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.

Martino's Bakery
1723 W. Verdugo Ave
Burbank, CA 91506
(818) 842-0715


Connie said...

I totally agree. Everytime I go to Porto's it's a freaking zoo! People push and shove their way to the front just to stand there but it doesn't make the #s go faster. Retards! Thanks for the insight of Martino's. I'm going today since I have a crazy craving for cupcakes.

Anonymous said...

Porto's update...though quite sure you probably already know this: they've just opened a fairly good sized facility in Burbank. grand opening was yesterday!

between the arrival of Porto's and a soon-to-be opened Zankou Chicken, Burbank is finally getting some "flava":)

Anonymous said...

I have to say that Porto's has some of the best stuff ever! I have been going since I was a little kid, when it was just a small single store front on Brand Blvd. I am an admitted Potato Ball Junkie. I'll buy them to take back to work...never make it there. At work we always order their cakes for events...we've tried about 15 different varieties so far. We've even had Cuban lunches for birthday's...their sandwiches rule also!

>>>>>BUT<<<<< I am very tired of their payment policy. I have been when they accept credit cards, been when I'm told the cake area doesn't accept them. Once I took my bosses company card and they took it but said that I needed to bring his ID. I just placed a large $70.00 order and was told, over the phone, that I can't do that. (Figured I should check since it's always a different tune!) Then I decided to consider Martino's. We always get teacakes. I found this site and wanted to throw my comments in the mix. When I call to cancel my order at Porto's, I am going to tell them why, and that it's really too bad because we love it. But if I can't reimbursed, or it's a giant hassle--forget it. There are other options.

Anonymous said...

We tried to go to Martino's Bakery today after reading your comments, but found it shut down. There was a "coming soon" banner for a different bakery. -- David A. June 11, 2006.

GAIL S. said...

As of June 2006, Martino's has moved to a new location in Burbank. Please give them a try @

335 N. Victory Blvd.

Phone: 818 842-0715
Gail June 14

Anonymous said...

So after everyone's advice I went to both Martino's and Portos in Burbank. The day was Monday, time 9:30-10am. First up, Martino's. Good location, easy parking, small outdoor patio. Nice employees, very reasonable prices. Indoor seating is great to read a newspaper, have coffee, and munch on something sweet. Great neighborhood kind of joing. My 4 cupcakes and 2 teacakes totaled a little over $4. The cupcakes weren't as good as I expected probably since they came straight from a refrigerated display case. I'll microwave the others and see what happens. Overall, worth another trip back. Now up, Porto's. The Burbank Location is 10x's better than Glendale. Plenty of nearby parking and the interior is WOW! Classy, not over-the-top quincenera decorated ike the Glendale location. Organization is great too. There are clearly marked 2 lines to go through-one for sandwiches, the other for baked goods and cakes. There is also a very nice seating area with tables and along the windows are tall barstools. I walked in, selected my potato balls, and paid. Total time 2 minutes. The busiest times are 11:30-2:00 according to the ladies that work there. So do get there early or later for dinner.

Anonymous said...

I don't really know why people pluck to Porto's. I find the pastries and cakes are just average. They all look pretty and well decorated, however, there's nothing special about any of them. They are all just sugar sweet. I prefer Edies in Woodland Hills, Bea's Bakery in Tarzana over Portos any day.
Not worth the drive and the hazzle. Oh and the potato balls are too salty. Sorry