I was introduced to Santa Cruz Panaderia by Neo of the nearby Tamales Ebenezer, who shared with me his fondness for their pan dulce when I dug up a special order of atole de tamarindo earlier this year. In my time, I haven't found much at Bronx panaderias that's worth reporting about (although in college, the 50 cent conches sold by my neighborhood's panaderia served me well in a pinch). But Neo spoke with such admiration of Santa Cruz that I felt compelled to check it out.
Unlike the other Bronx panaderias that I've visited, Santa Cruz bakes their pan dulce throughout the day. There's only one baker's shelf worth of bread, so as customers pick at the pan dulce with tongs, trays get consolidated and replenished. Since Neo's recommendation, I've tried several varieties of their breads ($1), including some I have not seen elsewhere in the borough.
My favorite thus far has been this hard-shelled, crepe-shaped variety filled with arroz con leche. The filling is milky and spiked with a serious dose of cinnamon, the broken-but-not-mushy rice surprisingly light. The shell is more like a cracker than a crepe, shatter-crisp but not dry. It's a good sweet analogue to nearby Ebenezeer's tamales, provided you spring for a cup of champurrado to bridge the gap. Not all the pan dulce here as as well done, but this is more than worth the pocket change it costs.
I would have sincerely appreciated this domed pan dulce (photographed above) during my college days, when I would make a breakfast of dipping the conches in coffee. The outer shell is on the bland side, but the center, lightly soaked with syrup, is moist, even airy, and only barely sweet in a surprising display of restraint.
If you've got a hankering for something sweeter, their orejones ("ears"), puff pastry coated in sugar, will serve you well. There's no cinnamon, as called for in such recipes as Fany Gerson's, but the sugary crunch does enough to distract from its absence.
Panaderia Santa Cruz
245 Willis Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10454 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats and Anatomy of A Smorgasburg Pop Up columns. Follow him on Twitter, if you'd like. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.