You’ve heard of a pub crawl. Well, I don’t drink alcohol — not because of any moral/ethical/religious beliefs but because I don’t like the taste — but every once in awhile I like to do a crawl of all the Asian bakeries in downtown Flushing, NY. I just look up all of the Chinese bakeries in Flushing using the Yelp app on my phone and then walk a grid south-to-north between Cherry Ave. and Northern Blvd. and east-to-west between Kissena Blvd. and Main St.. There’s some leeway there, though, because there are a lot of bakeries on the side streets right off of Main St.. I do this once every 3 or 4 months because there are new coffee shop/bakeries popping up all the time.
Decades ago it used to be that the only big Chinatown in NY was the one in Manhattan but Flushing has become a sizable and popular Chinatown in its own right and frankly I prefer the one in Flushing. The people there mainly speak Mandarin which I can actually understand somewhat (versus the Cantonese primarily spoken in Manhattan that I can’t understand at all) and its bordered by its own Koreatown and Little India, so I can do my eating and Asian grocery shopping all in one go. Plus, I live on Long Island and Flushing’s a lot closer to me than Manhattan.
There are lots of food courts and food stalls all throughout Flushing where you can score really cheap, delicious baked goods and snacks. However, in this particular blog post I’ll be focusing primarily on smaller, traditional coffee shops that sell different types of baked breads. In other words, I’ll be skipping over huge chain bakeries like Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours which in my opinion are way overpriced anyway. All the breads I’ll be talking about today range between $1-$2.50, though most fall well below the $2 mark.
I usually begin my crawl down by the Flushing Botanical Garden and work my way north from there and the first bakery I encounter is QQ Cafe & Bakery. If quantity is more important to you than quality, this is the place for you. Although they offer a very small selection, their breads are grossly oversized compared to all of the other bakeries (in the pics below I’ve already eaten half the bread and the remainder is the size of my dog’s head). Out of all of the bakeries in Flushing I’ve tried, they’re definitely my least favorite because their breads are dense and super heavy. There’s nothing light, airy or pleasantly chewy the way I expect an Asian bread to feel. They’re bricks. Occasionally, they come out with a new variety of bread, like this tempting green tea mochi bread. It looks beautiful but taste-wise it’s so disappointing. The bread is bland and stodgy and the filling is sickeningly sweet. The center contains some sort of green tea flavored sweet bean paste with a cube of mochi that’s really more of a flavorless block of semi-firm gelatin. Ick.
Speaking of mochi bread, Mugi located on Kissena Blvd. does it right. Their mochi is lightly sweetened with a gooey, elastic, moistness as it it were freshly pounded. The top of the bread has slivered almonds and a sweet cookie crust, the kind you’d find on a pineapple bun.
In my mind there are two types of Asian bakeries. You have the traditional bakeries that serve old-fashioned favorites like pineapple buns and fluffy, yeasted breads with sweet red bean or custard filling. Then you have the more modern bakeries that are heavily influenced by French techniques where you’ll see a lot of baked goods using croissant dough and puff pastry. Sometimes you’ll see a crossover but for the most part you’ll find that there are two distinct types of Asian bakeries. I would say Mugi, Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours all belong to the more modern, East meets West fusion type of bakery that’s more willing to experiment with different, unconventional flavors. They’re also more expensive than traditional Asian bakeries and their breads usually cost $1 more.
Mugi’s breads aren’t the best in terms of texture but they’re constantly changing up the menu with interesting new flavors and breads so I like to pop in every once in awhile.
Besides the mochi bread, I picked up a crab & cream cheese croissant (heavy on the cream cheese, disappointingly light on the crab), a bread with coffee cream & candied walnut filling (loved the nuts but could barely taste the coffee in the cream), some sort of meat filled puff pastry (so unmemorable I can’t even recall if it was good or not) and a curry filled bread.
