The atmosphere and food at City Bakery was one of my first introductions to "cool" and "hip" New York when I was around eleven years old. My mom worked nearby and brought home a pretzel croissant. Needless to say, it was love at first salty-tender-buttery bite.
The rest of their eats are no less exciting. For lunch, they have lovely buffet with choices that range from salad to macaroni cheese. Yet the pastries and hot chocolate steal the show. You have the rich peanut butter cookies that properly taste like peanut butter, with crisp edges and a crumbly, yet tender, centre. There are also the chocolate chip cookies that have an almost caramel-ly, brown sugar flavor, studded with rich chocolate chunks.
Then, there is the hot chocolate. Oh my gosh. If you have previously only known hot chocolate through mixes and Starbucks then you are in for a knock-you-off-your-feet shock. Although extraordinarily rich hot chocolate has becoming increasingly popular in recently, City Bakery's will always feel to me as the typical beyond rich beverage. Available in two sizes, shot and small cup, the texture is closer to that of melted chocolate than of the water-y liquid you get from mixing up some Swiss miss in a cup of boiling water. You can also choose to add in a fresh marshmallow, which brings the experience to a whole other level. Of course, this is the kind of beverage made for sharing on a cold winter's day.
For summer, I'd recommend iced coffee or a cappuccino. Both which are, again, better than your average coffee shop. The coffee I've gotten from City Bakery has always had a deep bitter flavor that was harmoniously cut by frothed milk.
You are probably wondering now, is there anything you don't like about City Bakery? There is. I realize this is New York, but the prices for pretty much everything besides the peanut butter cookies, which cost 75 cents, verges on ridiculous. I'm definitely not coming here for my regular cup of coffee. Then again, you do pay for quality.
The crowds can also be a pain. Since the main ordering area is a square right in the centre of the cafe, it can be disconcerting to choose what you want and order quickly. Finding a seat, if you choose to eat in, is nearly impossible if you come during lunchtime. Though during the spring and summer, you can always choose to eat in nearby Union Square.
okay, not too crowded here, but it wasn't lunchtime!
Ultimately, City Bakery is an ideal cafe for rich, high quality food and drinks, though depending on your New York hip tolerance level, you may find the atmosphere migraine inducing, or be perfectly at home.
Atmosphere: 2.5 out of 5 coffee cups. There are a good amount of tables and the decor is unique, yet the painfully hip urban mood permeates the cafe, making it feel less than cozy. This is a place to grab a quick business lunch, or feel super cool at, not the kind of place to bring your computer and do work.
Coffee: 3 out of 5 coffee cups. Good, pretty strong flavor, yet there's something special lacking about it. I enjoy it, but I'm not going to go out of my way to get it.
Food: 4 out of 5 coffee cups. One of my favorites reasons to come here. Yes, it can be expensive, but every bite is so worth it.
Prices: 2 out of 5 coffee cups. Not prohibitively expensive, yet not for everyday consumption either. There are better bargains out there. The only exception I'll make is for the peanut butter cookies. Those things are a proper bargain.
Location: 5 out of 5 coffee cups. Yes, there is only one (though their eco-concious store, Birdbath, has many more locations), but it has pretty much a perfect location only a couple blocks from Union Square. This probably increases the amount of visits I've made here by about, oh, 88.2%
Interested in City Bakery? Here's some useful links!
Location: 3 West 18th St # 1, New York, NY 10011