Stephen and a friend of his are installing our new kitchen floor today, one full year after we bought the materials (yay). In an effort to stay out of their hair I took a stroll in the neighborhood—between the blizzard and all my work, I haven’t taken a walk in a few weeks. Of course I figured I’d spy something new, but I thought it would be something in development—luxury “loft” buildings sprout like mushrooms after a rainstorm here in Williamsburg. I never imagined that I’d find a sweet little bakery filled with fluffy cakes, tart tarts, and cloudlike scones…
(Clockwise from the top: chocolate frosted chocolate cupcake, honey almond tart—Stephen bit into it before I could even snap a picture—chocolate chip cookie, lemon tart, honey corn muffin, rosemary-cheddar-sea-salt scone)
Pocket-sized Cheek’s Bakery is on traffic-heavy Metropolitan Avenue, right next to Siam Orchid, our favorite Thai takeout (already I’m dreaming about convincing the Thai delivery guys to add a cupcake to our next order…). It’s been open just over a week, after a below-radar buildout by husband-and-wife team Melanie and Mark. Melanie’s the baker, with ties stretching back to Magnolia years ago (it seems like all of New York’s bakers worked there at some point, doesn’t it?). She also put in some time at Baked in Red Hook, home of the best spicy brownie in the city, and until very recently was the baker at Marlowe & Sons and Diner, two popular Williamsburg restaurants with joint ownership.
The instant I walked in the door, I knew my prayers had been answered. Williamsburg’s got a lot of great food, but the one thing we’ve lived without (how? how?) is a good, cozy, American bakery. No canoli, no baked-elsewhere-and-carted-in muffins, no fancy French stuff at Manhattan prices. Hope & Union comes close, but somehow there’s just never anything there I’m dying to eat. Peering in the window at Cheek’s, I saw several frosted cakes perched on glass pedestals, including red velvet and German chocolate—be still my heart. Four different kinds of cupcakes—vanilla and chocolate, each frosted with either vanilla or chocolate—lined the bottom of the display case. And these did NOT look like Magnolia wannabes: The frosting looked rich, not fluffy, more ganache-like than whipped. Almond, pear, and lemon tarts beckoned, each homey and hand-made-looking. Jars of oversized cookies lined the exposed brick wall. Towards the back was a case filled with breakfast items—three kinds of scones, three of muffins, and a poppy-lemon cake. Since it wasn’t even 11AM yet, I opted for an apple-ginger scone, still warm from the oven, and continued on my walk.
The scone was lovely, cakey rather than crumbly, and surprisingly light. Not too sweet, studded with little chunks of green-skinned apples, and barely scented with ginger. It was an ideal mid-morning snack. I couldn’t wait to stop back at Cheek’s on my way home, to pick up some treats for the laborers, though I must admit I had a heck of a time choosing which goodies to buy. Hours later, I still wonder whether I should’ve gone for a slice of chocolate pecan pie, or maybe some of that German chocolate cake… No matter. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to taste everything in the store, god help me.
Of the items I did buy, two really stood out. The almond honey tart, which Melanie described to me as an Americanized baklava—slivered almonds suspended in a gooey honey sauce, over a sugary pate sucre crust—was unexpected and rewarding, and it disappeared within the first few minutes of my arrival home (mostly into Stephen’s mouth, I’m pretty sure). And the lemon tart was unlike anything lemony I’ve ever had. Lemon bars are usually too unctuous for me; curd just makes me think of bodily fluids. But Melanie doesn’t use curd in her tart—somehow she takes the same juice, zest, sugar, butter, and eggs that make up any curd recipe and turns them into something purer, lighter, less cloying, more essentially lemony. Throughout the day, whenever Stephen and his buddy left the kitchen to cut a piece of flooring, I’d sneak in and do some cutting of my own, sticky little wedges of citrusy goodness. I’ve saved one last little piece for dessert, assuming I actually have room for dinner… Maybe Siam Orchid.
Cheek’s Bakery is at 378 Metropolitan Avenue, near Havemeyer, in Williamsburg. 718.599.3583.