An Ode to Levain Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Cookie

Subtle it’s not, but understatement isn’t the chocolate chip cookie’s forte.

Photo:

Photo: NYC Food Guy

There will always be that one glorious dish that is near and dear to your heart, a food that is synonymous with satisfaction and perfection. We asked our friends in the food and editorial world to write #FoodOdes to the dishes that they love. Here, an ode to Levain Bakery’s chocolate chip cookie, from Flavorwire editorial assistant Alison Herman (@aherman2006).

The problem with writing a tribute to Levain Bakery’s chocolate chip cookie is that it doesn’t really need a tribute. It’s already on every baked-good short list in the city. I’m pretty sure the bakery was on Sex and the City one time. The Upper West Side location is even famous enough to warrant an all-important Google Maps shout out. What’s there left to write about the cookie that has everything?

But sometimes it’s worth making the case that even a dessert as established as the Levain cookie is worth the hype. There’s a reason why Levain is still going strong almost twenty years in: hybrid pastries and ill-advised tiramisu shops may come and go, but the perfect version of the quintessential American dessert remains eternal.

So what makes Levain the best? It’s within spitting distance of two of its strongest competitors—Jacques Torres for the chocolate snobs and Insomnia for the less-than-sober crowd—so it’s a little ambitious to say it’s the best chocolate chip cookie on the Upper West Side, isn’t it? Let alone New York? Not if it really is the greatest combination of butter, sugar, and chocolate fragments to ever come out of a kitchen. Which it is. Here’s why.

There’s a reason why Levain is still going strong almost twenty years in: hybrid pastries and ill-advised tiramisu shops may come and go, but the perfect version of the quintessential American dessert remains eternal.

For one thing, it’s gutsy enough to force your hand. If a customer wants a chocolate chip cookie at Levain, he or she either has to get it with walnuts (which should be in most chocolate chip cookies anyway) or go whole hog with the double chocolate chip. Besides that, the only options are the peanut butter chip, which is solid, and the oatmeal raisin, which is about as good as anything with raisins in it can hope to be. But you’re here for the chocolate chip, and Levain knows what’s best for you.

The $4, freshly baked behemoth that the bafflingly skinny baker hands across the counter is a work of art. Thanks to the butter, it’ll stay melty and soft for hours, but it’s best devoured minutes later, hunched over a stoop on a side street, because who has time to find proper seating with a cookie like this just sitting in its paper bag? Levain cookies are about as tall as they are wide, but that first bite is worth the effort of unhinging your jaw.

This cookie is everything your five-year-old self wanted to devour straight out of the oven, portion control be damned. The sugar rush will keep your heart pounding and your stomach full for hours, but you’re an adult, dammit, and sometimes a thousand-calorie treat is just necessary. Subtle it’s not, but understatement isn’t the chocolate chip cookie’s forte.

Some may call Levain’s signature product a glorified delivery device for melted chocolate. But that ignores the perfect balance it strikes between a crunchy outside and a practically melted core, not to mention the flawless ratio of chip to walnut to dough or the value of a four-buck dessert that feeds the average human for an entire day.

Levain puts Tollhouse to shame, but it does so while reminding tourists and Upper West Siders alike what makes those cookies objects of nostalgia in the first place. It’s both an improvement on and a tribute to the most basic baked good out there. That’s why it’s the best.

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