Hidden Eats: Aegean Pleasures on the Pike
Stella's Bakery is best known for lavish custardy cakes with glazed fruit, but hidden among the familiar are hard-to-find Greek specialties, both savory and sugary, that set it apart from other sweet shops.
Warm cheese-and-spinach pies are piled high in their own glass case. Stuffed with egg-fluffed feta or an earthy-salty mix of spinach and cheese, they make a nifty lunch or snack. Although they recall traditional spanakopita and tiropitakia (phyllo pastries filled with spinach and cheese), the hand-rolled dough is heavier, saltier, and more buttery than phyllo or classic puff pastry. Shiny with egg wash, the pies flake and melt in the mouth and evoke the humble bundles you'd come across at a Greek village bakery. Which isn't a surprise. Baker Yanni Kragiopoulos, formerly of the Watergate Pastry Shop, and his sister Stella Cawley Kouros, who takes care of business, are from the village of Ritini in northern Greece.
Stella's also sells homey braided tsoureki, traditionally an Easter bread but made fresh every day. Crusted with almond slices and heaped in a wire basket, the golden loaves are sweeter and less poufy than challah. For New Year's, the bread goes round–think squashed panettone; at Easter it's studded with whole dyed eggs, shell and all. Tsoureki is wonderful solo, warmed in the oven, and goes admirably with a slab of Greek feta or kasseri cheese.
Other pleasures include crumbly crescent kourambies dusted with powdered sugar, similar to Latin American wedding cookies; mini baklavas; an almond tart with rum-soaked dark cherries that looks and tastes like a Sicilian sweet; pistachio halvah, the crumbly Middle Eastern paste made of honey and crushed sesame seeds; and marvelously crunchy clusters of slivered almonds dipped in chocolate, a staple at patisseries all along the Aegean.