I find myself with time on a Friday morning not too long ago to sit at a table by the window at the kosher bakery on 20th Street.
Here for the challah, but today I stay for the pastry and frothy sweet cappuccino.
Having a kosher bakery five minutes away from our house is just ridiculously nonsensical considering our utter lack of experience with kosher bakeries near anywhere we’ve ever lived. And it is the rare day that we splurge on a treat like real bakery bread and pastries. So this is like a real mechaya.
Keter sits unassumingly on a bright corner in Boca Raton. An artisanal bakery and café, it anchors a strip that includes House of Cheung, the Hemp Factory, Lucky’s Bar, and an Argentinian grill house the likes of which I could only dream of feasting at one day.
(A kosher Argentinian joint in my lifetime, please Gd!)
The one kosher eatery for many miles either way on Federal Highway, Keter not only draws from a significant kosher keeping local Jewish community, but also the local college students.
On a good day like today, you can smell the ocean on a salted sunbeam before walking through the front door.
Cool, clean, will lit, and white spacious space. A spotless counter, all the workings hidden behind kitchen doors. On one wall, over back to back couches, a portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Wood-topped tables lend a faux country feel a few blocks west of the Atlantic Ocean. But it’s working for me. Aesthetically pleasant. Unobtrusive. The café’s bareness seems to imply I am free to draw my own conclusions.
An older couple tries to figure out their smartphones as they sip at their spoons after each dip into their steaming what-looks-like tomato basil soups. I am too self-absorbed to ask them if they’d like assistance. I convince myself they’d take offense.
I order my challahs, pastry, and coffee and sit by the large front window, where I open the latest Chayenu with a lot of hope that I might learn something. I glance out the window. That hope deflates. A woman parks her Escalade and walks in as if untethered by the solidity of the glass door or the tiled floor. She’s like Midas, but instead of gold, she owns everything she touches.
While she’s at the counter, my fruit tart and cappuccino are placed before me.
Fitted blouse, jeans, boots. The works. I know nothing about brands, but she has money. And moxie.
“My boys are home from college,” she tells the clerk, flipping her hair, her voice honed by many midnight cigarettes. “I want them to have the real thing.” The girl behind the counter fills a box with freshly baked hamentashen.
Many midnight cigarettes, I imagine? Why do imagine it so? How am I judging her so? How am I fitting her into some kind of personal fantasy? Where’s my editor?
I turn the page of the Chayenu.
It’s an honest question I ask myself. I have eyes. They see what they see. And then the mind goes.
I turn my attention away from the blurry pages and to the chilled plate waiting on the table in front of me.
The kiwi green glazes with infinite spring under lava red strawberries and the blueberries’ midnight contrast. Can beauty be so simple as a fruit tart? Can desire be so innocently pacified? Can hunger so deep be truly satisfied by such a small thing as this?
The pastry breaks almost unbidden with a whispered crisp under the slightest pressure from the tines of the fork. The glaze parts, the billowy cream swells as the fork sinks in. I try to get a sliver of kiwi, a bit of strawberry, and a berry all on the fork.
I wouldn’t want to see the look of hungry anticipation on my face. It can’t be pretty.
Only too conscious of this personal quirk, I use a knife to smooth the tart on the fork, shape it more bite-size while reciting mezonot.
The first taste is of the delicate cream and the mixed bitter and sweet juices of the fruit and the buttery sweetness in the crust. If my wife were here, she’d comment on my expression of pleasure plainly evident, my eyebrows raised over closed, fluttery eyelids.
Another bite, and another. Sips of cappuccino mixing the palette. Each bite, each sip, given its moment, focus, awareness. My whole mouth works each bite around my gums, my tongue.
My face emotes. I know my face emotes. It’s embarrassing how faithfully and truthfully my face emotes. And upward, up, upward to the heavens my pleasure is legible on my emoting face.
But who am I expressing all this for? There is no one. The mom has gone. That battle is done. The older couple trying to figure out their smartphones is gone. The pastry cook is nowhere to be seen.
For a moment, I wonder, or do I wish, if no one gets in and no one gets out. From where did this come from? Who made this? No one’s around to answer. And it doesn’t matter.
At my table by the window, I am secure in my benign existence of simple, selfish fulfillment here and now, tasting this tart.