Sunday, June 2, 2013

Searching for Strudel

We may be a long way from Austria, but that doesn't help ease my cravings for good apple strudel. You can queue up for a sample at the Austrian Embassy during Shortcut to Europe every May, or you can search for local alternatives (You know you're going to want strudel more than once a year.) DC Outlook went looking for ourselves, and here's what we came up with...

Aroma Espresso Bar: Good things often come in small packages, and this is especially true when discussing Aroma's delicious Apple Strudel. Portions are small, though reasonably priced ($2.90) and Aroma's sweet apple filling is my favorite in the area. If they ask, be sure to let them warm it up for you. Make it bigger, and add more apple... and Aroma could rival Watergate Pastry for top strudel honors.

Grade: B+

Aroma's Apple Strudel

Au Bon Pain: When I worked on L Street almost a decade ago, I used to visit Au Bon Pain after 4:00 PM to purchase a 1/2 price strudel. Even at full price ($2.49) they're still pretty affordable; but just as bland as I remember. Most strudels here appear butterflied: the top part is pure crust (albeit incredibly flaky) while the bottom plays host to the pastry's rather meager apple filling. You won't find a messier pastry in town: Keep a DustBuster handy if you have one.

Grade: D

Au Bon Pain's Apple Strudel

Cafe Mozart: A balanced Diet is a Cookie in each Hand. So reads the sign under Cafe Mozart's pastry display, which seems to forgive any caloric indulgences about to take place inside the popular German deli at 1331 H St., NW. I tried their traditional strudel ($5 a piece) with mixed results. Pleasant service and the sound of a microwave (hot strudel!) got my hopes up, but my strudel arrived cold with a dusting of sugar. Tons of thinly sliced apples are piled inside a flaky but fragile crust: Expect apples to spread everywhere. Authentic, expensive and good (not great.)

Grade: B-

Cafe Mozart's Apple Strudel

Fresh & Green's: Super Fresh has been gone for two years, but its memory lives on in Fresh & Green's bakery. One example is their fruit strudel bites ($3.99 for 18.) These little morsels must come straight from Heaven, because I couldn't stop gobbling them down (single bites.) Today's choices were pineapple and raspberry: I chose the latter. Yum. Equal to Harris Teeter.

Grade: B

Raspberry Strudel Bites at Fresh & Green's

Giant Food: You'll have a hard time finding a cheaper strudel in town, but Giant's flaky strudel has almost no apple filling. $1.29 is a great price (available at some locations, where you find fresh doughnuts and pastries) but I'd rather pay double for more fruit!

Grade: D+

Apple Strudel at Giant Food

Harris Teeter: I don't shop at this pricey grocer all that often; but their bakery whips up some excellent breads and cakes. They offer apple strudel bites (10 for only $2.29) that are absolutely delicious. It's more pastry than strudel, but you can finish the whole pack with little to no effort. Definitely the best grocery version going.

Grade: B

Apple Strudel Bites at Harris Teeter

Loeb's NY Deli: Self-billed as "authentic" homemade German apple strudel, Loeb's version is the closest thing to a rip-off as you'll find at the popular deli. $5.99 for a small square of thinly covered apples with a spritz of sugar on top? You have to be kidding me! Sadly, the joke's on us for paying that outrageous price in the first place. I appreciated one of the guys on the line heating it up for me; but that's it for positives. The apples have zero flavor (where's the cinnamon? the raisins?) and the little bit of crust is paper thin. Honestly, I've had Hostess apple pies that tasted better than this... at 1/6 the price.

Grade: F (Just because you call it homemade, doesn't make it good.)

"Authentic" Apple Strudel at Loeb's

Open City: This reminds me of Entenmann's, without the sweetness. Great crust, and tons of filling (love the raisins.) Available at the front counter bakery for only $3.25 (tax included.) A great alternative to waiting an hour in line for weekend brunch.

Grade: B

Apple Strudel at Open City

Safeway: Better than Giant (and cheaper too, $.50 when you buy a pack of 10) Safeway's berry (they were sold out of apple) strudel gets the job done... without any bells or whistles. It's not high quality (not even close) but for half a buck, it's amazing. Plenty of fruit, and the crust holds up well (probably because it's not very flaky.) A pack of 10 still goes a dollar cheaper than one bad strudel at Loeb's.

Grade: B-

So's Your Mom: Man doesn't live on apple alone. My favorite Adams Morgan bagelry makes a mean strudel; but only had peach left, when I stopped by just before closing (8:00 PM.) It may not be authentic, but it sure is delicious (I wonder which is more important?) Not only is it nicely sized, this strudel is packed with peaches, sufficiently flaky and topped with a sweet sugar glaze (all for just $3, including tax.) In my book, good strudel doesn't melt in your mouth... it has a bit of chew to it (assuming the pastry is up to snuff, and toasted well on top.) We may have ourselves a winner. So's Your Mom has now earned two grades of B+... Do you see a trend?

Grade: B+

Peach Strudel at So's Your Mom

The Swiss Bakery: I don't get down to Burke or Springfield, Virginia much anymore, home to their original and flagship stores; so I make sure to stop by the National Cathedral's Flower Mart every year to visit The Swiss Bakery's popular stand for authentic strudel. The slices run smaller than I'd like (yes, I'm greedy: Sue me!) but you get your money's worth ($3 per.) They look gorgeous too: Puff pastry, filled with apple and lightly glazed in sugar (although this time, more of a dusting.) The pastry was nice & flaky as always, but nowhere near sweet enough (We want sugar!) Not their best effort, but worth the trip.


Tivoli Gourmet-Deli: I was sad to see the Tivoli at Rosslyn Metro close earlier this year; but thankfully, the Ballston location remains open (and serving the same goodies.) Only $3 (including tax) Tivoli's strudel is big and gorgeous to look at. It's also nice & flaky, but its tasty apple filling is limited to the center only... leaving more than half the strudel without apple: This results in dry edges, that I wound up tossing away with the wax paper. Topping is superb, with a fine glaze and sliced almonds. It's a shame about the lack of apple... otherwise this could have challenged So's Your Mom for second best in the area.

Grade: B

Apple strudel at Tivoli Gourmet-Deli

Watergate Pastry: This gem of a bakery has been around (1966) longer than I have; and it's no wonder why. They sell some of the best cakes in town, and the best apple strudel. Flaky but solid (you can eat it with one hand if you want to) WP's strudel features delicious apples that are tart, but just sweet enough to be interesting. Service is exemplary, and it's ultra affordable to boot: A generous slice and a bottle of water runs only $4.35 including tax. Open 7 days a week (10-2 on Sunday.) 2534 Virginia Ave., NW in the Watergate Courtyard

Grade: A

Apple Strudel at Watergate Pastry