"The people have spoken. And City Bakery is no longer their cookie of choice."
Last week in the Chocolate Chip Cookie Championship, we went uptown to find the best chocolate chip cookies on the Upper East and Upper West Sides. Having found our favorites, we're now moving to Midtown—between Union Square and 60th Street.*
In this round, there were formidable contenders and surprising upsets: disappointing frontrunners, dark horses, and a chain thrown into the mix.
Our eight contestants: City Bakery, Pret a Manger, Max Brenner, Petrossian, Ruby et Violette, Frankie's (at Stumptown), and Times Square Hot Bagels.
The best chocolate chip cookie in Midtown, after the jump.
*Okay, this isn't all Midtown. But do we really need separate Hell's Kitchen, Murray Hill, Gramercy, Flatiron, and Chelsea cookie tastings? We're sticking with "Midtown-ish."
The "Why Bother?" Cookies
Okay, Frankie's and Stumptown. We love your olive oil cake. We're fans of your stout cake. But please, please improve your chocolate chip cookie game. "You can hardly taste the chocolate." "The texture is so mealy—like a supermarket cookie." Summed up? "I bet I could make a better cookie. With cardboard."
Sold at Stumptown Coffee: 20 West 29th Street (map), 212-679-2222
You said "Times Square Hot Bagels!", and we listened. And tasted. But we found nothing to love about these cookies. "Tough and unpleasant." "Neither crisp nor crunchy nor moist." And, the consensus was, "just stale-tasting."
Times Square Hot Bagels: 200 West 44th Street (map), 212-997-7300
The "Great Effort!" Vegan Cookie
City Bakery does two chocolate chip cookies—the buttery ones, and the vegan ones. And while the vegan chocolate chippers didn't crack the top 3, they did pretty well, and only one taster called them out as dairy-free. They were called "crisp," "nicely gooey in the middle," and "just sweet enough." Several people complained about the "crumbly structure" and lack of chocolate. But for a vegan cookie, this is almost as good as it gets.
The Huge Disappointment
All right—here goes. We're going to take a beating for this one.
If you'd asked us to wager on the winner of this taste-test, I would have stacked my chips on City Bakery. Honestly, it would have been my bet to win the whole thing. At least a few tasters had identified as CB loyalists. But not a single one of our tasters put City Bakery in their top two.
A few representative comments? "Harmless, and not terrible, but given the choice you wouldn't eat it." "Sweet without any actual flavor." "An overwhelming amount of chocolate." "Some of the edges are actually burnt. Not nice-dark-crispy-caramelized. Burnt." And the discernible grains of sugar were a little strange.
A few people liked the crispy-chewy contrast, and the layering of chocolate that snuck a little into each bite. But no one really loved this cookie.
Did we get an off day? (I certainly remember these cookies tasting an awful lot better.) Has the venerable City Bakery gone downhill? We're not sure. But the people have spoken. And City Bakery is no longer their cookie of choice.
The Almost Perfect Cookie
The "Perfect Cookie" from Ruby et Violette isn't exactly modest. But small and chewy, with delicately crisped edges and a bold dose of chocolate, it almost lived up to its name. "This is a totally classic cookie." "I like how the cookie isn't too overwhelmingly sweet. It lets the chocolate shine." "This is a buttery cookie. I like buttery cookies." The complaint? Not enough crisp in the crust to balance out the softness. It was the texture of a Mrs. Fields cookie—even if it tasted 20 times better.
The Huge and Hefty Second Places
There are big cookies, and then there are really, really big cookies. Both Petrossian and Max Brenner had a heft nearing that of a Levain cookie, though neither was quite as raw in the center.
Petrossian had a number of vocal fans—"The crust is amazing, like crunchy butterscotch." "The center is gooey in a good way." "Buttery, chocolatey, memorable." One taster said she'd go out of her way to eat this cookie again.
The main complaints? Too much stuff, and not enough cookie. "No room for the dough to get through." Or, as one taster put it, "Chocolate chip with a side of cookie."
Petrossian Bakery: 182 West 58th Street (map), 212-245-2214, petrossian.com
Okay, we don't love Max Brenner's always-mobbed chocolate palace on Union Square. But, as Ed wrote, "This is one solid chocolate chip cookie." Though far too large to scarf in good conscience, it had basically everything we looked for in a cookie. "Crisp exterior, moist center, perfect balance." "Hint of spice, but not overpowering." "Enough salt! Thank goodness!" But just like Petrossian, while some loved the "cookie stuff action," others found it too overloaded.
The Absolutely Stunning Upset
A British chain beat out every one of these all-American cookies.
This is the magic of blind taste-tests, right? When we drew up our initial list, a few non-believers didn't even want to include Pret a Manger. But with only one dissenter in a team of ten tasters, this was almost unanimously decreed the best cookie.
"Wow!!" came a shout from the tasters when they got to Cookie #7. "This is perfection in a cookie," one wrote. "Buttery and salty and sweet and crispy and doughy and perfect." "Moist but not wet, with perfect chip distribution." "Distinctive and interesting spice." "A really daring salty-sweet combo." "I think this is the best cookie I've ever eaten."
Onto the Next Round
So Pret a Manger (!) and Max Brenner will join Levain, Bouchon, and Yura in our champions round. Who makes the best cookie in the Villages and below? Stay tuned next week for Round Three of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Championships.