Houston’s Chocolate Chip Cookies are the Best Remedy for COVID-19 Anxiety
For me, few foods are as comforting as chocolate chip cookies. I know, how novel. In the midst of a global pandemic, comfort foods have been brought to the forefront like never before, recruited like soldiers going into war against stress and anxiety. But does the humble cookie, a confection so classic it’s almost cliche, have what it takes to combat COVID-fear? If you’re in Houston, it does.
We were in Houston when the whole world fell apart. Not exactly the most comforting place to be—the fourth largest city in America—during a rapidly intensifying pandemic. I remember the abrupt moment when I went from mild awareness about COVID-19 news to full-blown meltdown. Suddenly, everything seemed too real; businesses were shuttering at a rapid clip, cities were mandating shelter-at-home orders, and the mere notion of catching a Lyft seemed perilous. It was an especially eerie time to be living in an RV, not knowing where to go or even how to safely travel. But after a few days and a few deep breaths, I remembered that chocolate chip cookies are a constant I can always count on, and Houston just so happens to be the chocolate chip epicenter of the country, apparently. As I teetered on the emotional brink, these three independent bakeries helped me keep it together, and even bring a smile to my face at a time when it was desperately needed most.
Photo courtesy of Koffeteria/Facebook
Before we even arrived to Houston, this was the number one place on my radar. I do a weekly restaurant news roundup for Plate, and I had earmarked this EaDo bakery when it opened a few months ago, knowing we’d be in town soon. The bakery is the brainchild of pastry chef/owner Vanarin Kuch, who rose to national acclaim on Top Chef: Just Desserts. This is his first solo venture, and boy oh boy is it a whimsical wonderland of sugar, butter, and flour. The stylish, modern space is a showcase for pastries both zany (Hot Cheetos croissants filled with nacho cheese, lemon meringue tacos in sugar cookie “tortillas”) and classic (cinnamon rolls, brownies). The sleeper hit is the double chocolate chip cookie, an ooey-gooey deep dish-style morsel of deliciousness with dark chocolate and caramelized white chocolate. They’re baked in deep-sided tins, so that the cookies are thicker then your typically flat varietals, with a crispy exterior and a chewy middle flecked with sea salt.
Photo by Matt Kirouac
Fluff Bake Bar
Another Houston bakery that’s been high on my radar for years, Fluff Bake Bar was woefully closed when we first arrived due to the business relocating. Fortunately, they were on the cusp of reopening in The Heights. Unfortunately, COVID-19 happened at the exact same time. Boldly, they reopened to offer take-out only, with restricted customer capacity, and a pared-down menu of sweets focusing mostly on cookies. Said sweets are the handiwork of lauded pastry chef Rebecca Masson, who incidentally is also a Top Chef: Just Desserts alum, which speaks volumes of Houston’s pastry scene. She also is known locally as “The Sugar Fairy,” a fitting nickname considering her quirky offerings like “Unicorn Bait” cookies studded with rainbow sprinkles, and crackly “Couch Potato” cookies loaded with potato chips, pretzels, cornflakes, marshmallows, and chocolate chips. And then there’s the classic chocolate chip, a buttery beauty with a darker, crisp crust and an aptly fluffy center rich with notes of brown sugar. When you envision the classic chocolate chip cookie, the kind that’s made for dunking in milk, this is the stuff of dreams.
Photo by Matt Kirouac
Tiny’s Milk & Cookies
Of all the places I visited in Houston, bakeries or otherwise, this is the one I returned to the most. Seriously, in the span of a month, I think I went at least six times, and my return rate only increased dramatically once the pandemic set in. I was essentially treating it like my carb therapist. A cute, cottage-like take-out window nestled alongside a restaurant called Tiny Boxwoods, this adorable eatery features a whole range of sweets, from fudgy brownies and blondies to croissants, scones, and Rice Krispies treats. But as the name suggests, the star attraction is the chocolate chip cookie. It looks as classic as they come, but it’s the type of cookie that stops you in your tracks once you take a bite. It’s stunningly perfect in its simplicity: soft and chewy, generously dotted with toothsome chocolate morsels that melt just enough, while still retaining a bit of crunch.
Chocolate chip cookies like these are comfy-cozy Americana at its absolute finest, which is precisely the formula for combating COVID-19. I mean, a vaccine would be nice, but these will suffice in the meantime.
Header photo: Courtesy of Fluff Bake Bar/Facebook
Matt Kirouac has been writing about food and travel since 2008, for outlets like Travel + Leisure, TripSavvy, DiningOut magazines, Plate Magazine, KOA, Culture Trip, Zagat, and Food Fanatics magazine. He fell in love with national parks while on a trip to South Dakota, where Badlands National Park stole his heart…and has been holding it ransom ever since.