If you love baklava as much as I do, then you will appreciate this week's post. What's not to love about a layered, flaky, buttery, and nut-filled pastry? I walked Astoria up and down to find the best of the best of two different styles of this sweet treat: Steinway Street for the Middle Eastern version, 31st Street for the Greek. I got three of each—to compare, to contrast, but mostly, just to eat.
Laziza of NY Pastry Shop
This tiny triangle of walnut baklava, along with its rounder cousin, was the perfect size for a quick bite; and at 75 cents apiece, it's easy to fill a box with different styles and flavors of pastry. Not too sweet, with a hint of cinnamon, the top layers of filo were still flaky, and the bottom was soft from sugar syrup. A good place to warm up the stomach for a baklava tour.
25-78 Steinway Street, Astoria NY (map) 718-777-7676
Al-Sham Sweets & Pastries
These were small diamonds, also for 75 cents, but the baklava from Al-Sham had a rich and much more buttery taste than the one at Laziza. No cinnamon in these, the pure walnut flavor really stood out, and the crisp-to-soft contrast was spot-on.
24-39 Steinway Street, Astoria NY (map) 718-777-0876
Zaitoun's is not a bakery; it's more of a deli, with a prepared food section in the back. As I passed by I spotted a tray of baklava and a tray of kataifi by the counter, so I ordered a piece of the baklava ($1.25). The owner told me that he made the sweets, that he made the food, that he does catering, and has worked for 5-star hotels.
The piece of baklava was a much larger triangle, with much less filling. It was almost completely dry, which makes each layer very crisp, and the butter and filo really come through; but that also means there is barely any syrup. For those who abstain from baklava because it is too sweet, this is the perfect piece.
25-22 Steinway Street, Astoria NY (map)
Crossing over to the Greek side of things. The piece of baklava here was very large, and cost $2; the top three layers of filo were extra crisp and dark, the walnut pieces much bigger chunks than in any of the previous baklavas, and the amount of filling to filo significantly higher as well. The pastry was extremely fresh, not overly sweet, and with a touch of bitterness from the nuts. A piece as large as this is meant to be shared.
28-46 31st Street, Astoria NY (map) 718-932-3113
Titan is an amazing store, filled with feta cheese, filo dough, olives, and all sorts of Greek imports. There is a bakery section as well, so I ordered a piece of baklava, which cost $1.10 by weight. The baklava was completely soaked in syrup, overly sweet, and quite soggy. I like a little variety in texture, and not even the top layer was crisp. (I did, however, get a quart of mixed olives for $5, and they were delicious.)
25-56 31st Street, Astoria NY (map) 718-626-7771
Artopolis is a very fancy bakery. Among the nicely displayed custards, cakes, mousses and tarts is a filo section; my piece of baklava, the largest of the bunch, cost $4.00. Very tall with lots of layers, this baklava had a strong cinnamon flavor, and was very sweet. The top few layers were still crunchy, and the bottom was incredibly dense and syrup soaked. One piece could feed a crowd, easily.
23-18 31st Street, Astoria NY (map) 718-728-8484
There is a definite difference in flavor and style of baklava from country to country, and which is better is a question of personal taste. There was so much variety in the baklava, from crisp and barely sweetened to syrup-drenched, and everything in between.
Of the three pieces that I tasted on Steinway Street, the baklava at Al-Sham was the most well-balanced and well proportioned. Of the Greek-style on 31st Street, Ya-Ya's was the freshest and again, well-balanced. Both of the winners had the right amount of crisp and soft layers, and the perfect amount of syrup.
Where do you find your favorite baklava?