Sunday, July 29, 2012

Royal Pastry Shop: Safari into the wilds of suburbia

In that apex of cinematic glory that was Romancing the Stone, one line always sticks in my mind. It is when Kathleen Turner takes the wrong bus and ends up lost in a South American jungle. "Angel, you're hell and gone from Cartegena," Michael Douglas says to her. This line has cropped up many times in my life, always when it becomes clear that I've misread the map, misjudged the neighborhood, or inevitably gotten lost.

And it popped up succinctly in my mind as I hoofed my way from the Kendall T stop, into the wilds of the suburbs. Block after block went by, all signs of M.I.T. and student life faded, I kept thinking, "surely this is the cross looked so close to the T on the map." But, alas, it was a solid twenty-five minutes before I came to the right area, and by then I had realized that I was parallel to the Cambridgeside Galleria, that I had, in fact, walked in sweltering heat as far as the Lechmere stop on the Green Line.

I looked around the street that seemed just a tad less shiny and friendly than the Somerville streets I'm used to. Three guys in wife-beater t-shirts handed another guy standing in a doorstoop several twenties. I walked by a large sign that promised to kill a chicken for me on the spot.

And a store for anyone needing a bright red, sequined wedding dress.

I soldiered on, amuck with the muggy heat, desperately thirsty, promising myself that at the end of this quest would be an old-school Italian bakery with cheap goodies, and, heaven willing, a beverage case with cold soda. The elusive Royal Pastry Shop. Oh yes, it would be mine. But when at last it came into sight, I was slightly underwhelmed. No matter, I told myself, it's the inside that counts.

I walked in to a smallish shop that had shelves that were stacked for utility rather than eye appeal.

It wasn't the happy place. The women behind the counter looked like I was an exotic bug when I took out my camera to snap pictures of the cream puffs. I had the feeling that this was the kind of shop that wasn't used to people outside the neighborhood ambling in. But I spied some promise in the cases. After all, you can't go wrong with Italian cookies.

And cream puffs.

And a breakfast pastry or two.

But I had a hot tip on the ricotta pie. Or "rigotta" as the lady at the counter pronounced it. A humble, plain little piece of ricotta cheese cake covered on either side with a cookie-ish crust and laced with the flavor of lemon. I bit into that creamy confection, noting a slightly sandy texture compared to cream-cheese counterparts. And I have to say, for under two bucks, that was a dang nice piece of pastry. The carrot cake was also quite cheap, the sort of thing a parent happily gives as a treat to their child because it's not expensive and to an undemanding palate, quite tasty. Would it pass muster if served a little closer to the red line? Probably not. The cream puff was also decent, and a very good showing for the amount of money it cost.

As I fumbled in the soda case and found that Royal Pastry doesn't believe in diet soda, I pondered if I would ever be visiting this oddly uncheerful place again. If I lived around the corner, there's no question I'd come every day with my 1.25, looking for "rigotta" satisfaction. And maybe, after a few months, the ladies at the counter would decide I wasn't an exotic bug and say hello. But if I had a car and could pick any Italian bakery on this side of the Charles, I'd have to go with Arthur's in Medford before heading to the Royal. They have that sense of merriment and plenty that the Royal is missing.

738 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02141
(617) 547-2053

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