Kataifi from Artopolis Bakery in Astoria, Queens.
ARTOPOLIS BAKERY: 2318 31ST ST., ASTORIA, NY
I don’t know where to start; I can’t come up with the right adjectives to adequately praise the Greek pastries here.
I am without words to describe the feeling I have as I heedlessly dive into a box of kourabiedes and end up with powdered sugar all over my shirt; it is somewhere on the latter end of the scale between delight and euphoria.
Of course the baklava, of which there several varieties, is fantastic.
The kataifi – think baklava but rolled with shredded filo – is a work of art.
Also of import is the galaktoboureko, a custard, delicately flavored with citrus and baked with a thin, flaky layer of filo on top.
[While the galaktoboureko here at Artopolis is superior, it is worth a mention that this dessert is automatically served to each diner at nearby Taverna Kycaldes, whether you order it or not. That is, until the run out, which tends to happen on Sundays.]
Filo and honey are central to Hellenic pastries, but this represents only one side of the bakery, which not only bakes more traditional pies and cakes but also quite a selection of Greek cookies.
This brings me to the kourabiedes. They are spectacular.
Sometimes spelled kourambiethes, the powdered-sugar and almond shortbread cookies are generally considered wedding or holiday cookies; to be reserved for special occasions. Their eminence is confirmed by their prominent placement near the front door and – unlike all the other pastries – behind glass in a custom-built display case, beautifully stacked and bathed in soft light.
Only lesser kourabiedes can be had at Artopolis’ sister location across the East River near Columbia University as it is more cafe than bakery. Here they sell salads, crepes and gelato, among other items not available at the bakery. There is also much more seating and an open patio in the summer.
The cafe shares the same clean, appealing design as the Astoria bakery but the similarity stops there.
Consequentially the Astoria bakery is far superior in terms of pastry and that is all I really care about (I can get mediocre coffee anywhere).
I almost felt cheated after buying $14 worth of kourabiedes in Manhattan. This is not to say that I didn’t happily eat each and every one of them, but comparatively, they are undeserving of the Artopolis name.
After coming to this realization, the next time I visited Artopolis in Astoria I mentioned this disparity to the girl working behind the counter.
She looked at me blankly and said, “well, what do you expect? That is Manhattan.” Then, sensing I didn’t fully understand, she clarified: “of course they are better here, this is Astoria.”
Ah, yes…Athens West.
I should never have strayed.
NOTE: My grandfather would rightly disown me if I didn’t tell you that the koulorakia here is almost as good as the version that my late grandmother made for most family gatherings. I used to make a somewhat faithful representation, but gave up after I lost access to a stand mixer…I’m still trying to justify buying one but I feel a little guilty after reading this post about Mark Bitman’s kitchen.