Hungarian Pastry Shop

Jul 18, 2017

111th St & Amsterdam Ave.

Hungarian Pastry Shop. Not the Hungarian Pastry Shop, but just Hungarian Pastry Shop. The name itself is sparing, economical, as if it's hurriedly trying to get to the point and wants you to know exactly what you're getting. No funny business here. No room for any drama or excess, not even for one more article in the name.

I enter the no-nonsense pastry shop, immediately greeted on the left by a glass display of pastries and cakes. I lean forward onto my knees to take a better look, eyeing the sizable turnovers. Cherry. Cherry cheese. Apple. I take in the array of delicate cakes, layers of tiramisu sprinkled with cocoa, cheesecakes ornamented with a single blackberry. I like seeing the lurid colors of jelly squeezed in between danishes, and I've always loved things packaged in assortments, like saltwater taffy or Christmas baubles.

The woman behind the counter waits for me to make my order. She's in her late thirties, maybe, is pretty, but with a sharp, hook nose and piercing eyes that make her too shrewd and alert to be a true eyesore. All genuine beauties have vacant eyes, like long, unfurnished hallways, but hers are too full of knowing. Everything about her is ironic, and she reminds me of a harpie, both alluring and terrifying. She has a funny expression permanently etched on her face, something that looks like it could be a hint of a smile in one minute, and a reserved scowl in the next. Her skin is wrinkle free but not smooth, aged like unused parchment paper that yellows with air over time but with no creases or breaks in the surface. There's something mystic in her eyes that suggests a hidden, alternative life that paints the town red in the off hours of the Hungarian Pastry Shop. Sorry--just, Hungarian Pastry Shop.

I ask her for a cherry cheese turnover, then remember that I don't like cherries, and opt for a cheese danish with an iced coffee instead.

The shop is spacious, but almost every table, small or large, is occupied by a single customer, so that the place looks sparse and full at the same time. There's not a single blank wall in sight; handmade decor hung haphazardly. Lined along the walls, are white overhead lamps, the bulbs covered in translucent glass shaped like petals, and the necks crooning over onto the tables like droopy, wilted flowers. On the wall to my immediate left (by this time I had sat down at a table nearest to the counter) are large framed posters with  book covers printed on each frame. The Real American Dream. Forty Million Dollar Slaves. Buddha. I can't make out if they've been organized by any particular order. They hang there, the font loud and glaring, imploring me to make sense of this arbitrary list in hopes that I might find one of life's secrets tucked away in one of its pages. In the lower corner closest to me, Children's Letters to God. Just beside it, Children's Letters to Santa Claus. It's a funny arrangement. The curator must be an Atheist. 

A girl drops off a tall glass of black coffee and a round cheese danish in front of me. My eyes follow as she returns behind the counter, to an old beige cash register next to a hand painted wooden board, striped in multicolor, with a naked angel in the pose of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man with the words "EXPECT A MIRACLE TODAY". On the adjacent window are hand-drawn suns and moons, made out of sticky stained glass window art paints that I used to use to decorate my own bedroom windows as a kid. I wonder how they package these miracles. Maybe in a dollop of white creme on a cream puff, or in the frothy foam of a latte shaped like a swan's wing.

The place is noisy. There's a steady buzz of loud chatter, coins' and plates' clatter, and running of sink water from the kitchen. I pour milk into my coffee, and watch the white swirl in the black before I stir them into one with my straw. A black coffee with milk and miracle, please. No sugar.