A decade later, as I was perusing my choices at a mall food court in Beijing, I immediately noticed the bright yellow and white storefront and the jolly, white-bearded brand mascot, aptly named Beard Papa. (I cursed myself for not having taken out some sort of loan 10 years earlier.) Hungry and intrigued, I purchased 2 still-warm puffs, filled with strawberry and vanilla creams. They were delightful- a crisp and light shell that surrounded a subtly sweet filling of whipped custard. I was so taken with the puff that I went back and bought a dozen.
Little did I know it at the time, but thousands of miles away in New York, customers were lining up for a taste of the puff too. Beard Papa opened its first U.S. franchises in NYC in 2004, and since has spread through California, Hawaii, and parts of NJ. It's not surprising that Beard Papa is a Japanese enterprise, as the Japanese are notorious for re-engineering decidedly un-Japanese things and making them better, prettier, but oftentimes nonsensical and quite the paradox (take for instance, Japanese pizza). I'm puzzled, even by Beard Papa himself. What does this blue-eyed, white-bearded, pipe-smoking old dude have to do with cream puffs? Instead of trying to make sense out of it all, I say, just eat a puff and you'll forget everything.
Last time we were in San Francisco, Mr.S and I stopped by the Beard Papa across from Yerba Buena gardens and picked out a coffee cream-filled eclair.
Essentially, just a cream puff swathed in melty chocolate. Good, but I still prefer the pure vanilla taste of the original Beard Papa cream puff.
There's a tempting selection of fillings to choose from: vanilla bean, chocolate, strawberry, pumpkin, coffee, green tea and caramel (some seasonal flavors will vary regionally). Papa also offers cheesecake that comes in the shape of a stick, for potable eating of course, like a Snickers bar. Cream puffs are all $2.25 a piece (that's up $0.50 since opening in 2006) and $22 per dozen. That's a pretty reasonable exchange in my opinion as these puffs are bursting at the seams with cream; they're freshly baked several times during the day, and filled to order, on the spot. Plus, they use all natural ingredients, whatever that means these days, but sounds good to me. Hey, old bearded papas have to make a living somehow!