Archestratus is a cookbook-store-cum-Sicilian-café tucked away in the corner of Huron Avenue in Greenpoint, and it is the sort of fiercely individualistic small shop wonder that makes you feel happy for the sake of stumbling in it, happy that you live in a city, happy that somewhere one beautiful obsessive decided to share her passions with the world. It’s owned by Paige Lipari, and the young proprietor does the cooking in the back for the café, which offers lunch and sweet snacks, and nightly community events. Lipari is the sort of cook that makes you rethink what a piece of food can be, and under her eye I’ve had eggplant that is delicious (truly a shock), pizza festooned with freshly cut edible flowers in purple, orange and pink, and a range of cookies that understand how to make butter, sugar and flour do a crazy tarantella on your tongue.
Yet there is one piece of food that Lipari produces at Archestratus that is a brilliant masterpiece, and that is her rainbow cookie. These cookies look good, for one: a slab of dark chocolate dotted with sea salt on the top, a simple dark chocolate slab on the bottom, surrounding three brilliantly colored layers of cake in red, yellow and green. Upon the first bite, the sweetness and saltiness come together so that dark chocolate yields to the almond cake — moist, pliant and held together with apricot jam, speckled with crushed almonds. This rainbow cake feels big in its flavor, hitting the mouth in waves. It is the sort of experience that makes you feel like Goldilocks when you’re trying any other piece of cake: this one is too salty, this one is too dry, this one is too dull.
The first time I had a rainbow cookie, I was at my in-laws’ place for the Jewish holidays. The rainbow cookies were part of a platter of sweets from the bakery. The (milky-tasting) chocolate was dusty, the cake’s color was muted, a dim yellow. It was just one blare of sweetness. My husband ate them dutifully — it was “his thing” as a child — but he admitted that they weren’t very good.
With those bakery cookies as my first rainbow cookie, my expectations were very low for Archestratus’ take. And yet, from the very first moment I tried it, I fell in love. I order one every time I visit Lipari’s magical café. Now they’re not always on the menu. Over time, I’ve learned that they require Herculean amounts of labor, three different batters, time and a happy oven and precise effort. I’ve seen Lipari working dutifully, turning butter, sugar and flour into something that gives me one perfect, transcendent moment. I know the amount of work that goes into it. I appreciate every single bite. I take a photo each and every time. I can’t help it.