A piece of Paris steps from Central Park at Bel Ami.
Walking into Bel Ami is akin to walking into a boulangerie in the heart of Paris. The cozy, chic cafe, tucked down a residential street less than one block from bucolic Central Park, is an authentic French bakery that transports guests to France. Its name, Bel Ami, translates to “nice friend” and, indeed, this French cafe will be your new best friend.
Opened in 2010 by Vanessa Laplaud who hails from Limoges, France, Bel Ami quickly became a not-so-hidden gem thanks to its authenticity and exceptional French pastries. From morning to early evening, the charming cafe is packed with locals, Francophones, and visitors alike. There is typically a steady stream of guests and oftentimes a line that moves swiftly.
The quaint cafe features a banquette, a trio of cafe tables indoors, and a half dozen tables or so outside for al fresco dining. Indoors, a trio of pastry cases and their countertops are filled to the brim with pastries likes chocolate-almond croissants, palmiers, and orange sugar brioche; desserts like Napoleons, crème brûlées, and eclairs; confections like chocolate bars and a kaleidoscope of colorful macarons in flavors like sea salt caramel and lavender; sandwiches and pressed paninis, soups, and salads; and a full coffee bar that offers the perfect cup of La Colombe coffee or an espresso drink like a creamy cafe au lait. In the summer, sorbets and gelati are also on offer. Guests order at the counter and then seat themselves. The vibe of Bel Ami is welcoming, warm, and wonderful.
Patrons are welcome to peruse the fully-stocked pastry cases as long as they wish, and the team behind the counter provides friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient service. Bel Ami sources its authentic treats from several local French artisan bakers, and everything is impeccable. It really is a challenge to choose just one or two treats, so we often select a handful of pastries and desserts plus another half dozen to go.
On our most recent visit, we started with a toasted ham and Gruyère cheese mini baguette sandwich, which is warmed up upon ordering, followed by a blueberry scone and lemon meringue tart. It’s ideal for a light lunch or afternoon tea. Each item was picture-perfectly presented and each bite was a delight. The baguette was superbly crunchy while the scone was dense and bursting with blueberries. The meringue tart was luscious with the perfect zing and a generous topping of fluffy, airy meringue. Our only disappointment was finishing the last bite.
It’s only a matter of time before we return to this neighborhood mainstay during our next walk to Central Park as our goal is to try everything on the menu. One bite and you will share the same goal!