Monday, March 17, 2008

Tonnie's Mini's. And Why is New York Obsessed with its Bests?

Food New York

Tonnie’s Mini’s

West Village Bakery
120 W 3rd St
New York, NY 10012

by Shayla Lawson

My first week as a New York resident has taught me one vital truth: New Yorkers love to label things as the best. Before moving I, a reluctant foody, scanned websites, “authentic” guidebooks, and newspaper articles for the best selection of moderately priced savory delights in this foody town. The Zagat guide’s “City’s Best Barbeque?” Horrible! The Village Voice’s ‘Best Grilled Paneer Sandwhich?’ Eh. Junior’s “Most Fabulous Cheesecake?” Tasty. But most fabulous is stretching it a bit.

While standing in line at a Starbuck at Union Square and 14th Street (not the best one in the vicinity, the barista informed me, for that I’d have to go three blocks down) I overheard a conversation between a woman and her partner:

“You have to go to (blah blah blah) in Chelsea,” she says knowingly, dramatically waving a black-shawled arm. “The coffee is all imported from (blah) in Europe. It’s expensive, but they only hire the best baristas in the city. I treat myself to it once a month. I’m telling you it’s the best [ridiculously over-priced latte for the self-obsessed] in town… (ad naseum).”

Why are New Yorkers like this? Traditionally and geographically, New York exists as a city of immigrants: primarily the poor and the young. Each year nearly a million people of this distinction migrate to the city to search out its promise of success and distinction. Once one ascribes to that particular brand of delusional beauty specific to the Big Apple the immigrant moves from the status of foreigner to that of “New Yorker,” a person whose metropolitan saavy rivals only his ability to find the city’s hidden, unparalleled, gems. Asking a New Yorker for the best of anything is a lot like asking at 13-year-old Midwestern girl for a recommendation on the “World’s Best Musician.” They cannot help but give an answer tainted by what’s going around the barrio. However, a week after my first visit to a bakery touted as the “Best Cupcake in Town,” I still feel like writing about it.

Right down the street from the West 4th Street/Washington Square train stop lays Tonnie’s Minis. You will find it unassumingly sandwiched between a record store and a litter of the laid-back independent shops characterizing the NYU side of Greenwhich Village. The sign for the bakery’s mini delights shares top billing with an advertisement for “The Best BBQ Sandwhich in Town.” I didn’t try it, I wouldn’t recommend it, but the bold red contrast of the barbeque sign against the Tonnie’s Minis marshmallow white drew me in through the tiny door. I walked in to a simple assortment of two-seat deli tables and the sweet scent of pastries. No barbeque. My mother and sister, who claimed to be sitting at the tea room across the street but detoured instead, chomped shamelessly on their third round of cupcakes. The space is minimal, but I would much rather sit down for a Saturday afternoon coffee and Powerbook break squeezed between its full length mirror and the next hungry customer than at any of the college ambiance coffee houses in the immediate vicinity.

I go for the red velvet cupcake. Perfect – the kind of light confection I have tried to concoct at home with little success. Why bake? I think to myself. Tonnie will do the work for me all by himself! I smirk at the cashier’s suggestion that Tonnie’s has the best cupcakes in town.
“I don’t know… I live next to Junior’s,” I reply.

“They may have the best cheesecake but you won’t find a better cupcake anywhere in the city,” he replies, serious and attractively stone-faced for someone talking about cupcakes. He offers me a second one. Chocolate. And tells me to take it home and enjoy it with a glass of milk.

Do I write this article because Tonnie’s Minis makes the best cupcakes in town? How would I know? I am new to the block. I write this article because the cashier was cute, the cupcakes cheap, my second one free (flirtation discount) and a week after it clung to the inside of a paper bag at the back of my refrigerator this Devil’s Food cupcake is a whole lot better than half-bad.

1 comment:

Shayla Lawson said...

After a fact-checking return trip to Tonnie's Minis this weekend, I wanted to ammend one of the details in the article. The red sign outside Tonnie's Minis heralds the bakery as having "The Best Damn Cheesesteak in Town," not the best barbeque sandwhich.