New York City exists just an hour and a half up the turnpike from Philadelphia. My friends live there, my family has lived there, and in the minds of those New Yorkers who think Philly is just a suburb of NYC, I’ve lived there. So needless to say I have spent months strolling the city’s streets, enjoying its bar scene, and reveling in its bustling attractions. But despite all the time we’ve spent together, it was not until I came to Abu Dhabi that I finally rested my lips upon the sweet treats of Magnolia Bakery. And oh how I wish we’d met sooner.
Magnolia Bakery was originally founded in 1996 in New York City’s West Village. It has five locations in the city and has since expanded globally to cities such as Moscow, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and of course, Abu Dhabi. For that reason I was able to stumble across it one day last year, as I strolled through the Galleria mall. If a New York City establishment were to set up shop in a mall it would most definitely be the Galleria mall on Al Maryah Island, located just east of Abu Dhabi’s busy Tourist Club Area. The Galleria is home to the UAE’s swankiest outlets and shops, including Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, and Fendi.
It is so luxurious that the best I could hope for when visiting, which has been often, was when I tried on some Cartier diamond ring bands last spring before my wedding. “No sir. I think I will wait to buy this. What? No, it isn’t the 10,000 US dollar price tag. I just don’t think it matches my wife’s wedding dress.”
This place is nice. So nice in fact, I believed I would never buy anything at all from its vendors. That was until I turned a corner and saw the decadent cakes and pies adorning Magnolia Bakery’s windows.
Lace and frilly curtains softened the windows while Apple Chancery writing caressed the sign over the doorway, reading “New York City”. The aroma from the chocolate espresso ran a subtle finger across my nostrils and upper lip, inviting me to stay just a little bit longer. The furniture – vibrantly colored chairs and white tabletops – were cute but not corny. It was as if a baker had traveled to the future from the 1950s and decided to bring their vintage flair with them.
I strolled past the display counter and was alarmed by how much I wanted to eat everything. Pumpkin Pecan pies, peanut butter chocolate walnut bars, strawberry tarts… they wanted to be in my mouth. Unfortunately I only settled for one, a simple slice of chocolate cake with vanilla cream icing. Classic! My latte accompanied the desert well. It complemented the chocolate cake which was dark but not bitter. Biting into it reminded me of cotton candy, the way it’s there but then it isn’t. The icing, however, did linger. Its thick vanilla flavor rented space on taste buds. Creamy but not overtly rich. Sweet but not overpowering. MMMM… yummy.
It took about five minutes to finish, which was surprisingly long considering my face must have been near three inches from the plate. It smelled like chocolaty sunshine by the way. But despite the quick consumption, for those five minutes I was no longer in a luxury mall in a far desert corner of the world. No, I had been transported to a small New York City street corner in West Village. Outside the bakery, the bright spring day had awakened the season’s blossoms. A rogue sunbeam reflected off multiple city surfaces to bathe the entire café in warmth. The same warmth I felt as the cake slid past my lips.
Yes, I was thousands of miles away from Philadelphia and New York. And yes, since I have lived here I have struggled to find the same quality of baking found on the east coast. But in those moments, in that small café, I departed the Galleria Mall of Abu Dhabi, and arrived right where I wanted to be – home!