Generations of New Yorkers have depended on the Essex Street Market for their daily bread, not to mention meat, produce, seafood, and a multiethnic selection of other groceries. In recent years, its offerings have expanded to include artisanal cheeses, inventive chocolates, and—since 2010—grandmotherly Greek pastries from a tiny kitchen counter called Boubouki.
Lau's sold on its version of spanakopita, the homey pie of spinach and feta in phyllo. Some of Boubouki's sweet stuff defied his expectations—in the best way. A simple pear cake, which he thought would be dense, was instead pleasingly light and spongy, very moist inside, and slightly crisp outside. Baklava, too often a sticky, heavy, cloyingly sweet mess, was none of those things here; just sweet enough, it boasted a tasty ground-nut mixture and uncommonly light, flaky phyllo. And the excellent carrot cake was lighter than the typical American version, "more like banana bread except with carrots."
Not everything comes out of the oven. Boubouki—whose chef-owner, Rona Economou, channels her Greek grandmother to develop recipes—also offers seasonally changing savory dishes like lentil soup and chickpea salad. "She is very nice," Lau says, "and you can tell how much care is put into all of her wares."