Curry bread is one of my favorite types of bread and years ago almost all of the larger Asian bakeries carried it but it must be a bad seller because hardly anyone sells it anymore. In Flushing I think the only place you can still get a curry bread easily is Tai Pan Bakery. Unlike most Asian breads, curry bread is deep fried. The texture and taste of the bread is very similar to a fried doughnut (think raspberry filled doughnut or lemon filled doughnut and not a cake doughnut) except savory.
The curry bread at Tai Pan is tasty but really greasy. The one at Mugi has the better bread — it’s far less greasy with a sprinkling of panko bread crumbs on the outside for a bit of crunch — but the curry is disgusting and tastes like lemon cleaner. Mugi is hit or miss when it comes to their breads and this one was a definite miss. They must know it too because the last time I popped in I didn’t see it for sale.
Mugi has two locations on Kissena Blvd., one near Cherry Ave. and the other across the street from the Flushing Library. I usually visit the latter because it’s only a couple of doors down from Star Bakery which I’m going to mention below.
Iris Tea & Bakery on Prince St. between 39th Ave. and Roosevelt offers traditional breads like pineapple buns as well as more Westernized croissants and flaky pastries but they’re overpriced ($2 and up) and the textures of their baked goods is too dry. I picked up a taro filled bread (the one with the swirls) and a custard bun but neither was very impressive.
This is Yi Mei Bakery’s version of a pineapple bun. Meh. The topping’s way too moist in an underdone kind of way as you can probably tell from the photo but the consistency of the actual bread is nice. They’re located on Roosevelt Ave near 38th Ave and have been there as long as I can remember. They’re one of the OG Taiwanese bakeries in Flushing and whenever I step inside most of their customers seem to be older men who like to sit there with their coffees and read the paper. They offer old school favorites like pineapple buns, egg tarts and taro buns.
Vanilla Cafe on Roosevelt Ave between Prince St. and Main St. has a better looking pineapple bun but not necessarily the better tasting one. It’s decent but not great which pretty much sums up my thoughts about the place too.
These are the pineapple bun and custard bun from Apollo Bakery on 39th Ave. off of Main St.. It’s a hole-in-the-wall bakery and unless you know it’s there you’d probably walk right past it. It’s a tiny shop that’s a bit run-down looking and there’s barely enough room for a counter and shelving for the various breads. Customers have to walk single file inside or risk bumping into each other which is nearly impossible when you’re trying to enter the store and someone else is exiting. Given its size, Apollo’s inventory is very limited and what they sell is very traditional. The place is a little off the beaten path and lacking in ambiance but I quite like their breads. They don’t offer a wide selection but what they do have is very nicely done.
Apollo has a sister shop called Mr. Tu on Roosevelt Ave. across the street from Macy’s that’s larger with better decor.
I realized afterward that I completely left out Tong Hai Tung Bakery and Star Bakery.
Tong Hai Tung Bakery has two locations on Main St.. One’s next door to the Flushing Library and the other’s located directly across the street. The latter is the one I tend to visit. It’s a pretty large establishment with a bakery on the lower level and a restaurant on the upper level. This is another bakery that’s been around for ages but I tend to forget it because it’s always so dark inside I assume they’re closed. The clientele, like Yi Mei, skews older and male, basically grandpas who like to sit and take their time sipping coffee, chatting and reading their newspapers. I always feel so out of place when I walk in but their breads are very traditional and pretty good. I actually like their pineapple bun the most as it has the nicest topping in my opinion. My mom disagrees; she think the topping is too crumbly and messy.
Star Bakery is also another shop that I really like. Their prices are some of the lowest you’ll find in Flushing but their items are really fresh and tasty. Don’t be surprised to find their breads still warm from the oven because the ladies there are constantly pulling trays out of the oven and restocking the shelves with bread. It’s a very traditional Chinese bakery with a wider selection of items like pineapple buns, scallion buns (too greasy in my opinion. I prefer Yeh’s Bakery for scallion buns), and egg tarts (mediocre). I like their potato salad sandwich, chicken roll in flaky pastry, and pork cutlet sandwich and my mother likes their pineapple bun, milk cream bun, and coconut cream bun.