a variety of different cookie dough flavours by the scoop. This concept gets full endorsement from me. Like Black Tap, the queues for this place can be very long — everyone who’s seen the viral video of this store online wants to try it! I waited in line for about 20-30 minutes before finally getting to order. The store itself is incredibly cute; with white-painted wooden panel walls, pastel-coloured decor, and rows of glass jars holding all manner of colourful sprinkles atop shelves, it’s like something straight out of Pinterest. Get your hands on one of the printed menus to peruse and salivate over all the different cookie dough flavours — the selection is incredible! (They even have different flavoured cones for you to choose from) Choosing which flavours I wanted was a tough decision as they all looked and sounded totally mouth-watering, but in the end I took away a 2-scoop cup: x1 scoop of brownie batter cookie dough, and x1 scoop of confetti cookie dough (which is just normal chocolate chip cookie dough with rainbow sprinkles and white chocolate chips thrown in). Yummy. If you like cookie dough, you’ll (obviously) love this.
550 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012, USA
The Bagel Store
– Tried: rainbow bagel
I’ve been wanting a rainbow bagel from this store for a long time now. It’s a solid choice if you’re in the area, and of course everyone loves to take photos of it. While the rainbow bagel is their signature thing, there are many other types of bagel too if you’d rather have a good old fashioned plain bagel or a cinnamon-flavoured one, etc. I had my rainbow bagel toasted, as most people do, with funfetti cream cheese (cream cheese with rainbow sprinkles in it for added colour-pop). For some reason I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped I would, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. I think the bagel tasted just a bit too sweet for my liking, and I’d probably put that that down to the cream cheese & rainbow sprinkles in it. Having said that, don’t let that put you off going here. I still enjoyed it and it was worth venturing out for as I had wanted to go for so long. I think if I were to return next time I would try a different kind of cream cheese and bagel to see how it compares.
754 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA
Prince St Pizza
– Tried: pepperoni square slice
I’m aware this article is entitled ‘definitive guide to desserts in NY’ and yet I’m leaving dessert territory behind here… But consider it added homage to the brilliance of this pizza store — it’s that good that it deserves mention. This is truly the best pizza in New York, and the best pizza I’ve ever tasted! I had a pepperoni square slice and was so surprised by how exceptionally good it was. The dough is thick and soft, the crust is slightly cruncher, the perfect amount of hot cheese and tomato sauce sits on top, and the little circles of pepperoni pack a flavourful punch. You absolutely must make a pit stop here — trust me when I say you won’t regret it. Evidently neither of the dozens of celebrities who have been photographed in the store do!
27 Prince St A, New York, NY 10012, USA