The idea was born, as most questionable ideas are, late at night. My roommates—Laura and Shannon—and I decided to go on a one-day dessert tour of Manhattan, stopping at all the bakeries and sweet shops that we had always wanted to try. The rules were simple: we would buy and split one item from each place, rotating the purchaser as we went. The only condition was that we would walk the entire route and take the subway to return to our apartment.
We made a list, and charted our tour on Google Maps: a grand total of twenty-one stops and fourteen miles, stretching from Morningside Heights to Chinatown. When we told our friends and family, their reactions ranged from enthusiasm to disbelief. Shannon’s mother asked if we were doing the tour for charity. No, we replied. We just really like dessert.
The tour was set for a Sunday at the end of May, as a reward for the completion of finals week. We left around 8 in the morning from our Harlem apartment. It wasn’t hard at first—our destinations were well-spaced, and we got to walk near the Hamilton Grange and Morningside Park. Plus, we were eating delicious cake and strudel for breakfast—how bad could it be?
We breezed down the Upper West Side, adding and dropping locations on whim—bye-bye Vive la Crepe, hello Momofuku Milk Bar. At 84th and Broadway, we ran across a street fair and purchased a deep-fried Oreo. Everything felt promising: the sun was shining, our Band-Aids were secure, and we still had feeling in our legs.
By lunchtime, however, we were starting to fade. Dessert, as it turns out, is not the best fuel for walking the length of the island. At Bryant Park, we broke down and bought salads, desperate for something that wasn’t chocolate-dipped or sugarcoated.
After elbowing our way through Midtown, we entered into the final stretch. At Union Square, we came across our second street fair, a Taiwanese festival. However, even the bright stalls of the festival could not distract us from exhaustion and nausea. By the time we reached our final stop, Big Gay Ice Cream, we were ready to take the 1 train home. We had managed eighteen locations in about nine hours.
On the way back, we remembered the standouts from the day: the German chocolate cake from Make My Cake (St. Nicholas Avenue at West 116th), the chocolate chip and walnut cookie from Levain Bakery (West 74th and Amsterdam), and the pretzel croissant from City Bakery (West 18th between 5th and 6th). Our least favorite dessert was Baked by Melissa’s dry mini cupcakes (Broadway between West 84th and 85th).
If we had to do the tour again, we would make a few changes—ten locations, at most, within a smaller area of the city. But with cushioned sneakers and an iron stomach, Manhattan can be a pretty sweet place to embark on a dessert tour.
Here is our complete list of stops and desserts: Make My Cake (German chocolate cake), Hungarian Pastry Shop (apple strudel), Screme Gelato Bar (gelato samples), Momofuku Milk Bar (crack pie), Beard Papa’s (cream puff), Baked by Melissa (mini cupcakes), Levain Bakery (chocolate chip and walnut cookie), Jacque Torres (chocolate), Wafels and Dinges truck (waffle with speculoos), Bouchon Bakery (berry macaron), Magnolia Bakery (banana pudding), Doughnut Plant (tres leches doughnut), L.A. Burdick (hot chocolate), City Bakery (pretzel croissant), La Churreria (churros), Georgetown Cupcakes (hummingbird cupcake), Big Gay Ice Cream (American Glob ice cream cone)