FPB - Francois Payard Bakery
116 West Houston Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 995-0888
Funny story about Francois Payard: A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine got engaged, and her aunt secretly entered her name in a Gourmet magazine sweepstakes. It was the sort of contest that nobody really expects to win, but my friend's name was chosen and she was awarded a free wedding cake. She was living in Virginia at the time, and I didn't know about the sweepstakes when she called and asked me if I had any idea who Francois Payard was. "Yeah, he's a big-deal French pastry chef here, and I think he's known for making elaborate wedding cakes," I said.
All of a sudden, there was a bunch of hooting and hollering in the background. The happy couple had no idea who Francois Payard was, but as soon as I recognized his name, it was like they won Publisher's Clearinghouse. Sure, there may be bigger prizes in life than a free wedding cake, but theirs was by far the best I've ever tasted.
So, whenever I walk into FPB, Payard's new bakery and café on Houston Street, the heavy scent of butter and sugar in the air flips a switch in my memory and I can hear my friends screaming about their wedding cake win all over again. And you may hear some internal cheering, too, when you catch your first glimpse of Payard's pastry case.
Piles of perfect almond croissants, cinnamon buns, eclairs, and delicate fruit tarts taste as good as they look. Pair sweets with an espresso drink or stay for a sandwich—the cold croque monsieurs may look a bit sad in the glass case, but the open-faced ham and gruyere sandwiches are broiled-to-order for a gooey and decadent meal. Glass walls around the café seating offer views of the big, busy pastry kitchen. There's also a wall of take-away treats, including jars of baba au rhum (mini brioche infused with a vanilla bean-rum syrup) that could make a simple and sophisticated dinner party dessert when served with a scoop of ice cream.