Savory Surprise at a Sweets Stalwart

Cheese Puffery Part II

When I first entered the Hungarian Pastry Shop in 1984 I was 25 and cheered by the striped red and white awning but cowed by the air of intellectualism that filled the dimly lit café—pale people reading post-modernist tomes. I was editing quack health books at Prentice-Hall in New Jersey. I longed to be a “real” writer, though, and imagined myself writing essays over endless coffee refills and scrawling my own rant inside the famed graffiti-covered bathroom door.

Thirty + years later, The Hungarian Pastry Shop is still exactly, adorably, the same, only I live two blocks away, treating the cafe as an extension of my home office where I am a “real” writer. I meet my fellow freelancer friend, Gaynor, there. She has the bitter unsweetened cocoa and a giant, surprisingly airy almond horn. I have the mediocre decaf and a croissant that is more like a horn of sweetened, glazed challah bread, served always with a thimble sized cup of apricot jam and a golden pat of Minnesota or Doylestown, PA butter. We vent about work, publishers, taxes and share stories of mutual friends and family. Everything is as it ever was.

This has has been our sometime routine for over two decades until the day I actually looked more carefully at the array of baked goods next to the croissants. All of the bakery items are oversized and have the same eggy texture except a pile of what looked like miniature biscuits. One of the friendly Ethiopian waitresses told me they were pogácsa, Hungarian cheese puffs (.85/ea). It is the only savory item on offer among the triple decker Lindzer Tortes and Napoleons and the Danishes with apricot halves embedded in them like yolks.

Unlike the pão de queijo at O Café, these have more puff than cheese—tiny baked curlicues of Parmesan on top-- and flaky layers that separate easily as in the best Southern biscuit. Ask for them to heat it up; it will take 20 minutes in a strange hamster cage contraption that warms items just enough to soften that cold, luxurious butter.

I downed two and felt like writing something sagacious on the bathroom door—that in the midst of a life full of routine, of marriages and friendships that don’t seem to waver or surprise us, suddenly there will appear a savory cheese puff in the most unlikely of places. Everything is suddenly as it never was.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop
1030 Amsterdam Avenue (btw 111th & 110th Sts.)