Frustrated with our futile search for a good muffin in this town, we turned to the Eating Our Words community a month ago for help, and got it. Add in a little side work on our part, and we have a fruitful follow-up post for your enjoyment.
We left off having given Stone Mill Bakers (2518 Kirby) an A-, the best grade of the bunch. I think we'd likely give all of the following muffins at least that grade, with the elusive A+ being palate-dependent.
First, we took a reader recommendation and swung by Café Flores (6606 Lawndale). The chatty owner was so helpful she even carried some of our order to the car for us. This place would be worth a second stop, particularly because by our 9:45 a.m. visit all but one of the muffins were gone -- proof enough in itself. The cranberry walnut offering we sampled was excellent and incredibly moist. The top portion, full of cranberries so plump they might have been stewed, was so moist it could fairly be called wet. That said, the dough had baked to a nice firmness. Flavorful but not overpowering, the bottom portion had fewer cranberries but more walnuts, and stayed very moist. If you could walk into a field and pluck a muffin from a tree, this is what it would taste like.
Acting on a second reader's advice, we stopped at Dessert Shoppe, 512 W. 19th St. We're not generally in the mood for chocolate in the morning, but this chocolate chip muffin was among the most pleasing we've had. Unlike many other breakfast-chocolate catastrophes, this one tasted and felt like a muffin -- not a cupcake or a cake or a coffee cake or some sort of torte -- but a muffin, spongy but thick. The cranberry-blueberry option had a bit too much sugar sprinkled on top, given that there was plenty in the dough itself. But it was good, and the berries punched at or above their weight in flavor.
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Arguably the best muffins we found, however, were at Black Walnut Café, 5510 Morningside. Their Good Morning muffin was wonderfully moist and buttery, with plenty of carrot and a heavy blend of spices. The raisins were plump, and melted in the mouth. Not as grainy as some morning muffins, this surely wasn't as healthy, either, but still excellent. This would be better on a cool autumn day, and would be excellent with a cup of chai.
The café's cinnamon offering was a rich, gooey cinnamon roll in disguise. The gritty, pasty feel cinnamon deserts often have was there, and it was very doughy. Without the carrots and walnuts to break up the texture, this one got a bit heavy -- hard to chew, even -- but the flavor was excellent. Our companion raved about it, so with that second opinion we're happy to recommend it, too.