A week ago, ALF Bakery opened in Chelsea Local, Chelsea Market’s moniker for the basement. It occupies a pair of stalls, with a glassed-in bakery on one side, showing bakers at work, with a sales counter on the other, behind which pastries are displayed in a glass case while loaves of bread file along the wall. Amadou Ly runs the bakery; he worked at Tribeca’s legendary Arcade Bakery for five years, and before that was a pastry chef and chocolatier at several prominent NYC restaurants.
The output on the day I visited consisted of seven breads and seven pastries: On my first visit, I focused on pastries and one sandwich. Here are the pastries I tried with a brief description of each.
Laminated brioche ($8.50)
For me this was the star of the show, a snaking pastry with a buttery texture. It was handsome to look at, fluffy inside, and would be an asset at any dinner party, or with a cup of strong coffee and a jar of jam for a relaxing breakfast.
Mushroom danish ($6.50)
This pastry is utterly unexpected, savory rather than sweet, with a generous portion of mushrooms welled in the middle that taste of the lakes and woods. If you’re tired of sweet breakfast pastries, this could certainly be your thing.
Pain au chocolat ($5.75)
Looking like a one-eyed hedgehog, this classic pastry is more attractive than most with its glistening and rounded surfaces, but the texture and amount of chocolate is about average for a chocolate croissant.
Lemon sugar brioche ($9)
Tagged in the pastry case and marked on my tab as a lemon sugar brioche, this jaunty looking pastry was more of a palmier, but with a little bit of lemon filling — not nearly enough, and this was the low point of my visit.
We are back to form with this stately croissant, which looks like grandpa’s winged armchair and piles layer after layer of pastry on its mohawk hairdo. The outside is firm, with a buttery interior.
Almond croissant ($6)
Nicely tricked out with toasted almonds and powdered sugar that melted into a glaze, this almond croissant was nearly perfect in its presentation of nutty and sweet flavors, but perhaps overbaked for some — which is more or less the current style among today’s French bakeries.
Chocolate babka ($18)
The question on everybody’s lips is whether this chocolate babka is the equal of Breads Bakery’s. For me, the answer is yes, though this one is a little less damp, a little less chocolatey, but in the long run more edible as a pastry.
Ham & cheese sandwich ($14)
The baguette is unimpeachably great in this classic French sandwich, eaten for lunch all over Paris. The bread is the center of attention, with its supreme crust and crumb, one of the best baguettes in town. And the thin slices of ham and cheese only burnish its luster.