Amy's Bread Cafe: A Go-To Sandwich Spot. What's Yours?
Location Visited: 75 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (Between 15th & 16th Streets); 212-462-4338; amysbread.com.
Additional locations at 672 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10036 (Hell's Kitchen) and 250 Bleecker Street, New York NY 10014 (West Village)
Service: Friendly, accommodating, and quick (except when you order a pressed sandwich)
Setting: Bakery counter with some tables and chairs. Look to the left and you can watch bread being made.
Compare It To: Balthazar, Sullivan Street Bakery, Mangia
Must-Haves: Ham and cheese biscuit, grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, Cuban sandwich, cherry cream scone, butterscotch cashew bar, lemonade, lemon mouseline cake.
Cost: $10-15 for a sandwich, cookie, and drink.
Here at Serious Eats world headquarters we work in what can only be called a sandwich, bread, and baked goods-challenged neighborhood. For sandwiches we have Salumeria Biellese, but it limits itself to big, meat-centric sandwiches on unsatisfactory bread (they still haven't taken me up on my suggestion to carry Sullivan Street Bakery stirato). The bread and baked goods situation is even more dire. Basically, we've got nothing unless we're willing to brave the line at Whole Foods.
Over the past few months while going down to Chelsea Market for various meetings, I rediscovered Amy's Bread. To the people who live near or work in Chelsea Market, Amy's Bread is a godsend. And to those people I say, do not take Amy's Bread for granted. Proximity should breed support, not contempt.
Almost everything Amy Scherber and her hardworking crew make—from bread to cake, from cookies to sandwiches, from pizza to focaccia—is damned tasty, with a few items reaching the level of serious deliciousness. Scherber brings a taste, know-how, and pride to everything she sells here, and the result is an eatery I would kill to have in my neighborhood. She has proven herself to be a dough wizard; the breads, cookies, and cakes all have a chance for greatness. And even though all the sandwiches at Amy's Bread are premade, usually a sandwich no-no as far as I'm concerned, she manages to transcend the limitations of that tired genre.
In the morning the must-have sandwich is a pressed ham and cheese sandwich on a cheddar cheese biscuit ($4.25). It's excellent ham and New York state cheddar on a fine, fluffy biscuit, pressed together into almost gooey wonderfulness. What more do I need to say?
If you prefer something sweet in the morning, have a scone. The cherry cream scone ($3.50) is my personal favorite, but the oatmeal raisin scone ($3.50) is also tasty and maybe a healthier alternative. They're a reasonable size, unlike the mondo ones most scone and bagel makers get into the habit of selling. Small is beautiful when it comes to scones and bagels.
I've always been disappointed by the sticky buns, which are surprisingly dry and not sticky enough all the way through.
Croissants and pain au chocolat have improved in recent years. They're buttery, flakey, and a lovely golden brown.
At lunch there is a dizzying array of mighty fine sandwiches behind the sneeze guard. I'm a sucker for pressed sandwiches--when they're made right, they deliver a great flavor punch in small packages. Plus, Amy's Bread has a leg up on competition because they start with their own freshly baked bread. And Scherber is, after all, one of New York City's best bread bakers. Add the carefully conceived and constructed fillings, and you have delicious sandwiches.
Amy makes a solid Cuban ($6.50) with housemade garlic-roasted pork on a crustier-than-normal (for a Cuban, that is) baguette, an excellent hot ham and cheese on potato dill bread ($6.50) with Dijon mustard and mayo, and a just greasy enough genoa salami and mozzarella.
The sandwich that snuck up on me was the grilled New York state cheddar cheese and tomato. A chipotle pepper puree, ribbons of coriander, and a few slices of red onion elevate this seemingly plebian sandwich to "Sandwich Hall of Fame" status.
Locally-made mozzarella is also featured in two fine vegetarian options, one made on a black olive ficelle ($4.35) with tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, the other with grilled eggplant.
A tuna melt ($6.50) on a soft sandwich roll is also a worthy option.
If you're not a pressed sandwich junkie, don't worry. Amy's has plenty of conventional sandwich options, like the mini-tuna salad ($4.35) made with mayo, lemon, and chives on semolina black sesame bread. Turkey sandwiches usually bore me to tears, especially premade ones, but this one is made with turkey, romaine lettuce, and cranberry mayo on Amy's semolina raisin bread ($6.50)--far from boring. Her P, B, and J ($3.25) is a cheaper alternative, made with unsweetened peanut butter and good jam on whole wheat.
The serious eaters at world headquarters were pleased with the round focaccia with roasted tomatoes and the goat cheese, roasted vegetable pizza. As a bread baker, Scherber knows her way around pizza. The goat cheese, parmesan, and olive pizza ($2.00) is not great by absolute pizza standards, but it is more than satisfying.
Scherber's baked goods are in the same league as her bread. My favorite big cookies are the very peanutty peanut butter cookie, ($2.50) and the intense chocolate pecan chubbie. ($2.50) The chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies ($2.50) were just ordinary. The ginger snaps (.75) are good for the small cookie ilk. Among the bars, go for the butterscotch cashew ($3.25) variety—a nice combo of crunch and sweet, but not too sweet. Amy's old-fashioned layer cakes ($4.50 a slice) are consistently moist; my favorite would be the lemon mousseline, both delicate and substantial. Brownies in many forms are also surprisingly ordinary here, but the chocolate pudding ($3.95), now that's a winner.
Down your lunch with a glass of fresh lemonade ($2.50), iced tea ($2.25), or a glass of ice cold milk.
Amy Scherber, if you read this, please open an Amy's Bread near Serious Eats world headquarters. Between us and the students at FIT, there would be plenty of business for you. And the serious eaters would forever be in your debt.