When Oded Brenner and Max Fichtman, co-founders of the international chain Max Brenner: Chocolate By the Bald Man, parted ways in 2012, it was not an amicable split. In fact, a lawsuit by the latter and a non-compete agreement signed by the former forbade Brenner from selling any sort of chocolate for five years. Which, for a man who compares his creative career and level of passion to Willy Wonka's, is a long time indeed.
Well now those five years are up, and Brenner just opened his brand-new chocolate shop, Blue Stripes, right near Union Square... a block away from Max Brenner's NYC flagship. If you like chocolate, there are many reasons to go eat here immediately. The Cake & Shake, for example, is just insane: an entire mini-cake of one of Brenner's dense, intense pastries sitting atop its matching milkshake, a chocolate butter biscuit resting in between with a hole punched out for your straw.
Other innovative items include Brenner's Chocolate Clouds, a beverage he aptly describes as "frozen hot chocolate foam"; the vegan, surprisingly sophisticated Tahini Chocolate Truffle Bars; the Nutella Swirl Buns, which are like the demon offspring (in a delicious way) of a chocolate babka and a sticky bun; and the Cone Pizzas, filled with pure melted chocolate, whose sugar-coated dough will remind you of churros but are actually based on a Hungarian savory street food staple, the kiortosh.
But as (over)indulgent and fun as his "Chocolate Playground" stuff can be, Brenner is actually most excited about the "Cacao Lab" part of the operation. At Blue Stripes you'll find numerous items whose foundation is the superfood cocao. There are cacao energy shakes (the one with banana, basil, and ginger was particularly invigorating) and housemade granola bowls (frozen cacao pulp eats like ice cream). A few savory dishes having nothing to do with cacao in any form, such as a Croissant Egg Sandwich and an Avocado Tomato Tartine, round out the menu.
The space itself is like an upscale cafe. A wide ordering counter has most of the chocolates and pastries on open display, so you can see what you're getting yourself into (compared to Brenner's original venture, the serving sizes here are more modest, a welcome development). There's seating for about 35 at various locations; a table with outlets encourages laptoppers up front, while the chairs in the back give a more lounge-like and relaxed atmosphere.
Blue Stripes is located at 28 East 13th Street between University Place and Fifth Avenue and is open weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to midnight, and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (917-265-8737; bluestripes.com)