Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Revenge of the Top 5 Amsterdam Value Eats

Every year, when we start heading toward spring break and summer, I get emails asking when the next Top 5 listing sweet Amsterdam eats will arrive. Folks are ready to travel and that means they are ready to eat new stuff.

I was all ready to post a third edition last spring when one of the places was sold and changed... and then another closed... and then another shut the doors because the family moved to Spain. So there went that list.

Unbowed, we have rallied a few replacements and are ready to give you the yummy lowdown. And since I also get emails asking for more spots to find the best sweets, this list will be brought to you by sugar high.

"Sugar high - For when you're old, but want to behave like a toddler."

And FYI: All but one of the selections from versions one and two of the list is still going strong. Wild Moa Pies now has a second location in Amsterdam West and Vapiano has a second spot near Waterlooplein. The only casualties are The Taco Shop (for whom we have a successor) and the cheesecakes brownies from Sterk Waterloolein (which are inexplicably no longer made by Gary's Muffins).

Enough of all that, let's eat!

#5 - Croissanterie Egstorf - Spuistraat 274

Yes, they have great fresh-baked bread everyday but Sunday, the cheesiest cheese croissants in town and a number of tasty sandwiches on offer, but we're gonna focus on the sweet choices. The brownie has been there forever, for good reason. It's baked in the shape of a mini bundt cake and covered in a chocolate shell, so it is essentially begging you to nuke it warm for 10-15 seconds and plop some vanilla (or banana or mint or whatever) ice cream in the middle. And even better than those are a new item, their take on a big ol' American chocolate chip cookie. That thing is ridiculous. They also have coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice, so it is an essential stop for either breakfast or a snack boost for when you're wandering around town for hours. However, avoid the cupcakes, as they are a human rights violation.

How to get there: It is a short walk from either the Flower Market or Dam Square. Trams 1, 2 & 5 stop a block away.

#4 - Poptasi - Gerard Doustraat 103

This is not even remotely difficult. French shop. Macarons for a 1.25E each (or less when you buy several). Check out the flavors, some of which slap traditional in the face to go out partying all night. The chili-chocolate, Limoncello and Bailey's macarons are my favorites. I think they have other chocolates and candies, as well, but to be honest I've never moved my attention past the macarons counter.

Side note: These are amazing, wondrous macarons, not the vial burnt coconut travesty that is the American macaroon. If you call macarons by the name macaroon, or vice versa, or in any way confuse the two, I will slap the mess out of you.

How to get there: The shop is a block off the Albert Cuypmarkt, a mile-long outdoor day market just outside the main canal belt. Trams 4, 16 & 24 all stop about 2-3 blocks away.

#3 - Best Coast Taqueria - Where depends when. Explanation below.

An American dude, serving up killer authentic Mexican tacos. Typically, he has a choice of barbecoa, carnitas and a veggie option, but he will occasionally throw in a deluxe fish taco or some other wicked treat. Whatever you get, all the classic touches are there: the fresh tortilla, the pickled red onions, the silky guacemole. And dear heavens, please do not forget to douse your bad boy in the amazing pineapple-habanero sauce on their complimentary condiments tray. I could eat an old shoe if you covered it in that winner. Que rico!

How to get there
: Most of the time, you can find the taco stand on Albert Cuypmarkt from Monday to Thursday, and popping up on weekend nights at Bar Bra (which is close to Vondelpark). But it is probably best just to like their Facebook page and know at all times where they will surface.

#2 - Hoi Tin - Zeedijk 124

You all know I love authenticity when it comes to food, and this surreptitiously glorious Chinese restaurant combines with the last two picks to complete the hat trick of awesome in my book. The reality is, most Chinese places here are extremely mediocre. That makes Hoi Tin all the more valuable. The main menu is completely solid and their windowfront also happens to serve as the only proper Chinese bakery in the whole city. And still, the reason they grab the NSC silver medal is the dim sum. Lemme tell ya about me and some dim sum. I am a dim sum whore. I could eat dim sum everyday forever and never throw a Hawkeye.

