Thursday, June 16, 2011

Best Pastries in Boston: Canto No. 6

My favorite thing about my apartment is that it is right next to a coffee shop/bakery, the realization of a dream I've had since I was fifteen. I recently happened upon an audiobook I listened to a few years ago, Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling Upon Happiness - a book, by the way, I'd highly recommend to anyone. In the introduction, Gilbert goes through the cliche of asking the reader to imagine what she'd do if she knew she only had 10 more minutes to live (as part of a much more interesting point - don't worry, it's not one of those kinds of books).

I'm proud of myself that my first thoughts were actually of the calls I would make to loved ones and not food, but my second thoughts was that I would also dash down to Canto No. 6 (Jamaica Plain) and order a double espresso and whichever pastry looked best that day plus a salted chocolate chunk cookie. And, yes, this would be my choice partly because it's the only good option close to me, but I'm extremely fortunate that this is what's available for a last meal.

About a fourth of the pastry case


The only problem is that everything looks and smells amazing, and I'd probably waste at least a minute or two paralyzed with indecision. I'm on the way to trying every single thing at this wonderful place though, and so if this death day ever comes, I will perhaps know what the very best thing to put into my mouth will be.

I've tried just about everything they've made for the past two years. I'll give one or two examples of the best stuff they do:

Cookies - $2:

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookie - Um, it's a big, lightly salted, soft cookie with huge chunks of chocolate. Obviously, it's fucking good. Pop that sucker in the microwave or pre-heated toaster oven for a few seconds, and you'll have streams of chocolate oozing down your chin. Hallelujah. But even if you don't heat it up, it stays soft all day. I <3 butter! I hope they don't judge me over there for ordering cookies before 11 AM.


The Cowboy Cookie - coconut, oats, chocolate chunks and peanuts - This one gives the salted chocolate chunk a run for its money. Holy crap it's good.

Just look at all that good stuff in there.


Croissant Squares - $3:

Brown butter, Brussels sprouts, farmers cheese, pecorino and herb square croissant





Pink Lady Apples, Roasted Leeks, Goat Cheese


Once I learned that, despite my lactose intolerance, I could have goat cheese without any problems (or needing to take any pills), I went on a bit of a goat milk spree, eating goat cheese or goat cream cheese on everything, eating my cereal with goat milk, drinking iced goat's milk lattes (I do not recommend this - it's just too damned rich and pungent), and eating goat's milk ice cream.  I got goat-ed out.  It's really easy for goat cheese to dominate every other flavor swirling around in your mouth, and, once it lost its novelty, I broke up with goats for a bit because they were just too domineering and I needed some time apart.

This has all been to say that Canto 6 has rekindled my feelings for goat's milk. When I only see the goats every so often and with a few other partners involved, we have a delightful party in my mouth.  Not everyone can organize the proper orgy of proportions and dynamics when goats are involved, but at Canto they know how to set up a beautiful event.



Quiches $3.75:



Feta, Dill, Broccoli Rabe and Olive Quiche

Yum! Even though I'd just had breakfast, I couldn't resist picking up broccoli rabe quiche! Much like the Canto people reignited my love of goat cheese, they have me enjoying olives in this quiche. Olives are one of the few foods that I didn't like as a kid that I haven't completely grown to love yet. They are so balanced here, that I'll probably never be able to resist ordering the quiches whenever they involve olives as I'll be fascinated by my own enjoyment.


Fiddlehead, caramelized onions, goat cheese, etc. quiche

This is the first year I've tried fiddleheads. They showed up in this quiche, my roommate bought some from a farm, and we're selling them at Trader Joe's for at least a minute. They pretty much taste like grass, which can be kind of nice in a fresh way, but it's mostly a, "Huh, cool.  Life list: Fiddleheads."


Croissants:


At the zen center I used to go to, some buddhist acquaintances of mine mentioned their opinion that Canto 6 has the best croissants in Boston. Obviously, I needed to try those next. As luck would have it, the next time I went down for a pastry, they had, for the only time I've seen this happen so far, a chocolate bacon croissant!

Chocolate Bacon Croissant

It was indeed delightful. I absolutely loved it with my espresso, which seemed particularly rich that day.

They have "To Stay" espresso cups now!

My only criticism would be that it would've been better to have the bacon strip (or indeed, perhaps TWO bacon strips) all inside the croissant, so that more of it mixed with the chocolate, instead of it coming out of either end.

