Andre's Hungarian Strudel & Pastry
Forest Hills, NY
Review by The Undercover Tourists
The reality is awfully grim, I'm afraid. It still comes down to luck, huge amounts of talent, even more charm, and lots of hard work. And a lot of hustling for buyers and many early mornings to get the stuff baked in time for the day's customers. And traditional, real bakeries are tight spaces, superheated, passed from one generation to the next. If you're lucky, there's an oven built right into the foundation. It's not just bread loaves that get made at 3 in the morning.
Andre is the son of the Rose, who is the old woman who runs the front of the store in her perfect vintage Gabor Sisters style coif and jewelry -- she does tidily put on a half-apron to work the tiny counter. She measures out cookies, cakes, tarts, slices, strudel and wraps it up tidily in specially sized boxes with the red-and-white candy-striped string that used to be around in every bakery for this purpose. Andre, Sr. is passed onto the pastry kitchen in the sky, but this place is still a bastion of Hungarian culture. Until recently, the New York Hungarian weekly paper was sold from Rose's counter. (It's sold across the boulevard now, Rose said people would take it, thinking it was free; better for them to buy the paper from a newspaper store.)
He's also a talented baker, filling the tiny, narrow space chock full of pastries for the folks who come here specifically for strudel. If you stand in here long enough, you'll realize most people come and in know what they want -- "One strip of cheese strudel, Rose." Or, "A quarter pound of rugelach, make sure they're not burnt in the least!" Or, "Extra crispy palmier and a honey slice, not too much chocolate on the edges." How often do these people come here? Some daily, some weekly, some every 20 years! But Rose wraps up the purchases equally, regardless.
Rose is actually a bit aloof -- you know, efficient but cool -- but the one of us is a second-generation Hungarian, like her son. She suddenly cracked a smiled and answered back in her native language; it'd seem that even with another woman at the counter to speak to, she welcomes the native language company, no matter how rusty it apparently was. There are few of third-generation Hungarian extraction among us, and they had a good time pretending to follow along.
The pastries, by the way, were delicious! We got apple, cherry, and cheese strudel, which were densely packed with fruit in the first two cases. The cheese strudel was like a sugary-gritty cheesecake encased in strudel pastry, really divine and unlike any such other concoction. The dough is sturdier than the best homemade stuff, but it's fragile as is. We all love eating the sugar-encrusted flakes that fall off in transit! Their rugelache is just the right texture -- a pastry that is a touch chewy, crunchy with chopped walnuts, wrapped around raspberry or apricot jam, or sometimes chocolate. Like many Hungarian pastries, there are nuts galore; unfortunately, some of us have nut allergies, so we could only press our noses up against the case and contemplate what might happen if we took a bite then followed it by a double-hit of Benadryl ... The prices of everything are really reasonable, but not that reasonable ... at least not without seeing the allergist first!
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