There are only about 25 dim sum options listed on their website menu, and I say only because they offer about 60. Everyday, during the customary dim sum hours of 11 am and 3 pm (or maybe they extended to 3:30 now). You can get crazy with your dream lunch and have everything from chicken's feet and stuffed hot peppers to the classics like siu mai and fried wontons and pork steamed buns, plus all the accompanying cold and hot teas. Most portions are about 3-5 Euros, so it's easy to try multiple things, especially with a group. And make sure you get some sweet chili sauce regardless of your order.

How to get there
: Hoi Tin is located just past the Red Light District if you've come walking from Centraal Station, Dam Square or anywhere on the main Damrak street between them, and is just a mere few steps from Niuewmarkt. Unless you have a bike handy, this is a walker. No trams run through this area.

#1 - Van Ness Cupcakes - Spuistraat 232

By now, you are probably wondering how the hell Hoi Tin is not #1 on the list. Well, lemme tell ya about some cake. I wish I could have a Van Ness Cup cake big enough to lie down and take a nap on top. I love cake so much. Obviously, staying fit means not eating so much cake all the time. Most of the time, when I stop by to chat with the ladies over there, I intentionally do not bring my debit card (they don't take cash). So they become an even more momentous, joyful treasure when I do actually dig in. And being that a cupcake is just a hand-held personal cake, it gives me both the portion control and celebratory song-and-dance-because-I-have-a-cupcake freedom I crave.

But, aha, not all cupcakes are created equal. Criminally delightful owner Vanessa is obviously some sort of wizard. You will never have a lighter cake in your life, but the real triumph is her frosting, which is like eating a cloud while it hugs you. It doesn't dissolve in your mouth, it evaporates. And none of this other-wordly lightness gets in the way of flavor. No no. She uses real ingredients and handles them like few people I've ever seen. And that's coming from a guy whose family that could bake (read: take) over the world. My dad once got a big job because of my mom's chocolate cake. For reals.

Somehow, Vanessa manages to get big strawberry flavor, which is not easy to do - especially in frosting. Her Neopolitan cupcake is the pinnacle of balance. There are few matches for her banana cakes, slaying another difficult item to use like it was nothing. The Bailey's cupcake should be illegal. That thing is a danger to society on so many levels. And now, she's started making cheesecake cupcakes, which, frankly, I'm afraid to try. By now, I could talk about so many flavors: the Dulce de Leche, the apple cinnamon, the dreamy chocolate peppermint. She is breaking out a new flavor every month this year and I have daydreams about the days when the maple bacon and peanut butter cookies and cream will first appear (August and September, respectively, if you're taking notes). Oh, there will be cake dancing. With a song. 

Basically, what I'm saying is this is easily one of the very best cupcake shops anywhere in the galaxy. No exaggeration. Folks, I've watched straight girls offer to marry Vanessa after having one of the various chocolate numbers here. Check the flavor rotation for yourself... hell, plan the timing of your visit around it. You won't be mad at me. Unless you're also a fit person who would legally marry cake, that is. That person will likely whoop my ass and I will deserve it.

How to get there
: It's behind Dam Square, about three blocks away. It's also just a hop down Spuistraat from the #5 choice, so you can basically care for all your delicious carb needs for the whole trip in one contained single-street area. And it's also right next to the main street art area, so that's cool.

[Photo: Amsterdo]

- Greg Seltzer


Bernardinho said...

Pineapple habanero?!? Surely you jest.

Greg Seltzer said...

Real stuff. A perfect sauce, an expert's work.

Bernardinho said...

That's fantastic - I'll never understand sauces that are all sting. You might as well just throw your food away, and mace your own mouth.

Greg Seltzer said...

So much of food is striking balances, especially in sauces. That is why Hollandaise has lemon in it. Hell, thats why Twinkie cream filling has the tiniest kiss of lemon in it.

I actually stopped by the market for a taco today. Tried the barbacoa for the first time, it was reeeally good. I would like to see what that dude could do with some Al Pastor.