Chocolate oozing out in the middle of the chocolate bacon croissant

Still though, totally awesome. Apparently the bacon chocolate croissants only happened as a special favor to someone, so if you ever see them, pounce!


You know how sometimes you drank too much the night before, and the only places you live close enough to that serve good food have pastries but no beef, and you really need greasy meat deliciousness for this kind of job, but you also want something awesome from the bakery, and you happen to half a half pound of 75%/25% beef that some roommate from god-knows-how-many-roommate-rotations ago left in the freezer that you've been meaning to use for something, and so you make yourself a lemon poppy seed turkey donut burger or, in this case, a chocolate croissant cheeseburger?

omfg

I feel like I never want to have a burger without chocolate again. This is probably part of why I have a hard time sleeping in when I'm hungover. I start thinking, as I did this morning, about what I'm going to get to indulge in for breakfast in the name of sopping up the alcohol and filling the bottomless pit my stomach turns into (I too often treat it like a bottomless pit on my off diet days, but after drinking it actually becomes one). I just remembered this is the croissant those Buddhists with whom I used to hang out said are the best in Boston. I have no argument with that. I think I'm gonna go back downstairs now and get another pastry and some coffee.




Ham and Cheddar Croissant - $3 - I got this one fresh out of the oven, so it was so warm and flaky and soft and wonderful. But I still prefer chocolate!





Almond Croissant

It's often really big, and there's a sugary almond filling inside that's different and better than that almond paste you get just about anywhere else. Still, this is only for those with a severe sweet tooth. For my money, you're much better off going with a flaky, softer, buttery regular croissant (or chocolate croissant, or chocolate bacon croissant).

Chocolate Almond Croissant

Get in there.


One of my roommates is so enamored with Canto's chocolate almond croissant that I wouldn't be surprised if he named his first born son after it. After I had the almond croissant, I thought he was crazy for loving the chocolate almond one so much. The almond one is just so damn sweet, how could he want that but with chocolate? That was sure to be disgusting, right? Wrong. It's amazing.  The chocolate take the too sweet almond croissant and elevates it to new heights of perfected gluttony. Eat it at the risk of feeling like a useless sack of shit for the rest of the day after you come down from the orgasmic height of such indulgence, or more usefully, please, dear god, share this with a friend or lover.  And for the love of all that is holy, pair it with an espresso!


Almond Twist - This is like the almond croissant but with less of that crazy delicious sugary filling, so you feel less like you'll go into a diabetic coma after eating it. Plus, the shape means you get to feel like you're at a state fair!


Puff Pastries:


Cranberry Apple Puff Pastry


Into the fruit

Considering my anti-cranberry leanings, I was surprised by how much I liked this thing.  It was strangely bigger than it looks, so that helped, as did, I'm sure, the powdered sugar on top of Canto's famous pastry goodness. I'm just looking forward to when they switch this flavor out for one more to my taste, like blueberry + anything but cranberries.

Nutella Puff Pastry

Yes!  So good! Obviously this will always be my favorite from now on. I <3 hyper-indulgent Nutella pastries.





Palmier - $1.95

It was nice, and those darker bites with thick, dense sugariness were quite wonderful, but it's certainly not at the top of my list for things I get to order again once I've tried everything.  Update: I take that back. I just had one fresher from the oven, and it was perfect.  The inside was soft and magically flaky with that wonderful doughy sweetness, and the outside still had that crunchy, caramelized extra sugariness. I was licking my finger and picking up the extra flakes that had fallen onto the table by the end. It's the perfect with-your-espresso breakfast pastry. If you have the morning sweet tooth, this'll satisfy your needs.




Galettes - $2.25



Blueberry Galette - Apple Galette - These are like mini pies, with the added bonus of a higher flaky good stuff to the silly baked fruit inside ratio.

And just look at this beautiful blueberry bounty.



Scones - $2.25:



Cheddar Apple Scone - A whole layer of cheddar over a sweet apple scone!

The inside was still sweet and dense, while the coating on the outside made the whole thing seem like a cheddar biscuit/scone hybrid. Throw a sausage patty in the middle of one of these, and put McDonalds out of business!

Maple Apple Walnut Scone

This has decided it. I take back every bad word I ever said about scones. At least when they're done well, scones are the bomb. Not only do I love the outside, in this case with all these wonderful autumn time treats that go so well together, but even the inside won me over. The inside of these is sweet and soft and dense, perhaps infused with maple in this case, with pieces of apple and walnut showing up every bite and then.  Scones rule.



