Peels, a new cafe from the owner of Freemans, has only just opened—but already the crowds have descended, seemingly straight from the Lower East Side, donning sunglasses indoors with their plaid shirts. EIther opt for table service, or order your lunch at the counter, either to take out or to eat at one of the few high tables near the door.
Table service offers a larger menu, but I prefer ordering at the counter, where same menu items runs a few dollars cheaper. The pastry case is a sight to behold—if you're only going to get one thing at Peels, make it sweet. Pastry Chef Shuna Fish Lydon (most recently of 10 Downing) is in charge of the goodies, which run from monkey bread to plum-blackberry crisps to sticky buns and chocolate brownies. Eat as much dessert as possible.
Start lunch with the Smoked Tomato Soup ($7), served chilled, with tiny diced cucumber and mint. It's refreshing, tasting so deeply and purely of tomatoes, with the smokiness creeping in unexpectedly.
There are an assortment of sandwiches on the menu, but the Goblecado ($8) pairs best with the soup. Each bite of this sandwich, built on a base of thin baguette with chili mayo, house-smoked turkey, and slices of ripe avocado, is amplified with a shallow dip into the smoked tomato soup. What's that little kick of heat? A healthy helping of pickled jalapenos. The baguette was too soft, without a crisp exterior, but the sandwich filling and proportions were excellent. And to drink, there's a House Lemonade ($4), sweet with a definite kick and sour pucker. Coffee is by Stumptown. (Would you expect any other?)
Don't leave without the greatest creation of the bakery: the 3-in-1 Pie ($6). As the name indicates, the pie offers not just one, but three pie flavors in a single slice—Banana, Chocolate and Coconut Cream Pie finished with a tall billowing layer of fresh whipped cream and a scatter of toasted coconut flakes. All the different layers more or less meld into one another, but they're each different enough to stand out on their own as you make way down to the well-browned pie crust, crunchy but not flaky. Banana is a gooey puree of fresh bananas, and the chocolate layer is a thick, glorious, almost fudgy pudding; the coconut is akin to chantilly, the lightest in flavor, though no less rich.
Service is still spotty; on my first visit, they completely forget my order and I ended up waiting for quite awhile. But to their credit, the man at the counter quickly apologized and threw in a free Brown Butter-Vanilla Bean Rice Krispy Treat with the order. Delicious.
And one more snack for the afternoon or breakfast the next day? A Buttermilk Biscuit ($2), so flaky you can literally pull the buttery layers apart, piece by piece. Add $1 for side of butter and a spicy, gingery jam. They have a build-a-biscuit program where you can design sandwiches of your liking, but I simply prefer taking it home, warming in the toaster, and slathering with room-temperature butter and jam.
325 Bowery, New York NY 10003 (map) 646-602-7015