316 W. 23ed St. (betwn. 8th & 9th Aves)
The cream puff has gotten a bad rap. Oft maligned and relegated to a slang expression used derisively to describe a person as weak, ineffectual or lacking strength of character, the cream puff is no longer to be seen as timid—especially if it’s a Choux Factory cream puff.
On the northern rim of Chelsea, just around the corner from the madness of Eighth Avenue, lies this small and unassuming Japanese shop. Yet what awaits inside is an experience of sugar, cream, flour, butter and eggs that will leave your taste buds reeling. It boggles the mind what these simple ingredients can become in the right hands.
As you enter, a very enthusiastic and welcoming Japanese staff greets you like a friend they’ve been expecting. Several small tables seat close to 14, but this is not really a place to hang and relax. Sure, you can sit and after after you grab a cup of coffee and a puff, but the cramped space isn’t particularly conducive to relaxation or getting work done. The reason for coming here is the pastry itself.
The puffs (i.e. the pastry shell) are made daily on the premises and are pumped full of fresh cream right before your eyes. All three of their basic flavors (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) are just $2 each. The classic vanilla custard is rich and creamy without being overly sweet; the chocolate is smooth and decadent; the strawberry is fresh and light. They also offer a special “custard of the day” ($2.25), with rotating flavors, like Green Tea, Yogurt, Coffee, Lemon and, my personal favorite, Pumpkin—which is phenomenal). To wash it all down, they serve a variety of hot and cold coffee, tea and espresso drinks ranging from $1.70 to $5.20. And, for that special occasion, you can even order a Choux Tree: miniature puffs piled high into a tree ranging in size (8 to 15 inches tall) and price ($35 to $75).
The pastry shell is baked to perfection; light and fluffy on the inside with a crisp golden coat. And then, as soon as you bite down, there’s a joyous explosion in your mouth of delectable, orgasmic, transcendent, luscious, heavenly, blissfully sublime custard that oozes from its doughy confines. A bit over-the-top? Have I oversold it? Hell no.
These little puffs are nirvana in cream and pastry form. Admittedly, I have been known to eat three or four of them to the point of making myself ill and spiraling down into that dark and hazy abyss known as a sugar coma, but it’s all well worth the torment and post-gluttonous feeling of remorse, shame and disgust. And, yeah, yeah, they have bagels, muffins and some other edible stuff (including breakfast and lunch sandwiches), but who cares. Here, it’s all about the puff!
Once you try one, I guarantee you’ll become a full-blown addict, buying a “half dozen to go” and “one for the walk home.” OK, so you may put on a few pounds, but you’re New Yorkers, you all belong to a gym. Just spend an extra 15 minutes on the elliptical or treadmill, which should effectively work-off an eighth of a teaspoon of that luscious cream. Oh, who cares; they’re worth it. Be a cream puff: Have the strength and personal fortitude to indulge.