Friday, July 01, 2005
It's Not Porto's (But In a Good Way): Martino's Bakery
These are not from Porto's!
I am boycotting Porto's Bakery. Well, not really. Maybe for a month or something. Here's why...
Waking up Saturday morning feeling quite energetic and ready to take on the day (which is unusual in itself), I wanted to do something nice, a good deed of sorts. Isaac had to go into the office for a few hours, and I thought, "What a great idea it would be to pick up some desserts and pastries for the weekend! I know! It's early--I'll make a Porto's run. No problem!" Either it was denial or just straight stupidity on my part because next thing you know, I'm on my way to what I consider one of the best but busiest bakeries in LA. Still oblivious to what was going on inside, I managed to find a parking space in the already crowded lot. And as I entered through the back door to find the cafe line stretched out the front door, my positive, bubbly mood changed to one of sourness.
I knew it was my own fault. I knew I should have known better, but something inside me still felt like I'd been had. I wanted to outsmart this situation I had gotten myself into--I went over to the bakery side first and pulled a number, hoping that I'd be close despite the huge crowd that had already formed between the cases. My lucky ticket said 24 and they were only on 60, so I growled and did an about-face over to the cafe side. Who in their right mind would go wait in line for pastries before 9am on a Saturday morning??? Idiots like me, I guess, 'cause next thing you know I was standing three feet outside Porto's front door.
Now I have been to Porto's a million-bajillion times, and they have always had the individual tiramisus and mango mousses available at the cafe. I am not joking. Every single time. Except for this time. Yes, this time when I chose to wait close to half hour in a line stretched out the door only to find out they didn't have what I came for when I got up to the front. This time when I made the choice not to wait for my number on the bakery side only to find out that they had passed number 24 by the time I got through with the horrendous cafe line. This time when the sloppy teenager in front of me spent the whole time in line combing out his thick, tangled head of hair. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I shoulda checked before I got in line. I shoulda asked someone to hold my place while I went to take a look around. Coulda, woulda shoulda, I'd had it. I'd had it with this place and told myself I wasn't coming back. Well, for at least a few weeks. Porto's needs some time to chill the fuck out. (Yeah, like that's ever gonna happen)
To top it all off, I'd bought a couple of potato balls to snack on since I was hungry and since I had already spent an eternity in line. I broke 'em out after I had gotten into the car, I took a bite into the lukewarm potato crust to unveil scorching hot oil that went oozing into my mouth. Minutes later, the glands under my ears swelled up like golf balls. It lasted only a couple minutes, but it was enough to freak me out and piss me off. "You shoulda gone in to complain," you're saying. No way. Not today.
So later, after I had given myself time to chill the fuck out, I was still determined to stock up on my weekend treats. I remembered a place in Burbank called Martino's that my boss had picked up some delicious lemon bars from, and as I was running errands in the scorching hot Valley anyways, I looked Martino's up and headed that way. There was parking right out front. Around the corner, a quiet residential neighborhood with shade trees. Old school mom and pop businesses that were closed for the weekend surrounded this family owned bakery. An elderly man sat at the lone table by the window enjoying a bear claw and coffee. I walked right up to the counter, greeted with a sincere smile. No lines, no hassle. This was way too easy.
I told the girl I needed a few seconds to check everything out as it was my first time there. She waited patiently as I scanned the two fairly small, facing bakery cases. I felt like I had suddenly been transported back to my childhood, standing next to my mother whose turn it was to bring treats to one of our school functions. My mother, a traditional Chinese woman, wasn't by any means a trained baker of "American" desserts, so many times, she'd take us down to the neighborhood bakery to buy some instead. I'd look wide eyed at the many cookies, cakes and pies that all of my non-Chinese classmates supposedly got to eat all the time. Martino's Bakery, started in 1927, is exactly that type of bakery, except this time, I was looking wide eyed at all the goodies behind the glass as a thirty-something. And this time, I'd be able to get whatever I wanted. No need to ask Mom permission.
In one case were pies, both in a miniature 6 inch size and the regular full size. The other case I stared at a little longer--danishes, breakfast pastries, cookies, lemon bars, brownies, and yes, cupcakes. Not the fad cupcakes hitting L.A. recently at over 3 bucks a pop, but classic old-school cupcakes that cost less than a buck each. Between the two cases was another case displaying Martinos' award plaques and trophies. Apparently, I was in "Burbank's Best Bakery" as awarded by the the local paper, the Burbank Leader. Yup, totally old school.
I was right about the cupcakes. They were classic, no fancy-schmancy flavors and fillings and such. I was particularly fond of the "pink frosted cupcake"--I don't know what else to call it--it was so cute with its powder pink buttercream frosting and rainbow colored sprinkles and quite yummy too! Its yellow vanilla cake was moist, its pink buttercream frosting was rich and creamy and had a nice sugary bite. I also enjoyed the double chocolate one, which had a thick layer of chocolate fudge frosting on top topped with chocolate sprinkles--just like the Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker devil's food ones we used to eat as kids. The German chocolate cupcake sported a gleaming red maraschino cherry on top of its coco and nutty frosting, the coconut cupcake sported a more literal coconutty topping: shredded coconut atop white buttercream frosting. These too, were nostalgically delicious. The carrot cupcake, however, was not my favorite. The cake itself was a little bland and more on the spicy side than on the sweet side with annoying strips of carrot mixed in. Its cream cheese frosting and cute little piped carrot made it passable, though. What's more, Martino's cupcakes are square shaped, which I guess makes them a little unique. And that's good 'cause I'm a square too.
I also partook in one of Martino's tea cakes, a cupcake-like cake with a vanilla sugar glaze topping. The cake had a bit of a crumblier texture, but was still moist, and had a delicious cinammonny vanilla flavor. Last, but certainly not least, though I've tried them before compliments of my boss, I couldn't resist picking up a couple lemon bars as well. Martino's lemon bars are plump and fluffy, with thick lemon curd that's the right balance between sweet and tart atop a wonderful buttery crust.
So Martino's is unlike Porto's, but in a good way. You can't really compare them...they're like apples and oranges, really. I mean, I'll always have a thing for Porto's Latin-inspired desserts and potato balls (as long as they don't burn me and make me swell up like a blowfish again) but Martino's goods are more classic American and appeal to the part of me that's still a kid--a kid who isn't afraid to throw a tantrum the next time Porto's acts up to walk out and head to Martino's.
1723 W. Verdugo Ave
Burbank, CA 91506