Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Choc-O-Pain, Hoboken’s popular French boulangerie and lunch hot spot, and I was blown away. If you feel like taking a trip outside of New York City, this is definitely a great place to go.
Hoboken might just be one of the most family-friendly cities in all of New Jersey. In fact, it’s so mom-friendly, many Manhattanites actually drop by with their young children for a day out. The city’s innovative, elegant, and overall welcoming outlook can be seen just about everywhere – especially at Choc-O-Pain, which has found a loyal following among Hoboken’s new parents.
The ambiance reflects the boulangerie’s authentic Parisian roots. On its first level, the area always seems to be packed with businesspeople and harried moms waiting for school to let out. Its menu is, after all, ideal for people who are looking for a quick yet substantial lunch. It’s modern enough to attract young professionals, but old school enough to bring in an artsy crowd.
The upstairs lounge is reminiscent of a beautiful Parisian home, complete with fleur-de-lis wallpaper, photos of the Eiffel Tower, and even a play mat for young children. It’s here that local moms usually congregate, munch on sandwiches, and chat while their kids make new friends. The upstairs looks like it came from a page of Madeline, and it’s not uncommon to see toddlers asking for another bite of croissant.
For foodies such as myself, the first thing one notices about Choc-O-Pain is the smell of baked bread, the piping hot soup, and of the freshly ground coffee. Unlike chain coffeehouses and fast food restaurants, the bread at Choc-O-Pain is mixed, molded, and baked on premises. Everything is fresh, and cooked using true-to-form French methods. Perhaps that’s why all the baked goods there are fluffier than clouds on a sunny day.
The quality of Choc-O-Pain’s food is striking. Their light and fluffy croissants are never greasy, heavy, or oily. Their coffee is never made with burnt beans, and is served in generous portions. Nothing contains chemical preservatives, nor is anything microwaved. Everything has an authentic French taste and texture, even when the ingredients themselves are not commonly used in French cooking.
For those who want a delightfully flavorful meal, the best pick on the menu would be the Spicy Tuna sandwich, paired with a cup of hot coffee. The tuna is mellow yet spicy without tasting overly fishy. Meanwhile, the freshly baked bread really makes the entire sandwich a more substantial meal without being too heavy.
True Francophiles will be pleased to know that this French-owned bakery also happens to be BYOB, so you can enjoy a glass of red wine without issue.
Though many different boulangeries and “Euro” bakeries exist in the area, it’s actually difficult to find any that offer any authenticity in their cuisine. Choc-O-Pain is a place where bread has its own philosophy, and it’s a philosophy that everyone should live by.
As owner Clemence Danko explained, “Bread is not supposed to have a dozen different ingredients. You are not supposed to taste the preservatives in them. The beauty of French bread is that it’s simple. It’s light. It’s supposed to be something that you can sink your teeth into. It’s made to be a satisfying experience in and of itself. Good bread should never be heavy or rely on spices and fillings to be delicious.”
Of course, Choc-O-Pain also has a full patisserie in its stores. It’s worth noting that the pastries, cakes, and tartlets offer a light, whipped texture with a sweet twist. It seems like Choc-O-Pain truly did bring the French art of balancing flavors and textures to American audiences.
The bottom line about Choc-O-Pain is that it’s easy to see why it’s become a Hoboken mainstay. It’s elegant, yet family-friendly. It’s decidedly classy in the way that only French establishments can be. And the food is some of the best in the tri-state area.
157 First Street,
All photos courtesy of Choc-O-Pain