At first glance, the pastry looks far from appetizing. The exterior is a steely black color and out from the middle, a green, mucus-like spread of garlic oozes out from the freshly baked crust. It's an ugly specimen of pastry — but a cult-favorite among customers.
It's really just a glorified garlic bread, but the slightly briny flavor of squid ink makes all the difference. The formal title is the Japanese Calamari Stick, a squid ink-based bread stuffed with Vermont sharp cheddar cheese and a garlic spread on top. The best part? They're only 65-cents each. (Oh, and the squid ink. But we're admittedly biased.)
We finally got our hands on this elusive bread after an early morning visit to the 85°C Bakery Café's new West Covina location. Customers were stocking up on the pastry, often piling up more than five on their plates.
“I usually call in beforehand and order forty to sixty of those,” Daniel Hsu, a UCLA senior said. “I get them to eat for the rest of the week.”
The Taiwanese bakery opened their West Covina location in December. With stores already in Hacienda Heights and Irvine, the West Covina shop marks their third US store and, at 5,100 square feet, the chain's largest in the world. Although there is no difference in terms of food and drink selection from their other locations, the West Covina store is massive and has separate lines for bread, cakes and drinks.
“We chose West Covina because it's a really good place for us to reach out to our Los Angeles fans,” 85°C project manager Stephanie Peng told us. The pastry shop has over 600 locations in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, U.S. and Australia and are planning to add five more U.S. stores by the end of this year.
“We'll be going up to Northern California and we are going to open a lot more stores in Southern California,” Peng said.
While Asian bakeries are nothing new to the San Gabriel Valley, what distinguishes 85°C from the crowd is their turn-around rate. They specialize in freshly baked Asian pastries which are brought out by the platter and packaged as they ring up your order. And because Asian bakeries use pastry flour and more chemical leavening agents than biological ones, the texture of the bread is lighter and fluffier than many other breads.
Just remember — if you happen to go at a time where you see squid ink-laced balls of dough, act quickly. You're one of the lucky ones.
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa blogs about Asian food at clarissawei.com. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.