Blueberry Honey Almond Scone

Oh it was so good. Look at all those blueberries. I like scones more every day.


Maple Pecan Scone


Biscuit(s):


Ham, Blue Cheese and Baked Onion Biscuit

This was seriously way more amazing than it even sounded.  This is yet one more time when Canto converted me to something I didn't really like much or had tired of (olives and goat cheese, respectively).  I'm just not the biggest fan of blue cheese.  It's way too strong to me, crowding out all the other flavors in most dishes it's in. Sometimes I can enjoy it to some extent either by itself or when paired with really strong flavors, but usually I still wish it were some other kind of cheese.  Not so here.  The perfect amount and strength of flavor came through so as to compliment the ham, the onion and the biscuit.  I loved it, and I wouldn't have wanted it to be any other kind of cheese.  It was so good.  Seriously revelatory.

Just look at it this beauty.


Bread Loafs:

Apple Pecan
It's so moist!  I wish there'd been a little more caramelized crunchiness on top and a few more pecans.  That being said, I kept telling myself I would save some of this thick treat for later in the day but was unable to stop myself from finishing it for breakfast.

Ginger Guinness Bread

I couldn't really taste the Guinness, as I feared would be the case, but it was still great molassesy gingerbread with smooth ginger flavor as well as occasional pieces of ginger for extra intense bites.  The glaze on top is beyond yummy, and I only with there were another layer of it in the middle.  I bet if you paired it with a Guinness it would at least seem like you were really gettin' somethin' outta the Guinnessy-ness.

Chocolate and Walnut Banana Bread - They're quite generous with the chocolate and walnuts in this yummy, dense, not too sweet breakfast treat.



For Thanksgiving, Canto offers various baked goods to be pre-ordered and picked up the Tuesday or Wednesday beforehand (If you needed to, you could probably order them for another day too since they'll do special orders as long as they can).
Caramelized Apple Pecan - Have a slice for your Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner breakfast.

Pumpkin Hazelnut - Put your Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich on two slices of this bad boy! (Ordered whole for $12.50 or $2.25 for a large slice)



Cake Slices:


Whiskey Chocolate Cake - $2.75

Usually beered of liquored foods and desserts are either way too subtle or so strong that they're not enjoyable at all. The Cantonites found the middle way, using just the right amount of Jim Beam.  Chocolate whiskey cake for breakfast?  "Eggs are in chocolate cake!  And milk!  Oh goody!  And Wheat!  That's nutrition!"  The whiskey's just icing on top of this already champion-style start to your day.  Okay, I wished that I'd saved it for a dessert appropriate time, but it was really good!


Stuffed Brioches:

Mayhaw Jelly with Brie Brioche - I loved this! Mayhaw jelly is something you only come across at farm stores in The South, so the fact that the Texan who owns the bakery brought mayhaw jelly up to Boston for us and stuck it in a french pastry with brie just makes me smile. Mayhaws are these fruits that tend to grow in the spring time in swamps and river bottoms, which people from East Texas to Georgia take on the challenge of picking, a daring prospect involving wading through the snake-infested, mosquito-ridden types of areas where they grow. So think about that when you decide whether or not to try this.  Plus, it was delicious.  Mayhaws are sweet and a bit tart.  I've heard them described as an enigmatic mixture of apples, peaches and apricots. Do it do it.


Rhubarb, Brie, and Orange Syrup Brioche - I enjoyed the sweet orange syrup and, as always the brie. The brioche is the closest thing I get to a donut these days, so that's nice.  I didn't really experience the flavor of the rhubarb though, despite picking up a piece of it and eating it by itself. Rhubarb continues to confuse me.




Brie, Honey, and Speckled Pear - This has got to be their best one yet.



Canelé - 1 for $.55 or 3 for $1.15:

Canele

The day I ordered this I was originally going to order something else to accompany my scone, abut the people behind me were discussing their love for it enthusiastically, so I switched to this.  They also discussed how it was eggy but beyond that they weren't really sure how to describe it, so I'll take it upon myself to do the research for you (i.e. Google/Wikipedia, Copy/Paste

"A canelé is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. The dessert, which is in the shape of small, striated cylinder approximately two inches in height, is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France but can often be found in Parisian patisseries as well. Made from eggsugarmilk and flour flavored with rum and vanilla, the custard batter is baked in a mold, giving the canelé a caramelized crust and custard-like inside.)"

