Not too long ago, this writer experienced the charming Get Some Dim Sum Tour. In short, this combination bicycle tour/Chinatown history lesson/Chinese food bonanza was a feast for the senses that left me in need of more bicycle riding to compensate for the large amount of delicious food that I had consumed on the trip. Before long, I found myself back in the saddle for another round of LA Cycle Tours’ cultural culinary experiences. This time, I signed up for their Pastry Tour and prepared to loosen my belt yet another notch.
I met my tour guide, Art Palacios, on West 6th Street, just north of the La Brea Tar Pits. Shortly after 10 a.m., on this fine Tuesday morning, it was kickstands up, and we were off. Given that the Pastry Tour was not as firmly linked to a particular cultural/architectural motif as the Chinese dim sum tour had been, the scenery and information Palacios imparted during the actual cycling tour was quite varied. First, we headed south and circled around the tar pits and LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), all the while Palacios told stories and anecdotes about the institutions. Much of the content here would be best suited to tourists and people who don’t know much about Los Angeles, but just being on the ride was pleasant enough for this portion of the experience.
As we wound our way through the neighborhoods of the Fairfax and Melrose areas, Palacios began talking about the origins of pastry ingredients and preparation — down to the development of the first egg whisker. Naturally, this was a suitable transition to our first spot of indulgence, which was Joan’s on Third. While I was initially hypnotized by the beautiful cheese display at the entrance of this charming bakery/food market, I reminded myself that the order of the day was dessert-centric, so I tore my eyes from the cheese display and tried to resist drooling over their extensive deli menu while I found a seat in their sizeable dining area. Moments later, Palacios brought over a piece of chocolate swirl pound cake and a slice of banana nut bread. Both achieved “Oh my God!” levels of yumminess. After the initial waves of euphoria passed, we packed up the leftovers and mounted up to ride to our next destination, Sweet Lady Jane.
Though Sweet Lady Jane did not occupy nearly as expansive a space as Joan’s had, their display case was filled with a colorful cross-section of goodies. From among them, Palacios selected the cream cheese puff, the Mexican wedding cookie, and a slice of their cherry pie. The puff was really good, and the wedding cookie was delish, but it was the cherry pie that got me to that special place for the second time that day; in fact, I’m sure I let out an involuntary moan when I tasted it. Sweet Jane’s specializes in breads and custom cakes, so if that pie was an indication of how well they do the things they specialize in, perhaps I’ll return for a birthday cake. Back in the saddle, we pushed on.
Our next stop was Canter’s Deli. I know, what Angeleno hasn’t been to Canter’s? Still, I’d never had anything but a pastrami sandwich from there, so trying a few cookies was a nice change of pace. Palacios selected a few varieties from the large treats display, and they were good. No OMG experiences, mind you, but really… how many of those can one have in a day? Next time, I’ll have to sample the Hamantash. As I wearily threw my leg over the bicycle, Palacios reassured me that we only had two more stops to go. Along the way, we traveled on Melrose Avenue — eventually pulling off into an alleyway that was rich with graffiti murals.
Soon afterwards, we arrived at Milk. Walking into Milk was a little like stepping through a time portal. The environment of the store had the vibe of a ’50s milk and sweets shop. Were we to have actually traveled back in time, there would have been some anachronisms, to be sure; for example, I don’t believe one could have purchased a macaron cookie ice cream sandwich coated with Fruity Pebbles back then, but they sure had them here. Palacios explained that they had amazing milkshakes as well. Mercifully, he only purchased a brownie and a red velvet chocolate chip cookie for me to sample. The red velvet cookie was especially tasty, but it still didn’t get me to my third food orgasm of the day. For that, we would have to reach our final destination, SK Donuts & Croissant.
Apart from the large painting of a donut in their front window, SK Donuts appears, at first glance, to be just another donut shop. Once inside, it becomes clear that this is not the case. These were gourmet donuts of the highest order. They had donuts topped with Reese’s peanut butter cup pieces, donuts topped with s’more ingredients, and, as Palacios revealed, they were known for their cronuts (a hybrid of a croissant and a donut). He ordered one of those for me, which was really really good; but the thing that got me to that special place one final time was the Maple Bacon Donut. That is, real maple-cured bacon bits sprinkled atop a maple glazed donut. Ooohhhh…… Just thinking about it….. Where am I? Oh, yeah, so that was the end of the tour.
As we peddled back to our point of origin, I had a chance to ask Palacios a little bit about designing the tour. The loop design of the trek is based around finding the safest route to travel on bicycle, while hitting key spots that are as consistent with their menus as they are with their quality. Regarding the selection of bakeries, prior to the journey, he asks his customers if they have dietary restrictions, such as peanut or gluten allergies, and he tailors the experiences accordingly. By the time we reached our launching spot, only a couple of hours had passed since we’d begun. Still, it felt like a whole day’s experience, and I found myself, once again, in need of more bicycling to offset the delightful indulgences of the tour.