Welcome to the fourth tasty installment of our Polish Pastry Experience—a behind-the-counter look into the traditional pastries that you can find in Greenpoint’s Polish bakeries (this week with an added hidden-gallery visit).
Wondering about what’s best? Looking to try something new? Every week, we ask the bakers themselves to tell you.
This week, Café Riviera recommends…their Drożdżówka z serem (s.) at $1.50 per piece.
Drożdżówki z serem (pl.) are exactly what their name means—“buns with cheese.” They can come in different shapes, but all contain the essential sweet, white cheese filling. At Café Riviera, they look like Danishes and are labeled as such with a laminated card in English. But these are not just your ordinary coffee cart-cheese Danishes…
Drożdżówki z serem are made using a slightly sweet dough (yeast, sugar, water, milk, eggs, flour) and a cheese filling (a white cheese called twaróg, plus sugar, egg yolks, and butter). Unlike in the United States, where Danishes are seen as a breakfast food, drożdżówki are eaten by Poles throughout the day.
Although the exact origins of the drożdżówka z serem in Poland are unclear, it bears a resemblance to the Austrian Topfenstrudel pastry, which became popular in the Habsburg Empire (which absorbed part of Poland) during the 18th century. Topfen is also made with twaróg, but uses a puff pastry instead of the yeast dough. Another more recent influence might be the Danish cheese pastry, which was also invented with the help of Austrians. In 1850, a strike forced Danish bakery owners to hire foreign workers, including several Austrian bakers, who were unfamiliar with Danish recipes. A few substitutions later, and the Danish cheese pastry was born!
The lines at Café Riviera are not for the faint of heart, but the pastries are worth the wait. There are several tables inside if you want to enjoy your sweet treats immediately, and if you linger long enough, you might chance across Jozef Chropczak, the self-proclaimed Picasso and “best artist in the world,” who hangs out at the café. Some of his paintings are on display in the windows of the Markowa Pharmacy across the street. If you ask the pharmacist, you might be allowed to walk behind the counter to the back, where more of Chropczak’s work is hanging around the walls of a little garden.
Café Riviera is located at 830 Manhattan Avenue, between Cayler & Noble Streets. The Café is cash only. Markowa Pharmacy is across the street at 831 Manhattan Avenue.