Another round little pastry treat that everyone loves at Canto
Tappo - $1.25

I was expecting little meltings of chocolate spread throughout a cakey cylinder.  I was happily surprised that, not only was the cake dense and delicious itself, there was so much chocolatey goo throughout it that it was like pudding throughout a brownie-cake hybrid. So good.



Macaroons:
Almond Macaroon - $1.25 - This pairs so well with coffee! Don't get a pump of almond roca syrup in your double latte (not that they serve that fake bullshit at Canto, but in general), get yourself an almond macaroon with an espresso or americano and enjoy life properly. The sweet gooey almond paste center with the slivers of real nutty almonds (and I wonder if they're using almond meal for these) gives you the full almondy spectrum. Hoorah!


Apple Cider Donut Hole - $.75 - So good! Baked! Perfect!



Sandwiches:

The Pondside:
All natural ham, fennel slaw, Vermont cheddar, honey mustard, black pepper mayo and arugula on ciabatta

Normally I don't go for anything this simple, but it's really good. The fennel slaw makes it, and the proportions are perfect, in a way I never have the control to do for myself.

They'll make you a salad out of any of the sandwiches if you ask them nicely:

The Pondside, as a salad, with a glob of whole grain mustard and a blog of black pepper mayo


The North End:

Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil pesto on baguette - I'm not a big fan of baguettes because I have a sensitive mouth, by which I mean I have the propensity to tear into my food like a wild animal and scarf it down way too quickly, which leads to roof-of-mouth tearing. But when I came by the other day for a sandwich, baguettes were all they had left, so I got the sandwich meant for such breading, and it was delicious. Look at all that mozzarella and basil! Yum yum yum. Still, next time it'll be back to softer breads for me. It turns out they have a modified version of The North End in the winter time, with roasted tomatoes and ricotta cheese, so now I have another sandwich to try! All in the line of duty.



The Guac in the Park - This sandwich is basically a very common cafe sandwich (turkey, guacamole, arugula, tomato, black pepper mayo on ciabatta), and yet (or perhaps I should say "consequently") it accounts for probably about half or more of all sandwich orders, despite the fact that there are eight others, including a monthly special sandwich. Maybe this is partially due to the fact that they offer tofurkey as a substitute, but shit, that's just slices of those packs of Tofurky brand tofurkey that you get at the store. Maybe it's just because everyone loves guacamole (made fresh each morning).

I got mine with sharp white cheddar, then I took it home, ate half of it, then threw the other half on the stove so that the cheese melted and the bottom slice of ciabatta got toasted and crispy while the top half was still soft.


Look at the mayo gooing over my thumb! Ahh, that's the stuff. I should say that even before my modifications, it was still pretty darn delicious.  But trust me, throw that shit on the stove for a minute.





The Goat in the Garden: Vermont Creamery creamy goat cheese, arugula, celery root slaw, and beets on seven grain bread. It's tasty, it's fresh, it's simple. Sometimes you just crave ya' some beets, yeah?  Yeah.



Niçoise Sandwich: Tuna, tomato, arugula, olives, green beans - This may be the best Niçoise sandwich I've ever had, and while I don't try that many, I'm still pretty confident it's exceptional.  For one thing, they use fresh, raw green beans.  I have two French roommates, and each of them, as they entered the kitchen while I was eating this, said, "Are those raw green beans?" Yes, yes they were, and it was awesome that way. The extra crunch and the fresh, summery taste really took this sandwich to a fun place. The funny thing is, when I looked up Niçoise, the French tradition specifies that no cooked vegetables are supposed to be used, but I guess it was just the fact that green beans aren't typical on Niçoise that was interesting to my French friends. And once again, the Cantonites got me to appreciate olives! It was, simply, a satisfying, healthful, delicious, fresh sandwich. 




Peanut Butter and Raspberry Sandwich - Or a "PBR"

Mmm... they give a thick, generous portion of their chunky, house ground peanut butter with the same raspberry preserves they use in the raspberry pinwheels. They're currently using up an abundance of raspberry preserves, but one day they'll go back to their housemade blueberry apply jam.  If you have a hankering for a damn good PB&J, you could do a lot worse than indulge in this. I love that they put it on their buckwheat walnut bread, just kicking the rib-sticking, nutritious, nutty quality up a couple more notches. Preferably ordered with milk or a heavily milked (or milk-like) drink.



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