Levain Bakery might just be the unlikeliest of New York’s most beloved bakeries.
There is no dazzling wall-to-wall coverage of an unimaginable diversity of bread or a rainbow of colourful pastries along the counter. Down a narrow flight of stairs into a little basement bakery on the Upper West Side stands a small display case of baked goods and racks of more baked stuff straight out of the oven.
Cookies are what made Levain Bakery famous! The stories of cookie fanatics falling in love with these so much that they get them shipped across the country made this a must-visit for me!
Upon second thought, maybe cookie isn’t the right term for these. These are hefty cookies the size of typical scones with a fat content and calorie count to equal a meal or two. Yes the $4 is pretty pricey for a cookie, but it’s not bad value considering you’ll get 1000 calories with it!
The usual assortment of baked goods such as muffins, croissants and scones are also available. Nothing about Levain screams tourist destination from the outside, but it gets enough love from locals that I thought it would be worth trying out.
Perhaps it’s personal preference, but having tried the things here twice I’m not sure I understand the appeal. Levain Bakery does fine for a neighbourhood bakery, but nothing I had here suggests it deserves anything more than that, whether for the famous cookies or any of their other baked goods.
The cookies were just plainly too rich for me (which is not something that gets said very often) and the other items did not strike me as truly memorable or different than what I would expect at a neighbourhood bakery. It does its job just fine, but it wouldn’t be my first pick for a bakery in NYC, let alone be worth shipping across the country for!
Time to check out what was in my four-digit calorie breakfast!
Things Roger Ate like a Pig
Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie – 2.5/6 (Okay – Good), $4
Let’s start with Levain’s famous creation: the chocolate chip walnut cookie! As I mentioned in the intro, this was just way too rich for me. I don’t care about calories and really don’t mind eating any amount of fat as long as it tastes good, but the taste of this was just too fatty for my liking.
The cookie dough uses enough butter and oil that it was all I could taste in the beginning. It didn’t come across as too oily from the outside and the texture was fine, even if a bit more scone-like than most cookies, but each bite felt like a taste of cookie-flavoured butter, not the other way around.
I wanted more flour, oats or anything really to offer something to stand up to the butter used.
Luckily for me, this cookie was loaded up with as many chocolate chips and walnuts as possible! The chocolate chips had all melted into pockets of gooey chocolate which was just as delightful as it was messy, while there was a good amount of quality chunks of whole walnuts.
I definitely appreciated the quality and amount of all the toppings and could see the value in it. Unfortunately I still can’t get over how sickeningly rich the cookie dough was and I don’t think I’ll be having this cookie again. It definitely seems like I’m in the minority against all the people who love this style of cookie!
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread – 4/6 (Very Good), $3
This was definitely my favourite thing here! The banana bread could have been a little stronger in banana flavour and moister but the plentiful helping of chocolate chips was great!
I appreciated that this was a pretty large slab of banana bread for the price. Again there were delicious pockets of luscious dark chocolate throughout and the quality was pretty clear with only a slight sweetness even if it didn’t have a distinct cocoa character.
The banana bread was solid with a noticeable flavour from ripe bananas, although I prefer mine to be moister and a touch more gooey than this was. This was very good though and I would definitely come back for this as a nice little snack!
Blueberry Muffin – 2.5/6 (Okay – Good), $3
By this point I had a pretty good appreciation for the philosophy of Levain and the blueberry muffin pretty much confirmed everything I’ve said so far. I loved how packed full of blueberries just like the chocolates before but overall the muffin was a little uninspiring.
The blueberries were everywhere here which was much appreciated. They were likely frozen from last summer for use , but that’s understandable considering that it would be impossible to get good quality blueberries here at this time of year. Similar to the chocolate chips, the berries was rich and gooey even if it lacked some of the sweetness of fresh berries.
The rest of the muffin was a little bit of a letdown though. As a whole it tasted quite dry even with the blueberry remnants flowing around and this felt almost too plain and lacking in flavour. The thin coating of icing sugar on top felt disconnected and my preference would have been to incorporate that extra sugar into the dough.
It seems strange to say for a place that’s famous for its impossibly rich cookies but this felt too healthy and suffered because of it.
Levain Bakery is a quaint neighbourhood bakery that does great in that respect, especially with the banana bread. Their famed cookies were much too rich for my liking though and I don’t think I’ll be able to finish another despite the love they get from others!
Date visited: Apr. 6, 2013
Price range: $0 – $10