Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Luberto's Pastry Shop and Last Stop, Wonderland

The Babe is on a mission this summer: to push my pastry boundaries into neighborhoods I don't yet know, and to kick up my flip flops on some of New England's beaches. After all, this California Girl needs to see the ocean once in a while, and it's easy to become insulated in the obvious Boston places. To wit, this weekend I braved the Blue Line, which it turns out is far zippier and shiny than any other part of the T, and hoofed it to Revere. I had a hot tip on Luberto's Pastry shop, and dreaming of a quaint, Victorian beach town, I anticipated sheer enjoyment.

As a former historian, I tend to ascribe good qualities to places strictly because they are old. And Revere Beach, being the oldest public beach in the U.S., and the town of Revere having been one of the first places colonized in 1624, I was prepared for something with panache and charm.

Oh, girl. When are you going to learn? "Old" in Boston can mean a lot of things other than panache and charm. I stepped off the T at Revere into neighborhoods with broken church windows, balconies slanting precipitously toward the ground, corner grocery shops that looked like you'd better know the owner's name before you went in. It is, in short, not the kind of place where you should plan on taking a leisurely stroll. I made haste to find a public bus and rode the rest of the way to Luberto's, which is situated on the main drag in Revere.

And oh my, was it worth it! Luberto's is a very Italian bakery, with mirrored walls, and a plethora of pastry.

It is the kind of place where the owner's son comes out to introduce himself and shake hands, matriarchs order towering stacks of boxes, and some of the old-time Italians that are still left in this neighborhood sit at the tables for coffee hour.

Everything that you can find in the North End, from ricotta pie to cannolis to Italian cookies to half moon pies to pistachio macaroons..is also at Luberto's. Just minus the throngs of tourists and lack of seating and the prices. For $7.25, I had a Neapolitan, ricotta pie, a bag full of cookies, and a soda.

The macaroons were delicious, the ricotta pie was magnificently smooth, and I had a hard time coaxing myself out of that oasis of goodness back onto the "mean streets" of Revere. But go, I did. After all, there was still Wonderland to visit. As I sat on the bus, I conjured in my mind the lovely sea air, the soft sand, the sparkling, cool, deep blue water...all of the things that this California Girl loves about the ocean.

I can't quite say that Revere Beach lived up to that.

Yes, there is sand. Yes, there are shells. Yes, there is water. But something is missing here that I can't put my finger on. As I watched jet fuel waft down off planes taking off from Logan, and I looked at the dirty sand, and the unfriendly wave break, and the deserted boardwalk...it seemed to me that joy and beauty were not at a maximum here. I took out some of the cookies from Luberto's as a consolation snack as I walked back to the T. I can't say I'll be coming back to Wonderland, a stop so ill-named that I have to consider the possibility that it was an ironic title. But if you have a car, I do strongly recommend a trip to Luberto's!

Monday, May 19, 2014

DC and Cherry Blossoms: Pie Sisters Rock My World!

I've never been to DC for cherry blossom season. And even though I went to visit a good friend there at the first week of April, I have to admit I've still not been to DC for cherry blossom season...that's because the flowers were late this year, and I came smack in time for magnolia blossoms, but a week shy of cherry blossoms. Ah well! DC is still one of the neatest cities I know to visit, and when not hearting Lincoln and hearting Washington, and hearting the Whitehouse, I took the opportunity to fulfill two long-held culinary dreams.

I had a veggie dog at Ben's Chili Bowl. And believe me, it was the first chili dog I've had since going vegetarian that satisfied as a taste experience...literally, I wouldn't have known there was no meat in that thing, that's how tasty it is. I found this politico hot dog diner to be a place where it is hard to score a seat, but if you're lucky you might just be sitting in the same spot where the president had a chili dog. Throw in some cheese fries, potato salad, and coleslaw, and you have a party!


And for my other food adventure, I feasted on pastries in Georgetown! Now, truly, and entire chapter could go to Georgetown pastries, and I only had one weekend. So I will simply tell you about the bakery I went to that will now and forever have a pie-shaped slice of my heart: Pie Sisters.

Located on the edge of the Georgetown strip, Pie Sisters is a little shop that does something extraordinary with pies...among other mysteries, they have created cream pie cupcakes. Piecakes, if you will. A little pie crust baked in a muffin tin, stuffed with every pie filling you could desire and topped with flaky pie crust "cookies." They have full sized pies, of course, that you can order by the slice.

But it was the piecakes that got me. I do believe that I may actually have made little gurgling exclamations of joy, somewhat akin to the noise that llamas make when excited, as I caught site of their cup sized mini pies. There is something so utterly alluring to the notion of devoting a store to this one culinary art form. We all know that when pie crust is done right, it is one of the most heavenly things you can eat. And yet, so often it is only in our collective imagination that we have that perfect pie crust that is both flaky and moist, a juicy filling, and perhaps a scoop of ice cream on top. Pie sisters conjures all of that and more, with everything from coconut cream to strawberry rhubarb to bourbon chocolate pecan. And they even have savory pies!

I think pie is a fundamental comfort food, that one dessert that says Americana, remembered and imagined from our childhood, now often lost in the world of modern food experiences. It is really very rare that you sit down at a cafe or a restaurant and say, "I'd like a slice of pie, please." And even rarer that you might look at a menu and see the main accoutrement offered are glasses of milk and scoops of ice cream.

And that to me is the charm of Pie Sisters. You can and should come across town, if not across the country, to sit down in a sweet little cafe, order a piece of pie or two, and don't forget the glass of milk!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Oakleaf Cakes: New Kids on the Block, Old School Bakery Skills!

Few things make my pulse jump like word that there's a new bakery in town. Or at least, a bakery that I didn't know about. So when I came across mention of Oakleaf Cakes downtown by the Pru Center, I booked it down there to see if rumors of insanely good Italian meringue buttercream icing were true. This delightful bakery is tucked away just a few steps from the Mapparium, a little cake shop that I suspect has yet to be discovered by throngs of tourists. So you will likely find a seat in their well appointed cafe, with a birds eye view of the delicious cakes and goodies that go marching out the door at a fair clip.

The bakery is known for their imaginative cakes that border on being sculptures, a talent that landed the bakery on a Food Network Cake challenge. Which simply means that if you need a cake shaped like a bulldog or a sparkle unicorn, they can certainly provide you with one.

If you are a budding cake artist, you can even take classes at Oakleaf. But for me, the interest lies with individual treats, things I can pick up with a coffee and savor out of hand. Oakleaf strikes me as the kind of bakery that is poised to do a roaring trade in goodies as its reputation grows by word of mouth. But as of now, they make things in small batches. I came on a Saturday afternoon and had my choice of five different kinds of cupcakes, all of which were something sublime.

All of these beauties came with an angel-fine crumb and smooth buttercream icing that would sweeten even the crankiest bakery grinch. Really, this bakery does classics perfectly. There is not a lot of fuffing around...they make one thing spectacularly well, and that is cake and frosting. Which is not to say that their cherry turnovers are not delicious with a glass of ice tea or that their cookies are not rich and moist. Because they are!

But what I will be coming back for, is this:

The honey almond cupcake. Simple flavors, gorgeous mouth texture, and a sweet sight that made me happy just to look at it. Truth be told, you will not go wrong with any of their cupcakes, and I certainly intend to take my time sampling all of them.

Visit their website at: www.oakleafcakes.com. Or stop by the bakery: 12 Westland ave. boston, ma 02115 (617) 299-1504. Mon – Thurs 7am – 10pm, Fri 7am – 11pm, Sat 8am – 11pm, Sun 8am – 8pm