Nearly every block in D.C. comes with its own coffee shop, but the hidden gem of the District’s cafe scene is the downtown Asian-American owned Rose Ave Bakery, serving innovative pastries with Asian flavors.
Despite its popularity, Rose Ave Bakery is hard to stumble upon, secluded in the back of The Block Foodhall DC on Vermont Avenue with hours limited to Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The concealed cafe is one many visitors still know to find, and the spot’s fruit-flavored donuts and floral decor serve as quite the treat, enticing customers to come back for more.
Upon entering the food court, rainbow-colored metallic butterflies and cherry blossoms line a wall to the right covered with ivy to greet patrons. Complete in the center of the wall is a pink neon sign reading “Love DC.” On a neighboring wall, a floor-to-ceiling mural celebrating the food hall and the District displays pop art with paintings of cherry blossoms, the Washington Nationals and monuments that combine to spell “The Block.”
Though the bakery is a small-sized storefront, visitors are welcome to sit in the food court, which offers ample seating at tables, bar counters and even a covered wicker loveseat swing surrounded by blossoms and flowers off to the side. Diners looking to bask in the summer sun can also park themselves at the picnic tables outside.
Rose Ave Bakery shares the food hall with four other restaurants spread throughout the dining area, including Pogiboy, a highly-praised Filipino-American restaurant, Piccoletto, the self-proclaimed little pasta shop, Block Bar, a late-night bar open from Thursday to Sunday, and Snocream, which serves a cross between ice cream and shaved ice.
Rose Ave Bakery keeps to the floral theme of the rest of the food court, appropriately adorned with roses lining the cornered-off bakery stand. The female-run bakery, owned by a former nurse with a passion for cooking and creativity, describes its goal as providing customers with “fun, inventive and delicious” Asian-American pastries, and the establishment certainly succeeds.
The business sells a variety of pastries, but the standout is the donuts, which combine a fluffy dough with fruit, all for less than $5. The cafe additionally offers breakfast sandwiches ($4.50 to $7.50), cookies based of traditional flavors like sugar and chocolate chip with added elements like matcha and sesame ($3.25), flaky pastries known as cruffins inspired by Filipino cheese rolls ($5), fruity cake slices ($5.50), coconut mochi puffs ($4.50) and kouign amann ($4.50) – a caramelized croissant with a sweet filling like coconut sticky rice and fresh mango.
For a hot drink to enjoy alongside your sweets, try Rose Ave’s coffees and teas ($5 to $5.75). True Rose Ave Bakery enthusiasts may also purchase packs of stickers of the various pastries for $10.
On my visit, I ordered the strawberry lychee rose donut ($4.50), which arrived in a plastic container. The pastry consisted of a fluffy, doughy and generously granulated sugared base topped with a cream frosting, fresh strawberry slices and a glob of lychee, a sweet and juicy tropical fruit native to China, with rose petals on top.
The subtle sweetness of the strawberries blended well with the heavy frosting and sugar to create a saccharine taste. The dough itself had neither a hole nor filling inside, which helped balance the very sweet toppings as a more neutral flavor, preventing the donut from crossing the line into sickeningly sugary territory.
The lychee on the donut can be tough to bite, but don’t give up – pulling it off could make the donut fall apart. The fruit even adds a tang to an otherwise sweet dish, complementing the strawberry slices and frosting. Overall, the strawberry lychee rose donut provided a unique blend of sweet and tangy flavors, making it an ideal treat for someone who enjoys either taste.
I also ordered a green chai tea ($5) after my meal, which came iced and provided me with a sweet aftertaste and caffeine boost that I needed to get through the rest of my day.
Despite the numerous dining offerings located in The Block Foodhall, nearly everyone I saw during my visit made a beeline for Rose Ave Bakery, a testament to the pastry quality at D.C.’s hidden cafe.