On the Trail of City's Sweet Side
The Wall Street Journal
November 18, 2014

By Ralph Gardner Jr.
Nov. 18, 2014

After years of searching, I recently found a gemütlich, affordable place for lunch in the Theater District. Which is probably why Café Edison, in the Edison Hotel at 228 W. 47th St., recently announced that it’s going out of business.

Credit where credit’s due, I didn’t discover the place on my own, but as the final stop on a dessert walking tour with Sarah Rolleston, an actor who runs Sugartooth Tours, a company that leads two-hour expeditions of the Theater District’s sweetest spots.

“We timed it so you can catch a matinee right afterwards,” Ms. Rolleston explained as we sat outside Junior’s, the first stop on our tour. She launched into her cheesecake riff. “This is the original cheesecake. It’s New York style. It doesn’t have a crust or any toppings. We will be serving the cheesecake plain.”

I didn’t realize that absence of crust is what distinguishes a slice of New York cheesecake—I was already learning new stuff—though I prefer mine with a crumbly graham cracker foundation.

I was drawn to the tour for a couple of reasons. The Theater District doesn’t automatically come to mind as a dessert destination. In fact, I think of it more as a dessert desert.

Also, I used to lead dessert tours myself, though free-of-charge (Sugartooth’s cost $50, including treats) shortly after college for out-of-town friends. My own tour was restricted to Madison Avenue. But in those days the avenue formed a veritable charm bracelet of high-quality bakeries—among them Rigo, a Viennese pastry shop; G&M, where the Florentines were almost the size of dinner plates; and William Greenburg Desserts, the lone survivor.

As we left Junior’s and headed west, Ms. Rolleston told me that her two-year-old company—which has six different dessert tours and 50 fellow actors leading them—started as a matter of necessity. She wanted to take her friend—fellow actor, and Sugartooth co-founder Allyson Tolbert —on an ice cream tour for her birthday.

The women had met on the national touring company of “Beauty and the Beast.” “I understudied Belle, and Allyson understudied Babette, the feather duster, and we both danced in the ensemble,” Ms. Rolleston recalled. “They didn’t have any ice cream tours, which I thought was crazy,” she went on. A business opportunity was divined. “It’s different from waiting tables or baby sitting,” said Ms. Rolleston, 29 years old, and from Ohio. “We’ve been able to support our theater careers this way.”

She said that when they started they didn’t realize that being actors was a selling point for clients. “They had questions like, ‘What’s it like to be an actor?’ ‘Where should I send my kids to dance class?’ ”
Amy's Bread on Ninth Avenue makes handmade breads, pastries and cookies.  Amy's Bread on Ninth Avenue makes handmade breads, pastries and cookies.

The tours—in addition to the Theater District, they include a cupcake crawl through Greenwich Village and a dessert tour of the Union Square Holiday Market—are themed for out-of-towners. Or locals who have managed to remain star-struck by the city.

I can’t quite count myself among them. So my mind started to wander (in the director of Amy’s Bread, where we were headed next, and where Ms. Rolleston said they make excellent black-and-white cookies) when she started to explain how best to buttonhole your favorite Broadway stars after performances. “Find out where the stage door is before the show, or when the show ends,” she instructed. “You don’t even have to see the show.”

We arrived at Amy’s, whose black and white’s indeed tasted as good as they looked—the vanilla section not too sweet; the chocolate half just sweet enough; and the cake fluffy and moist. “We give a bit of history about black-and-white cookies,” Ms. Rolleston said as I dug in, the dopamine rush causing me to miss the cookie’s history.

We stopped to window-shop at LaDuca Shoes—“This is the shoe maker that does all the shoes on Broadway,” the actor stated—before arriving at Café Edison, where I immediately felt at home and rued the gap in my education that I hadn’t found the place earlier in both my own and the restaurant’s careers.

“We audition in this neighborhood,” Ms. Rolleston explained. “I’ve been coming here since before I moved to New York. You can get a great matzo ball soup.”

However, the item on the dessert tour was Café Edison’s egg cream, Ms. Rolleston launching into competing theories about how it earned its name, since it contains neither eggs nor cream.
Café Edison, on 47th Street, a good place to get an egg cream.
Café Edison, on 47th Street, a good place to get an egg cream.

“Café Edison was featured in the season five opener of ‘Sex and the City,’ ” she added.

I was interested in the hallowed corner—or was it the counter—where Carrie Bradshaw had once dined. But not quite interested enough to look up from my egg cream.