When you work in cancer research, you need your pick-me-ups. Being a large hospital system, we have the standard chains, like Starbucks and Au Bon Pain. However, if you
don’t want to wait 30 minutes for your order want to try someplace different and a little cozier, the University Circle area of Cleveland has just the spot.
My coworker introduced me to the Fluffy Duck Café last month and it was clear that I don’t get out much in Cleveland, let alone know the geography of my general work area. Located on the bottom floor of the Innova Living Apartments (which I also didn’t notice before), it’s an adorable café tucked away with a couple other local eating spots I need to try.
Created by pastry chef Ben Woods, the Fluffy Duck Café was founded with the farm-to-table philosophy, offering pastries and a solid-looking lunch menu made from fresh local and seasonal ingredients. While you’ll certainly never starve/go without your caffeine fix at the Cleveland Clinic (we got an Aladdin’s!!!), having a place like Fluffy Duck with a local, homegrown feel is very refreshing.
For starters, you can see everything being made in front of you. While I didn’t snap pictures of them (privacy, yo), two gentleman were working diligently making pastries from scratch. As somebody who has worked in a café before, I know that much of the food, pastries included, is transported pre-made en mass and just heated up on site. Not at Fluffy Duck: what you see is what you get. Perfect looking pastries made fresh:
The drink menu is pretty straightforward but offers a huge selection of hot teas and has the Fluffy Duck Chai. As a chai lover, the Fluffy Duck Chai was on my radar so I picked that along with a chocolate croissant (breakfast of champions).
As I waited, I took a few minutes to creepily snap pictures of the café itself (if any of the Fluffy Duck employees read this, sorry for being creepy. I just really like your digs). I can’t emphasize enough how cozy and cheerful it is. If I didn’t already work at 7 to beat traffic, I could totally see myself having a leisurely morning sitting by the window, enjoying a pastry, and reading a book. I’m officially very envious of the lucky tenants who get to hit this up as often as they’d like.
After a few moment of hardcore creeping, my order was ready. I watched the barista pour the chai into the cup and instantly knew it was going to be good. 1) it had just the right shade of light brown, which, for me, indicates, a good amount of spice and flavor without being syrupy or too strong. 2) THE FOAM. I’ve had a lot of chai lattes in my day and getting the right consistency of foam is difficult to come by. Here, it was thick, fluffy (appropriately), and held the flavor nicely.
Being on a schedule, my coworker and I ventured the short walk back to the office to enjoy our goodies. I gotta say; very few things beat a freshly baked chocolate croissant. The insides were SO FLUFFY (this place was really accurate in calling themselves the Fluffy Duck), the outside was flaky and made the nicest pile of crumbs on my desk, and the chocolate was still gooey. Washed down with my chai, my morning was off to an infinitely better start.
If you find yourself around University Circle and want to venture to a quiet, cozy café where you can peacefully enjoy your morning or lunchtime, the Fluffy Duck Café provides the retreat you need in a bustling part of Cleveland. The beverages and pastries far from disappoint and I’m sure their lunch is amazing (will update once I’ve tried it, but the pictures are pretty drool-worthy). I almost forgot I have a thousand (not exaggerating) emails to sort through, but having my fluffy bit of happiness was totally worth it.
Sooo…. I was going to end it there, but a certain pastry caught my attention and I did end up going back the day after this encounter (creeper level 10).
Tucked in the back of the pastry display was a curious confection called a Kouign Amann (pronounced “queen a-mahn”, thanks Pop Sugar). I had never heard of it, but after researching it (while enjoying my Fluffy Duck Chai and chocolate croissant), I learned it was a traditional French pastry native to the Brittany region of France. As described by the Huffington Post: “It’s typically a round cake, made with bread dough that has been layered with butter and sugar”. I read “butter and sugar” and I was sold. If you watch the video in the Huffington Post article, the baker is LITERALLY folding a huge slab of butter into the bread dough. If that’s not heart-attack inducing heaven, I don’t know what is. After it’s baked, it’s coated in a caramelized sugar glaze. I absolutely had to try one.
I strolled in the next afternoon and 1) asked how to pronounce Kouign Amman, 2) botched it anyway, 3) managed to walk away with two. According to the guy helping me, the glaze didn’t turn out quite right so he let me have another. I assured him that it was probably just fine and lots of great discoveries were found by such unplanned surprises, like Velcro and Penicillin. As a baker, he seemed to agree since plenty of culinary feats were discovered with a seeming mishap, but he did encourage me to come back when they were made correctly.
While I am curious about what a properly executed Kouign Amman tastes like, I wouldn’t have known anything was wrong with the two I had because they were GREAT. Much like a croissant, it was flaky and layered, but had a stronger butter flavor and the glaze (however perfect or not) added a nice touch of sweetness (and stickiness, but being neat and clean is a sign of a misspent life, IMO). The Kouign Amman actually made up my lunch, but, per the wisdom of a kitchen magnet I once had: “a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand”. Replace “cookie” with “Kouign Amman”, and it works just the same. My heart was filled with happiness and my arteries with butter.
Reader’s Digest version of this post: 1) go to Fluffy Duck, 2) get the Fluffy Duck Chai, 3) pick a pastry, but the Kouign Amman is a definite tummy pleaser, 4) try not to be creepy.