Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
14 Bedford Street New York, NY 10014 (near Downing Street; map); 212-647-0408; blueribbonrestaurants.com
Service: The toastmasters are careful but fast
Setting: Postage-stamp-sized storefront
Compare It To: Alidoro, 'ino
Must-Haves: Tuna melt; hard-boiled egg, mayo, pickled peppers, and perfect roast sturgeon toast; mozzarella-and-basil-pesto toast; chocolate chip cookies
Cost: $12, including toast sandwich, chocolate chip cookies, and lemonade
Blue Ribbon Bakery Market is the only toast bar in New York that I know of. The Blue Ribbon boys, Bruce and Eric Bromberg, conceived of it as a place where they could spread deliciousness on toast made from all the terrific breads they bake in the hundred-year-old coal oven they found in the basement of the Blue Ribbon Bakery catty corner from the market. It turns out that a toast bar is a brilliant idea, one worthy of a MacArthur Genius Grant, in the hands of cross-cultural comfort-food meisters like them.
The menu consists of 22 open-face sandwiches, divided into vegetable and fruit, cheese and butter, and meat and fish varieties. In the name of exhaustive, meticulous, and thorough research, I actually bought one of each kind (it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it). When you order, Sasha Acosta-Cohen or his lieutenants, Milcar Cruz, Efren Perez, or Christian Tarqui, spring into action, cutting the slices of bread to order off loaves lined up on shelves right in back of them.
Among the meat and fish possibilities are many, many models of perfectly constructed, ever-so-simple sandwich deliciousness. Pork rilletes and conrichons ($6), duck confit, country pâté with a confit of shallots and Dijon mustard ($7.50), and smoked duck breast with honey mustard ($9), all made in-house, represent the French side of the menu, and they are all flawlessly executed. If I had to pick a favorite among the four, I would probably go with the country pâté, coarsely ground and exceptionally meaty, accompanied by cornichons. Cotto de Parma served with cave-aged Gruyere ($6.50) is another Italian-Swiss cross-cultural combination that works perfectly.
There's a killer tuna melt sandwich ($9.75), that uses regular canned tuna mixed with raw cow's milk cheese from 5 Spoke Creamery, pieces of grilled asparagus, and house-made mayo made with canola and olive oils. From now on I think there should be a law requiring all tuna-melt makers in the city to use this recipe. It's that good a combination.
Tender, satiny delicately flavored house-smoked sturgeon or red trout ($8.50) tops three-onion cream cheese and capers in a Brombergian take on a Jewish appetizing sandwich classic.
Among the vegetarian offerings, I was crazy about a combo that featured hard-boiled egg, mayo, pickled pepper, and perfect roast seasoning (kosher salt, cracked black pepper, thyme; $7) and the toast topped by hummus, tomato, and lemon oil, which sounds boring but isn't. Even the house-made mozzarella-and-basil-pesto toast ($8.50) overcomes its now clichéd connotation to deliver a powerful flavor punch
If you don't have time for one of these guys to make you something, buy a bacon and red-onion loaf ($2.50). Moist, substantial, and surprisingly light, it's one of my favorite walking lunches in New York.
The only unsuccessful toasts I've had in multiple visits have been a fried chicken and wasbi honey ($9.50), done in by dry nubbins of fried chicken and an olive tapenade and arugula ($7.50) combo that was one-dimensional.
Even the soft drinks are made with incredible care. Fresh lemonade is simultaneously sweet and tart with no zesty bitterness. If you need another shot of caffeine at lunch, have the iced coffee with Mexican honey, which tastes like melted coffee ice cream.
For dessert, it's hard to go wrong with fresh sliced strawberries, hot fudge, and Mexican honey ($7.50) on, you guessed it, toast. But if that seems too elaborate for you, opt for the packages of three small but spot-on chocolate chip or oatmeal-raisin cookies ($3). The chocolate chip cookies, in fact, are moving up fast on my list of great chocolate chip cookies available in New York (stay tuned for a full report).
Everything at Blue Ribbon Bakery Market comes in or is served in modest-sized portions. But to me great sandwiches are all about balance and the proper ratio of filling to bread--if the fillings and the bread are up to snuff. Blue Ribbon delivers on all these scores magnificently. I'm more than happy to spend ten bucks on a great small sandwich and a killer cookie or two rather than ponying up the same amount for a big, bad sandwich and humongous, badly baked cookie. If this shop were closer to Serious Eats headquarters, I would happily have a different sandwich and a cookie or two for dessert every day, and I would be totally and deliriously sated doing so.
Note: The seating at Blue Ribbon Bakery Market is limited. Actually, it's nonexistent, unless you count the wooden bench in front that could seat a parent and two small children comfortably or two adults who really like each other. But to me tables and chairs have always taken a back seat to deliciousness, and Blue Ribbon Market delivers deliciousness in spades.