Since I absolutely love dessert with every inch of my being, whenever I am in New York City I try my best to visit at least one new snack shop. I find there’s always some kind of new chain cropping up or some trend that hasn’t arrived in Chicago. It started when I read about Rice to Riches many years ago, and continued with Bouchon Bakery, Buttercup Bake Shop, and Pinkberry, among others. The last time I visited, my destination was Beard Papa’s, a cream puff franchise that originated in Japan. However… I never made it to the shop! ;_; It seemed that I would have to wait until I wound up back in NYC again…or miraculously somewhere in California near a location.
So I was ecstatic to hear about a Chicago location of Beard Papa’s! I first heard about it before the store had opened, and a recent mention in the Red Eye reminded me that it was now open~ It’s located in the new Block 37 shopping complex, directly across from the State Street Marshall Field’s, so I headed there the same day I read the note about the store!
The setup at the store is ingenious–to provide you with the freshest cream puff as possible, you choose the pastry and type of cream when you place your order, and then the custard is injected into the pastry only seconds before it is in your hands. This prevents the custard from soaking the pastry–it stays crisp and light. There are several options for both the pastry and the filling: original, eclair (chocolate-topped), cookie crunch, and I think fruit-topped (but I could be mistaken for this last one) for the pastry, and vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry for the custard. There are several other specialty custard flavors (including pumpkin, green tea, coffee, and earl grey), but they aren’t carried on a regular basis at the Chicago store.
The cream puff was delicious. The pastry was fresh (I even watched them take some out of the ovens while I ordered!) and the custard was smooth and creamy. I bought an eclair/strawberry cream puff to eat immediately, took home two original/vanilla and one eclair/chocolate to share with my person. ♥
The strawberry custard has chunks of fresh strawberries nestled in the cream. The flavor is 100% honest-to-goodness strawberry–not artificial-tasting in the slightest. The vanilla custard is smooth, with a clear vanilla-bean taste. The chocolate custard has fragmented pieces of chocolate in the rich chocolate cream. I couldn’t find fault with any of them! The original puff is definitely my favourite–the chocolate topping on the eclair pastry, although delicious, overwhelmed the cream. (My person and my friends agreed.)
I was also lucky enough to try the green tea custard when it was in the shop for two days~ ♥ It’s very, very good–I really look forward to tasting other “special” custard flavors. The green tea custard was mild and earthy, with small pieces of green tea leaves, and instead of powdered sugar the cream puff was dusted with matcha–powdered green tea. It was especially good in the original pastry! I bought a half-dozen so that I could share with my person and my friends.
Since I’m not really down the street from Beard Papa’s, and because they offer a discount for buying a half-dozen cream puffs, I like to get several and save them to eat days later. To save them, I tuck them into the freezer. Freezing the cream puffs preserves the integrity of the pastry and the cream; if you keep it in the refrigerator, the cream will make the pastry very soggy and rather unpleasant. When I want to eat one, I take it out of the freezer and let it slowly defrost for about 30 minutes. You can’t heat it up, or you’ll melt the custard! Previously-frozen cream puffs are still moister than fresh ones, but they’re definitely not bad!
I also really-really recommend the “mango milkberry!” It’s kinda like a bubble tea, but with small white tapioca beads instead of the traditionally-used black pearl type and fresh fruit! It’s a sweet, frozen smoothie-type drink with chunks of mango, strawberry, and the white tapoica, served with a massive straw so that you can drink the fruit~ ♥ Delicious!!