While none of these entries or suggestions are necessarily directed to a vegetarian-only crowd (Or are too odd in suggesting things like aloe juice or GEL, as I so fleetingly considered trying this past week. Bullet dodged, my friends.), the following glorifies the characteristics of a comfort food that has reached universal prominence.
The pastry + coffee combo.
My weakness for such things could never be fully divulged, but if we have come close to finding an earthly perfection, surely this would be it.
This glorious adventure begins on a crisp, January morning at Tulane Street in Princeton, New Jersey. Hidden unassumingly away on this side avenue is a tiny bakery, appropriately named The Little Chef Pastry Shop, where owner Edwige Fils-Aime creates masterful baked goods, all of which are first come, first serve. And trust me, you will want to be there early, because when the croissants and scones are sold, the shop is closed for the day, all in preparation for the next daily batch of simplistic perfection.
You may think you've been lucky enough to enjoy this layered pastry before, but let me be clear: if your involvement has had anything to do with a mass-produced type that arrives twelve-to-a-pack, if you have purchased said sad little crescents, limp and wilted in the plastic, in a warehouse-type store, good gracious: You are missing out. The varieties produced at the Little Chef may vary each day, though the self-serve case most often holds classic flavors, crisp and flakey, such as chocolate filled, perhaps a palm-sized pocket of the pastry, still warm, wrapped around seeded raspberry jam (KILL ME), or, the most beautiful one of all: the almond croissant.
If heaven could possibly come in food-form, then I have found it here on earth. Fils-Aime, a classically trained pastry chef, clearly knows his stuff. The texture is perfection, the light crunch of toasted almonds and the creamy decadence of the sweet filling, all while the layers of real butter begin to seep through the paper bag before you've even paid for your morning treat. One word: LEGIT.
Croissants in hand (FOUR, to be exact), and if you somehow manage to not devour them on your way, it's time to turn a few steps up the street to Princeton's very own Small World Coffee. While I could write an entire novel (or love letter) on the unmistakable and remarkable flavor of a Small World espresso bean, the perfection of the roast and method, and while the shop themselves also stocks a wonderful varieties of pastries all tempting behind a single glass case (vegan whoopie pie, anyone?), today was a trip solely for the coffee, or namely, a cappuccino.
Having many barista years under my own belt, I recognize a cappuccino as a skill to master, the foam the right weight and balance, the shots timed perfectly to retain their vital sweetness. It's one of my favorite drinks to make, for its constant challenge and worthy reward. But oh, what we all don't know of cappuccino until we have had one made by a Worldling: divine, folks, and unmatched.
This, dear ones, is Sunday breakfast at its utmost. Take me to any fine dining establishment, to a breakfast brunch at the Four Seasons perhaps, and I will likely turn up my nose in disdain, having been spoiled by such classic and pure indulgence as a true, Parisian croissant and a delicious cup of coffee, warming my hands on a winter day.
I admit that we somehow (yes, somehow) managed to drive all the way home before devouring the first little beauty, the scent of butter and sugar wafting through the car. Worth the wait, I'm afraid, for a pattern I could live by daily: Sip, bite, smile. Repeat.