Monday, May 11, 2009

A Parisian moment in Princeton

Whenever I travel out of NYC, one of my favorite things to do is try to hit my destination's "hidden jewels"-- the places not everybody knows about but that yield tremendous rewards if you venture off the beaten path. Well, this past weekend I ventured far, far away from the city to Princeton, NJ, AV's hometown. I remembered a few months ago reading a Serious Eats post claiming Princeton was the home of the best croissants in the nation. I'm not a huge croissant-eater, and AV had never heard of the shop the post described, but, gosh darn it, we had to check it out.

So AV surprised me on Saturday morning by leading me to the Little Chef, a tiny storefront off one of Princeton's main streets. We wandered in the door to find the shop empty and a pastry case staring back at us. In its somewhat eerie setup yet scrumptious-looking pastries, the whole experience reminded me somewhat of Dousoeur Patisserie. But we soon found what we were looking for: a side cabinet contained the croissants for which we searched. And as we were opening the cabinet, the proprieter wandered out from the back to advise us on what filling each croissant contained. Needless to say, we went straight for the chocolate.

We paid for the croissant and dashed across the street with our paper bag of bounty. There, sitting on a set of concrete steps, AV unveiled it and we dug in.

Sort of looks like a conch shell

Again, I'll be the first to say that I'm no croissant expert, but even to my untrained eyes and palate, this was a damn good croissant. I pulled the pastry apart to reveal the flaky layers inside, which barely gripped the crisp crust and surrounded a slathering of dark chocolate.

Note the shattered bits of crust littering the paper bag

You could take a bite off the end, as AV did, which provided a rugelach-like experience. Or you could pick out the flaky bits from the center, as I did, which provided an I'm-three-years-old-and-will-eat-the-chocolate-first kind of experience. Either way, the combination of the intensely buttery pastry and the bittersweet chocolate was sublime.

Looks like rugelach? No? Just me?

While we came for and stuck to the croissants, the other pastries in the Little Chef's case also looked quite appealing-- maybe next time I'll investigate those. Regardless, I'd venture to guess you can't really go long in your selection; if you ever find yourself in the Princeton area, check it out yourself and let me know what you think.

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