This past week I began my summer internship in Poughkeepsie. As I grow accustomed to my new surroundings here in Poughkeepsie, my mind continually wanders to my internship location of last summer in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. My time in the Berkshires was actually where the seeds of this blog began to sprout, as I spent my days in the box office of Barrington Stage Company longing for a slice of cake. On my days off I drove literally hours away to find a sweet treat that would satisfy my weeks’ worth of longing. Despite thorough research and countless outings, I spent week after week decidedly unsatisfied with what I turned up. The pit in my stomach that longed for the ideal, chocolatey slice still demanded satisfaction.
It was midway through my time there that one of my managers recommended I finally pay a visit to Northampton and check out a little café called The Roost. The hip city, home to the picturesque Smith College and a notably thriving LGBTQ+ scene, seemed like it had to be home to a bakery that would complete me. Kevin assured me that The Roost had promise, and would be a great pit stop for a sandwich and a sweet as I pranced around the wooded city. So on my next day off I took the hour-long drive for some cake.
After a stressful search for a parking space, I nestled myself in a parking garage and walked through the rainbow-painted streets towards the hip-looking café on the corner under the bridge. Inside was a plethora of seating, most of which was taken up by people working on their laptops or reading books. At the end of a narrow stretch of table was the counter. The menu laid out before me was overwhelming. Anything you could want was at your fingertips: coffees, teas, lemonades, even alcohol could all be had with a sandwich, salad, waffles, soup, quiche, mac and cheese, and a case full of pastry options. There was truly something for everyone, as the menu was not only vast with item variance, but had solid vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. I stood there, befuddled, for many moments until I could make a decision. For lunch I got the hot ‘roost’ beef, and for dessert, a slice of chocolate salted caramel cake with a chai latte.
Situated on a wooden counter with whatever Chekhovian play I was reading at the time, I began on the hot ’roost’ beef. Crisp and chewy bread encased tender meat with bright notes of red pepper, all coming to a close with some cheddar and horseradish aioli. It was hearty, full, and filling, in all the perfect proportions a sandwich should be. I will not pretend to be the expert in building a perfectly constructed sandwich myself, but I ever-so-greatly appreciate when I can come across one made for me. There is a certain beauty to getting the right architecture in a sandwich, and finding a place that can get it right is important.
But it was time for what I was there for: the cake. Six layers of sponge were separated by a fairly loose icing. The scent was ripe with chocolate and salted caramel just as promised, and the cake looked plenty moist, all good signs. The only thing that worried me was the icing. A stiffer, more full-bodied icing is usually what hits the spot for me, and a loose icing like this usually leads to textural disappointment.
But that was the secondary point of focus. First was the chocolatey caramel flavor to hit the palate. I find caramel to be a difficult flavor to infuse in a cake, but the wash that seemed to imbue every layer with moisture also served as the vehicle for the caramel flavor, letting it mix with the chocolate without either overpowering the other. The cake, as I said, was moist, but not in the typical way one would think of a moist cake. The moisture seemed to come mostly from the liquid brushed into it, not anything especially moist from the cake. This does not mean the cake itself was dry, it was adequately spongy on its own. But the wash brought it to a mouth feel that was extremely pleasant and different.
The icing, while indeed not being the texture I would have liked, was on point in terms of flavor. The saltiness of the caramel in it offset the sweetness, making the cake a proper cap to the meal. It is rare that chocolate salted caramel will achieve perfect unity of flavor in a dish, especially within a sponge, the two flavors combating to be the star, but this cake at The Roost hit all the flavor buttons I had been longing for. A sponge with much for the mouth to wrap its brain around, and ingredients that came together just how my dreams wished for every day in the box office. A chocolate cake with a little flair. In a cute little coffee shop, in a cute little town. As I plowed through my self-assigned summer reading.
Later, as I was roaming the grounds of Smith, I kept coming back to the food of that day. It was so comforting, filling not only for the stomach but for the soul. I got one day off a week, and I always looked to live it up the best I could that day. The Roost helped me do that. With not only a rockin’ menu, but a kind staff, I could have spent all day there ordering through their list and reading. The best part is that they stayed open later than most cafés, turning into more of a bar vibe at night but with their whole menu still available, and even hosting trivia nights sometimes. It was a place open for all types and ready and able to serve.
Out of the many little spots I visited in the Berkshires last summer, The Roost made the most lasting and positive impression. I continually think back to the small nook tucked in a corner of Northampton, a walk away from both a vibrant Main St. and stunning foliage, offering food that could more than satisfy anyone who walks through their doors. I hope to make a similar discovery while here in the Hudson Valley, further expanding my sweet treat horizon. If you have a pastry place in the area that you want the world to know about, let me know!