Notes: I know this is a post that I’ve spoken about ages ago that I should’ve written but I was lazy. Sorry. It’s better late than never. This may be a good way to start the new year by knowing where to get your morning muffin. (End note)
Hmm…you have to read it out to know the answer. Yes… you have to read out my rants and raves of who’s the best, superb muffin to who just got the most awful thing I put in my mouth that doesn’t deserve to have the name, muffin. I would call it garbage, slop,…you get the point.
It’s very sad and disturbing that in New York City, the muffin is ubiquitous as the bagel or croissant; has a very wide range of palatability from the offensively bad to the fabulously good. It partly explains why it took me a while to come up with this list and I have to tell you, it’s been a hard and long journey for my stomach and my taste buds.
To start off, my ideal muffin has to have a slightly crisp, crunchy exterior with a moist, soft crumb (interior). Flavors do not particularly matter, as long as it’s a sweet-type not savory (even though I don’t have any problem eating a bacon, cheddar and chive muffin but I like sweet muffins more) and the flavor of the fruit (if any) shines through with a good balance of spices (once again, if any). An example of my ideal muffin, is the one I baked two weeks ago, an adaptation of Martha Stewart’s blueberry muffin but made with orange zest and cranberries. Seen below…
The rating system is the same as all of my “best of…” posts; 1 being the worst to 4 the best.
I’ll do this in chronologically eaten order…
Bouchon Bakery‘s Banana Nut Muffin $2.75 w/tax = $2.99; other flavors that we’re available that day were carrot (cake?) muffin, and a savory-type muffin (can’t recall the name), neither of which appealed to me so banana nut it is. The muffin looks good: a dry, crumbly, streusel-like topping, peaking out is a nice shade of golden brown, and bits of nuts popping out. The interior is soft, moist with a good amount of chopped nuts, probably walnuts? I can’t distinguish it too well since it’s chopped. It smells wonderful; bananas with delicate scents of banana, cinnamon and cloves. When I took a bite, the crunch of the streusel and nuts is a great contrast to the soft, delicate, and moist interior – almost cake-like in texture. The nuts impart a slightly bitter, earthy flavor goes well with the banana’s dense fruity flavor and the streusel also helps in the flavor department by also flavored with banana and noticeably, butter. It’s a very good muffin. Rating: 3.5 out of 4.
Whole Foods‘ Banana Nut muffin (I ate the same flavor the same day; from the 3rd floor where Bouchon’s located to the basement: Whole Foods ($1.89)). It looks a lot more prominently mushroom-shaped than Bouchon’s; there’s a lot more chopped walnuts sprinkled on top, the muffin’s top is moist, and it’s greasy on the bottom. After cutting it in half, it’s moist throughout and there a good bit of black walnuts distributed throughout the muffin. When it comes to taste and texture, the banana flavor is really lacking – practically bland; there was the slight bitterness from the walnuts, but it is moist. Rating: 2 out of 4.
Petrossian Café was something out of expectation that they would have some great muffins since they do have a reputation for being a purveyor of expensive, fabulous foods (i.e. caviar). So, in hopes of finding a great muffin, I purchased their apple muffin ($2).
It looks decent from the dry exterior that I wanted and it had the streusel-like topping. It smelled faintly of cinnamon. So I took a deep breath and bit it. Well, it was just borderline moist that it wasn’t dry, not much apple flavor but I can taste the cinnamon, and there were some apple chunks. It was not a great muffin. I probably had too much high expectations for this establishment, that made me have biases on this muffin. But still, it’s not the best muffin. Rating: 2.5 out of 4.
Now, this is a mini-tour around the Grand Central Station area, since this is where many commuters come and go to the city. I began my search in the Dining Concourse area at Dishes. Why I chose this particular place? It’s because they were the only food establishment besides Junior’s that was selling any breakfast food at 6:50 AM. Anyways, I perused their pastry case and I spotted Yura & Co.’s muffins, so I bought Yura’s Apple Walnut Muffin ($2.75).
It’s quite a large muffin with the “mushroom” top. It’s a moist muffin, densely packed with walnuts, chunks of apples, raisins and walnuts. The muffin tasted good: sweet (from the raisins and apples), moist, good apple-cinnamon flavor.
The drawback was that it’s soft throughout the muffin; lacked that thin crust exterior. Rating: 3 out of 4. Probably it would be better if I went straight to the source, at Yura & Co. in the Upper East Side? I’ll give it a whirl in the future.
Next up, Cipriani Le Specialita. Once again, a well known name and I had high expectations for this establishment. I entered this small but swanky establishment with high hopes for a really good muffin. I ordered a blueberry muffin for $1.
My first problem is, where’s the rest of it? It’s just a dainty, little muffin about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Other issues: it’s barely moist, the blueberries in that muffin are insipid, not sweet and it lacked that crunchy exterior.
This little muffin needs a lot of help. Rating: 1.5 out of 4.
Zaro’s Bakery located in Grand Central Market was bustling with the morning commute activity, many where there for their muffins. Taking that implication, I joined the crowd and gotten myself an orange cranberry muffin for $1.85. This muffin is not at all dainty like Cipriani’s; it’s really huge. Take a look:
I guess their size took over the whole concept of taste. The muffin was moist with a decent crusty exterior from the sugar, but there wasn’t much cranberries, the orange flavor tasted really *gasp* artificial – almost taste like something out of a cake/muffin mix. I know! It’s hard to believe but it really does. After that initial bite, I lost my appetite and threw it in the garbage. It was an insult to my stomach that I almost felt like vomiting. Rating: 1 out of 4.
Getting out of that area (thankfully), I went to the west side to Le Pain Quotidien and ordered their organic blueberry muffin ($2.25). It looks a lot more like a real muffin with it’s natural unevenness.
