It's been quite a journey these past few years for baker Jacqueline Eng. After kneading the dough at such first-rate outfits as Arcade Bakery and Petee's Pies, Eng,—who apparently only discovered her passion for baking pretty recently, while toiling as a freelance classical percussionist—soon got the job of head baker at the Altamarea Group, making bread for fancy-ass restaurants like Ai Fiori, Marea, and Vaucluse. Which she then ditched to open, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and pop-ups at the Hester Street Fair, her own little neighborhood spot on the Lower East Side. And so now we all have one of the city's great new bakeries, Partybus Bakeshop.
Eng is one of those magical wizards who bakes things that look fairly ordinary, but taste like some sort of fantastic dream come true. Take her Monster Cookies, for example, which currently come in three varieties: Chocolate Chip, Peanut Chocolate Chip, and Chocolate Chocolate Chip. At first glance? Like a million other cookies you've seen throughout your long career of cookie eating. But right from the first bite you know these are special: chunky and chewy, satisfyingly sweet with a salty undertone, rich and buttery, with true flavors dominating, but not overwhelming, the whole package. Just perfect.
Her daily selection of croissants are equally excellent, especially the over-stuffed Pistachio, which may be the stickiest such pastry I've ever eaten and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. The Chocolate Almond is first-rate as well, and the classic plain croissant is exactly as flaky and greasy as it should be. Eng also makes bread for Partybus, and sells loaves (Oatmeal, Honey Rye), baguettes (Everything, Fruit and Nut, Olive Rosemary) and slabby slices and half baguettes loaded with butter for dining in. There are several kinds of pie, a decent Apple Cheese Danish, coffee, teas, and, coming soon, sandwiches, pizza, and salads.
The name Partybus is not meant to evoke those obnoxious booze cruisers that coincidentally frequent nearby Hell Square ("there's no stripper pole here," says Eng); rather, it's what she and her friends call Eng's minivan, the crew's vehicle of choice for countless road trips in their youth. You can see said partybus, and lots of other delightful details from Eng's life and the neighborhood, on the amazing wallpaper designed by her friend Kimberly Lolk. If you don't take your treats to go, there's seating for about a (baker's) dozen at stools and Formica banquettes.
Partybus is fun, welcoming, and, thanks to the wide-open kitchen that takes up most of the space, it always smells great in there.
Partybus Bakeshop is located at 31 Essex Street, between Hester and Grand Streets, and is currently open on Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m (917-262-0732; partybusbakeshop.com)