There are some bakeries in New York that are regarded as institutions of the city (despite the fact that they have locations in other great cities around the world). These are the places foodies hear about all across the world and when they ultimately find themselves in NYC, they’re sure to make a stop. These are the places listed on the “Top 5 Whatevers of New York” or “10 Places You MUST Try” or better yet, have thirty-second videos that circulate on Facebook showcasing their unique dessert. One of the most notable spots in New York City is Milk Bar.
Milk Bar has many claims to fame: the compost cookie, cake truffles, cereal milk ice cream, straight up cereal milk in a bottle. The founder/owner, Christina Tosi, was even featured on an episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table (full disclosure: I have not seen the episode yet. I’m trying to make my way through all of the episodes sequentially and I am so darn close to the season on pastries I can taste it). On that particular evening, I was in the mood for a slice of cake and a slice of birthday cake from Milk Bar sounded like just the right solution. I had seen video after video regarding this particular cake, and I was ready to see if it was really as moist and reason for celebration as it had been made out to be.
But as you may notice from the title, cake was not had that night. For one signature aspect of Milk Bar that I had not realized is that most of its locations are not full stores, but windows serving up more of a grab-and-go sort of situation. This had fooled me into thinking my local FiDi location would be both convenient and serviceable. When I found I was wrong I made the commute to the next closest location that I knew had a full indoor area due to previous passings by. After an insanely long subway ride to the west village due to construction or whatever nonsense the MTA was up to that day, I made it to the well-known west village location. By the time I got there the sun was completely set and the signature glowing pink of the Milk Bar sign shone out like the guiding star while at sea. I entered and oh so tragically confidently asked for a slice of cake. But I was met with disappointment when the kind cashier told me cake slices were not offered at most locations, and was not sure if they were in fact offered in Williamsburg or not. As it was late and I had not had anything to eat for quite some time in anticipation of cake, I was not about to risk another MTA ride to Williamsburg for only the possibility of cake. But I was also not going to abandon my sweet treat mission! I was going consume and review a sweet treat if it was the last thing I did. So, purely out of perseverance, I ordered a different item that was also on my list to try and had been recommended to me earlier that same day: the crack pie.
I had seen images of this slice of mysterious ingredients and heard descriptions that did not do much to paint my taste buds an accurate picture of what to expect. It seemed indescribably good. The closest thing I had to an expectation for taste was comparison to my own Chocolate Crack recipe, an addictive combination of saltiness, butterscotch, and chocolate chips fused together into a bark-like treat that was demanded of me at parties throughout my adolescence. Perhaps the pie would be reminiscent of that butterscotch syrupy goodness with which I was so familiar.
The slice was handed to me in a box similar to the ones found containing McDonald’s apple pies of my youth (McDonald’s is, well, McDonald’s, but remember those apple pies? Damn!). I was slightly taken aback by the size. For the whopping $7 I paid, there was not much there physically. A little grumpy from hunger, I felt short-changed but thought that maybe the flavor was where the cost came from.
Upon tasting my answer is: I guess? It was definitely good. Salty and sweet and soft it was, in fact, similar to the syrup of my own crack-concoction, with the added pleasure of a thick, substantive texture. But with a tart-like thickness and the aforementioned physical shortcomings, it left me with little to savor for flavor that was frankly not anything groundbreaking. For its price point in relationship to size, I was expecting something a little more complex and intriguing. I was in the mood for a flavor and texture that was gonna knock my socks off. And while it was pleasing, my socks were definitively still on.
After a failed venture to a first location, a hair-pulling train ride to the second, failure to get my originally intended item, and a lack of delivery over the hyped-up slice I ended up receiving, I left ultimately disappointed. While I commend Milk Bar for capturing a flavor that is truly great and should be had by all if you’ve never had the brown sugar and buttery goodness of butterscotch syrup, or tasted the gelatinous filling of a pecan pie, I would not label it as revolutionarily stellar as I had heard it to be from the media and friends. While I plan on finding myself back at a Milk Bar location in search of a compost cookie or perhaps another attempt to procure a slice of cake, I do not think I will return for crack pie.