One of the specialty cakes at Paris Baguette, a new...

One of the specialty cakes at Paris Baguette, a new bakery in Garden City. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

At last count, there were more than 4,000 locations of Paris Baguette worldwide, no small achievement when you consider that the chain whose baked goods are available everywhere from Shanghai to L.A. to — as of late September — Garden City, offers neither an authentic Parisian experience nor a particularly good baguette.

Indeed, committed Francophiles mostly turn up their noses at the establishment, and rightly so. But I find the place fascinating nonetheless, especially when it turns its attention away from pains aux raisin and almond croissants and toward things like loaves of sticky milk buns and boxed green tea roll cakes.

Which makes little sense until you understand that Paris Baguette, its name aside, is a South Korean establishment whose first bakery opened in Seoul in 1988. Indeed, part of the fun of visiting its newest location, wedged between an eyeglass store and a Mexican restaurant in the Gallery at Westbury Plaza shopping center, comes in watching other patrons try to make sense of what they’ve stumbled upon. “What’s with the trays and tongs?” said the woman in front of me to her friend, not quite ready for an interactive bakery experience.

“Pfft,” said the friend, rolling her eyes.

The women, tongs askew, approached one of two long glass cases in which sat a tray of bright red strawberry mochi doughnuts ($3.99 each). The delicious species stands out for its use of glutinous rice flour, giving it a chewy yet light texture, and also its signature shape — eight little balls of dough arranged in a circle. To me, their appearance suggested a teething ring for a giant baby but I was overruled. “They look like brass knuckles,” said one of the women.

“No, I see it,” laughed the other.

I trailed them on a tour of the bakery’s French section, in which Paris Baguette seemed intent on putting its own spin on every boulangerie classic. Plain croissants were glazed with something that gave them a blinding sheen ($2.99), or stuffed with strawberries and cream and heavily dusted with powdered sugar ($5.29), or fashioned into Cronuts with lemon icing ($4.69) or — perhaps oddest of all — offered in a fun-size version that’s equal parts sweet and garlicky ($4.89 for six).

Elsewhere, there were lots of puff pastry variations, some of them airy but rather flavorless, not unlike Paris Baguette’s dining room, although it does have attractive seating for 40. The women stopped in front of an array of coffee buns ($2.89), round and squat, brown-domed creations resembling scale-model planetaria. “What’s in it, I wonder?” said the friend.

“It just says honey plus coffee,” said the other.

“No,” said the friend.

Some of the pastry and cake selections at Paris Baguette in...

Some of the pastry and cake selections at Paris Baguette in Garden City. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

I went to inspect the wonderfully tall, pillowy loaves of soft cream bread and raisin bread and milk bread (all $5.59) and, up at the counter, a case full of beautifully decorated specialty cakes, including a blueberry chiffon cake ($46.99), pastel-hued rainbow cake ($46.59) and cakes that looked like big cups of cappuccino ($33.59 — slices of many also available). There were packaged creations, as well, with names like Cheese Soft Cake ($3.59), which looks like an eclair that’s been stepped on and tastes like lightly-sweetened foam rubber. Also: individually packaged madeleines shaped like Teddy bears ($2.49) and a crumb bread topped with crushed peanuts ($2.59).

One of Paris Baguette’s chief draws is the dazzling variety of fresh-baked goods it offers at any one time, and we haven’t even gotten to the savory section. There are bread pockets drizzled with ketchup and stuffed with ham, cheese and a hashbrown plank that sticks out the sides ($3.59), curry croquettes ($3.69), crabmeat croquettes ($3.69), and many other goods in which hot dogs play an outsize role. (American GIs introduced them to locals during the Korean War.)

A tour of this area soon led the women back to the fried dough, setting the stage for our sole interaction. As I stood staring at a basket of hush puppy-esque specimens rolled in sugar and mostly hollow except for a thin spread of sweetened cream cheese ($2.59), I noticed the pair approaching from the rear.

“Those are actually good,” I said, meaning it.

“Do you work here?” asked one of them, pointing her tongs at me. I shook my head, and the women walked on without another word.

Paris Baguette is at 924 Old Country Rd. in Garden City; 516-222-2324, Opening hours are daily from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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