Sometimes I think the formula for a successful restaurant is the following triad: the anticipation surrounding its arrival, a subsequent meeting of expectations, and a successful integration into the neighborhood that surrounds it. For me, Astor Bake Shop is something of a case study for this formula.
I remember strolling down Astoria Boulevard, eagerly anticipating when this bright, spacious bakery and cafe would finally fling open its doors to the public. And when it did, pastry chef George McKirdy’s superb sweets exceeded expectations, especially his ever-changing seasonal tarts and pies. What surprised me, however, was how good Astor Bake Shop’s sit down cafe menu was as well. In the years since their doors first opened I’ve had many favorites, but a relatively recent special (not always on the menu, but often), the Cubano sandwich, has totally won my heart.
Fresh ciabatta bread, pressed to a nice toasted crunch, is the foundation for this truly excellent sandwich. While the pork, slow cooked until it is falling apart, is the standout, the melted cheese, dill pickles and salty ham are all delicious accompaniments. In fact, the genius of this Cubano is that the pickles and ham are diced up and mixed throughout the sandwich, ensuring that you’ll get a taste of each key ingredient of this classic sandwich in every bite.
And because it would be a travesty to leave Astor Bake Shop without a pastry, I’ll also recommend one of my all time favorite’s, McKirdy’s Rocky Road Tart. A light, buttery tart shell surrounds a layer of rich chocolate custard, topped with chopped pecans and light as air homemade marshmallow. The whole delicious package is sealed over with a chocolate shell and topped with a pecan.
But what about that last part of the triad, the part about successful integration into the neighborhood? Astor Bake Shop sits a bit apart from the more well traveled thoroughfares of Astoria, and yet it has become a beloved destination in a neighborhood food scene overflowing with outstanding options. That seems like success, and a sweet one at that.
Astor Bake Shop – 12-23 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria NY