I have often strolled through the Chelsea Market during my walks up through Manhattan. It makes for a well-placed rest of the soles for the hour-long walk I plan ahead of me, as well as a different stimulant of the senses. A wide range of smells emanates from the varying styles of food that draw hordes of people there every day. This market is known for housing a multitude of small restaurant stalls – some unique to the market and some simply outlets of a larger chain – and is one of the famous food halls of NYC along with the Gramercy Market in Hell’s Kitchen, and Dekalb Market in Brooklyn. Despite being a major foodie location, I have never actually eaten anything there. Typically, I am on another food mission and using it purely as a stopping point, therefore not getting the chance to see whether its contents truly lives up to the hype. But during my last week in the city before the end of the semester, my Mom and I went up to give it a try.
The Chelsea Market is mainly a savory affair, but there are a few places to get dessert after your lunch or dinner explorations through the stalls. After we had way too many noodles from Very Fresh Noodles – noodles that were, in fact, very freshly made right in front of us and so so good – we set out to do our work with dessert. There were two places we were looking to hit while we were there that day: Sarabeth’s and Fat Witch Bakery. Sarabeth’s is a bakery that seemed to cover a wide range of baked goods with a slight focus on cookies, while Fat Witch is all brownies all day every day. Both places looked like had good things inside and seemed worth fitting them both in this visit.
We began with Sarabeth’s, more of a sit-down bakery, figuring we could pick up some brownies to have later or the next day. As we walked through the small hallway that led to the seating area, we saw the inner workings of the operation – a pretty vast floor of metallic mixing machines for the otherwise cramped food hall. While they seemed to be winding down, we were excited that the products were clearly made fresh and on site. Once we reached the counter we were faced with a myriad of options: a variety of cookies, tarts, cakes, loaves, and pasties. While a pecan tart was giving me the eye, we decided to split a personal cherry pie to get a taste of their crust as well as their fruit skills. But at the end of the day they seemed to be really cookie based. So, we got three different cookies to survey a range of their styles: a rugelach, orange jam-filled cookie with a little chocolate dip, and a linzer cookie. We took our plates and took a seat by the window to split our goods.
The cherry pie was well filled and fairly picturesque. The top crust glistened, and I could see sugar crystals sprinkled on top. The side and bottom crust were of a different make, however, and seemed more like a shortbread. This was true in taste as it crumbled in the mouth and melted away in the buttery base. However, both this shortbread crust and the more classic pie crust were rather bland. It was brightened by the tartness of the cherry inside, but even this was pretty single note. This was more like the idea of a cherry pie, like when your mouth is trying to remember the flavor and it’s only a ghost on the tongue. There wasn’t any deep buttery flavor in the crusts, no sweet and tangy play within the fruit. It could have been amped up a bit with a couple hits of nutmeg and certainly some more salt to hit more of the palate.
The cookies were all in similar need of salt. In all three cases the flavor was muted and could have used a lift from not only more of their respective ingredients, but that classic flavor enhancer, salt. The raspberry of the linzer, the orange of the chocolate dipped sandwich, and the currents of the rugalach were all underwhelming. On top of that, the starch component in each was dry. The pastry of the rugalach was again not as buttery and rich as one would desire from a pie crust dough, and it crumbled in the mouth in a rather unsatisfying fashion. The linzer looked to be more promising with its nutty brown hue, but this evidently was not because of the massive amounts of baking spices in it, for barely any could be detected. It was also seemingly not because they had spent some quality time in the oven crisping up, because there was no definite snap. Yet neither was there a pleasant chew. Again, it instead submitted to the bite with no character and crumbled into nothingness. The most pleasant of the three (which is kind of like being the tallest dwarf) was the orange marmalade cookie. The brightness of the orange fought its way through the hardest, though it truly was a fight, and the tempering of the chocolate dip on the outside was nice enough. I am not sure why only a bite’s worth of the cookie was dipped in chocolate, leaving the majority of it plain, but I would highly encourage upping the chocolate amount to make the flavor experience throughout more jaffa cake-like. But this would also be more achievable if there were strong flavors that had the power to mix together.
With many bland bites within us we were feeling pretty disgruntled. Despite seeming to think they are cookie savants, Sarabeth’s products are rather cookie-cutter and while clean looking, do not have anything I would call dessert-worthy. They are of the quality one might find at a disappointingly catered function, a sweets table that everyone flocks to in the first five minutes it’s available but is still left with an abundance of food by the end of the event because it is all so boring. This dissatisfaction coursing through us, we were very ready to head over to Fat Witch to get some brownies to bring back to the hotel and give a try.
But despite being on the same trip, Fat Witch will have to wait for its own post, for (spoiler alert!) I simply don’t have the heart to weigh one post down with so much distasteful fare from not only one but two places. Yes my friends, it was that kind of day. You’ll just have to tune in next week!