Arts and Entertainment

Cheap *ss Lunch #12: Buttery Buns and Sushi Sandwiches

A review of Takahachi Bakery.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One thing Stuyvesant students are sorely missing is a good bakery: a place to go to with friends and get a hot drink and some fresh baked goods while relaxing in cozy chairs… squatting on the sidewalk under the 16 Handles awning doesn’t really cut it. To find such a place, one must venture a bit farther out from the school, to find Takahachi Bakery down on Church Avenue. Exposed brick, tasteful lighting, and a view into the bustling kitchen from the accommodating cushion-strewn booths make it a place to linger with soothing drinks and shareable snacks.

In the style of a French bakery but with a distinct Japanese sensibility, Takahachi offers plenty of pastries, buns, and prepared foods on a long counter full to bursting. The strength here definitely lies in the homemade bread: warm, buttery, and baked fresh daily. Unsurprisingly, its menu is dominated primarily by creations composed of wheat and dairy. Most of the time this masterful baking combined with Japanese flourishes produces elegant and delectable creations like the Matcha Bun. A semicircle of concentrated matcha flavor, the bun goes all out with matcha in the creamy center, soft dough, and subtle savory tea powder sprinkled on top for good measure. But this formula isn’t infallible, and the bakery tends to lean on it too heavily. Takahachi comes up short with bland and dry hunks of starch like the Aji Fry sandwich, firm but flavorless Haddock in a brioche bun barely saved by the liberal application of the peppery ginger mayo served alongside.

Closely mirroring the success of the Matcha Bun and also dusted with a liberal amount of forest-green matcha powder is the Mochi Anpan, a mix of almost flamboyantly sweet red bean paste and cream in light-as-air brioche. A surprise hit is the Tuna Sriracha Bun, an eye-catching combination in the same general filling-in-round-bread format (though a flakier and drier roll than the brioche). There’s just enough of that fiery Sriracha flavor to excite the taste buds, but not too much to overwhelm the tuna and garlic. On the poorer side of the pastry divide are the Garlic Sausage Roll and the Berry Danish: uninspired layers of parched croissant around cloying ketchup and mayo-doused hotdog in the former and out of season fruit nestled in a forgettable cream cheese filling in the latter. All pastry items are roughly $3 each and very shareable, two or three of which should be enough for a one-person meal.

In the prepared foods case on the entrance-facing end of the counter, the bakery’s unique Japanese takes on classic European and American-style sandwiches shine in all their convenient mix-and-match glory. The centerpiece of these offerings is its white bread sandwiches, all bookended by large squares of fresh-baked, wondrously firm yet pliable milk bread. They come diagonally sliced in neat little boxes in half sizes for around $4 apiece or the whole thing for a slight discount off double. Many are essentially repackaged sushi rolls: the Salmon Cream Cheese (or Philadelphia) with folds of briny salmon atop a bed of crunchy lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a considerable slab of smooth cream cheese, or red-edged strands of imitation crab pressed into logs and accompanied by the two shades of green from cucumber and avocado in the California-style. Other notable choices include a standard tuna sandwich with avocado, and one inspired by seaweed salad, with sprigs of sharp and snappy Hijiki and shredded carrots on a wedge of omelet.

All of these carbs may seem daunting, but luckily, there are also salads galore in plastic clamshells (in half or whole sizes like the sandwiches). All come with a bright carrot ginger dressing and share a rainbow of vegetables, from lettuce and arugula to slivers of cucumber and brilliant fuchsia radish all while providing options for more archetypically Japanese toppings like Katsu cutlets, fried shrimp, and tofu. But at Takahachi you can never truly escape from the starch, with the neat golden-brown quarters of the Caprese Panini, probably the most delicious sandwich on offer. Though the tomato and cheese innards are wont to escape only the first bite, the fluffy and rich grilled bread and heavily redolent of pesto steal the show. Right next to it is the Egg Roll, a brioche submarine of forgettable egg salad glop that’s cheap and convenient but not worth your time.

Another plus is the variety of drink options. Gone are the days of cheap breakfast cart or Terry’s coffee that leave you feeling emptier than before, and in come selections of tea, lattes, seasonal drinks, and rich coffee. However, Takahachi’s coffee selections are clearly for the more experienced drinker and require specification of sugar and milk. Each drink costs $3 to $5 depending on your add-ins, but the flavor is definitely worth the extra few bucks and is still less expensive than the Starbucks on Chambers.

There is no wifi at Takahachi to make it a real base of operations, but with the sheer variety of the food options and the coziness of the seating area, it’s an excellent place to decompress with a group of friends. Even with the seemingly interminable five-block distance from the school building, speedy service and pre-prepared food mean you won’t even be late for your next class on the fifth floor.