The muffin looks like there’s tons of blueberries but once I split that muffin, there’s barely any. I really liked the crunchy exterior and the moist interior crumb, it’s not very sweet and it’s a very wholesome muffin from the whole grains I tasted from the bite. It tastes good. Rating: 3 out of 4.
I trekked to the Upper West Side to Silver Moon Bakery. Those of you who’ve read the post about this place, I’m completely enamored with this bakery. I have tried their pumpkin chocolate chip (more like chunk) muffin for $2.40.
It just came out of the oven minutes ago, since I went at the time they opened the doors to the bakery. The chocolate was still hot and gooey from the remaining heat from the muffin and it had a nicely browned exterior. I’m anticipating greatness from this muffin. When I bit it, the crust was very crisp, contrasting the soft, moist interior; it had a good pumpkin flavor with a hints of clove, allspice, and cinnamon. From looking at the photo with the halved muffin, it had an even distribution of chocolate throughout the muffin. I LOVE this muffin. I was actually giddy when I ate this muffin, that I almost giggled with happiness that some of the bakery’s patrons were looking at me like I’m weird or crazy. Rating: 3.75 out of 4.
Out in Dumbo, Brooklyn, I went to Almondine. I went for their bran muffin ($1.95) that morning, for some reason I opted out their raspberry muffin. I still don’t know why I did.
Anyways, it wasn’t a bad choice. It’s a fresh, wholesome muffin; not greasy. It had a slight crusty exterior with a moist crumb; filled with lots of raisins and an unexpected dried apricot. It also had a toothsome texture from the bran with a hint sweetness from the dried fruits and nuttiness from the bran. The crust wasn’t as crisp as Silver Moon’s, probably because it was raining that day. Rating: 3.3 out of 4.
Back to the city; I went to City Bakery for their blueberry corn muffin ($2.50). I’ve read from various Chowhound posts that this particular muffin is good.
First off, it’s not the typical “mushroom” shaped muffin, it’s more disk-like. It had a thin, crusty exterior but the main problem is that this muffin is terribly greasy. The muffin does have even distribution of blueberries and one can see the cornmeal specks throughout the muffin. It has the contrast of crisp crust with the soft, moist interior with a fresh burst of blueberry flavor. The cornmeal gives the it an extra toothsome texture and the crumb is really soft and buttery. This muffin is a bit too decadent for me as a breakfast item but it’s decent. Rating: 3 out of 4.
I went over to Zabar’s Café in the Upper West Side and tried their babka muffin. To tell you honestly, I don’t know what to expect from the muffin: would it be more of a babka shaped like a muffin or is a muffin that tastes like a babka?
Well, it’s certainly a dry muffin or babka, if anything. It’s packed with lots of dried fruits but it’s not what I desire from a muffin and as a babka perspective, it’s not floating my boat, either. If I’m rating this as a muffin, it’s too dry, the texture is too dense but the sweetness factor is fine. I have other personal faves for babka but that’s a totally different post. This muffin is having an identity crisis that I can’t really rate it.
Next up, I went to Amy’s Bread in Chelsea Market during the afternoon for a snack. During that day, I had my lunch earlier. I ordered their apricot date muffin for $2.25.
It doesn’t look too tempting, honestly. It doesn’t have the crisp crust that I wanted (partly because it was the afternoon), the interior crumb was a bit dry and a tiny bit dense/tough; but at least it had a good bit of chopped dates and it has good flavor of apricots and dates. Rating: 2.5 out of 4.
And finally, from Two Little Red Hens in the Upper East Side. I had their pumpkin muffin for $2; yes, it’s the one I’ve spoken a tiny bit about it a few weeks ago. It came out hot out of the oven that morning. It was wonderfully light, crisp, and slightly sweet and savory (from the pumpkin and spices), all in one bite. It was a brief moment of bliss. This is one fine muffin. Rating: 3.75 out of 4.
To sum it all up in a list:
1. It’s really tough, it’s a toss up between:
Two Little Red Hens
1652 2nd Ave
New York, NY
(it also has a Brooklyn location that is just as fine, located at 1112 8th Ave. Brooklyn, NY)
Silver Moon Bakery
New York, NY
10 Columbus Circle (on the 3rd Floor)
New York, NY
85 Water St
3. tied between:
Bought in Dishes in Grand Central Dining Concourse but the source is Yura & Co.
1645 3rd Ave.
New York, NY
Le Pain Quotidien
visited 922 7th Ave
New York, NY (but there’s multiple locations throughout the city)
3 W 18th St
New York, NY
4. Amy’s Bread
3 locations in Manhattan
visited the one in Chelsea’s Market:
672 9th Ave.
New York, NY
5. Whole Foods
various locations throughout the city but I visited the one in Columbus Circle.
Don’t bother with:
visited: 89 E 42nd St
New York, NY
Cipriani Le Specialita
110 E 42nd St
New York, NY
Honorable mention: Blue Sky Bakery in 53 5th Ave in Brooklyn. I had their blueberry muffin about a year ago and I remembered it was quite good and also it had praises over at Chowhound as well.
It seems to me there seems to be better muffins toward the Upper East and Upper West Side. Too bad I don’t live on either spots, I just commute to the Upper West Side for school. Bummer.
Hopefully, most of you may find this list resourceful. I know some of you might have some qualms with this list but this is just my opinion. If you do like some places that I’m dismissing, you may just ignore me.
I also know a lot more places out in Brooklyn that has some great muffins as well, but I just don’t have the time or stomach capacity.
To see the whole photoset of this list, click here.
‘Til then, I hope you may have better muffins starting the new year (since it’s Thursday anyway and probably you’re reading this while you’re at work). But of course, the best muffins are homemade; unless you don’t know how to bake.