Flushing has been home to Asian-owned and operated French inspired bakeries of middling quality, notably Tous Les Jours and Paris Bakery, for more than a decade. Now the largely Asian community has a real deal French bakery run by an honest to goodness Frenchman. His name is Rudolf Merlin and his bakery, called Creme, opened quietly back in January in a most unlikely location, New Age Market, an Asian supermarket in the heart of the K-tropolis that is Northern Boulevard. Only in Queens can one find cases lined with croissants, éclairs, and tarts scant feet away from a vendor selling Korean kimbap.
A month ago I stopped by and tried some éclairs: one chocolate, one praline, and one pistachio. Each was truly outstanding. light and just sweet enough. My friend, Lisa, had insisted I try Creme’s pistachio croissant. She also insisted I meet Chef Merlin who was gone for the day. Creme was out of pistachio croissants, but I took home two almond croissants. The crunchy sweet packages had a perfect balance and made for a nice breakfast the following day.
A few weeks later I made an appointment to meet the French pastry wizard with Lisa. As I waited for her, I munched on some coffee and chocolate mini éclairs. “My idea was to have 15 or 20 different kinds of éclairs, all about éclairs,” Merlin, who was an instructor at the French Culinary Institute and a pastry chef at Payard Patisserie in Las Vegas, said. “I think éclairs are the new macaron. It’s already a hit in some countries, China for example. Merlin, who has made pastry in such far-flung places as Mumbai and Angola, currently offers eight flavors: coffee, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry cheesecake, green tea, praline, coconut-chocolate, and strawberry cheesecake.
After walking through a room where supermarket workers were cleaning produce and making our way up the stairs, we entered the most unusually located French pastry kitchen in New York City. Merlin gave each of us a plain croissant. It was crunchy, buttery, and ethereal, everything a good croissant should be. As for almond croissants, Merlin’s been crazy about them since his childhood in Burgundy. Until he ran his own operation, he wasn’t able to make the childhood treats the way he wanted.
The 34-year-old chef was dubious when he was approached with the idea of putting a bakery in a Chinese-run supermarket, but the owner’s good nature coupled with the chance to run the show and be outfitted with his own kitchen won him over. This freedom has allowed Merlin to spread his wings to create such wonderful treats as the pistachio croissant.
“I’m a pistachio lover. If I could act on the customer’s minds I would make everything pistachio because to me pistachio is just this great taste,” Merlin said with a smile. “I made it for me,” he said of what’s surely the only croissant of its kind in Queens.
I can’t wait to see what other tricks the pastry wizard of Northern Boulevard has up the sleeves of his chef’s jacket.
Creme Bakery, New Age Market 160-06, Northern Blvd., Flushing, 718-353-7313