Fast food restaurants and Chinese food places abound in the city of Binghamton. It’s tough to find the local restaurants and cafés that upperclassmen rave about; it seems like there are fewer of them every year. But a burst of new life has arrived Downtown: Chroma Café and Bakery.
Located on Chenango Street, just down the block from the bus station, sits Chroma, a modest and fairly priced up-and-coming café that offers breakfast, lunch and homemade confections to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Chroma is owned and run by Nancy and Heath, a couple from Endicott, N.Y. Before opening up Chroma, Nancy, a jovial and attentive woman, owned a bakery in her hometown in Michigan, while her husband Heath was a paramedic for 17 years.
“Enough was enough,” Heath said. “Cooking and baking have always been a big part of our relationship, so this was a logical direction for us to go in.”
Cafés have previously operated on Chenango Street, but I have high hopes for the lifespan of Chroma. While the café is quite small, with only enough seating for about eight people for lunch, Chroma is one of a kind in the downtown Binghamton area.
As you approach the storefront, the vibrant colors invite you in, with the smell of focaccia bread wafting from the standard kitchen oven and the sight of Heath at the baking counter preparing a panini. Upon entry, Nancy and her dessert counter displaying various baked goods behind glass and on cupcake tiers welcome you. From brownies, to cookies, to muffins and mini tarts, pecan sticky buns and cookie sandwiches, the desserts are so rich and decadent they have the potential to cease the cupcake craze.
The environment feels like home. There is no barrier between the kitchen and patrons, so all can feel ensured their food is coming from quality ingredients and being prepared hygienically. The green back wall is lined with a mahogany shelf that holds every dry ingredient a pastry chef could ever need.
Since the menu focuses heavily on carbohydrates, it is one to be indulged in and may not be appropriate for the diet-conscious. Soup, empanadas and paninis, as well as a few of their desserts, are daily specials. For my dining experience, I ordered all three of their specials: tomato bisque, a ricotta and spinach empanada and a grilled vegetable with Monterey Jack panini as well as a sampling of desserts.
Nancy and Heath are very conscious of people’s dietary needs and provide the option of customizing your meal. I chose to have my tomato bisque without the optional cream, and it was the perfect starter to my lunch. The soup was slightly chunky but not too hearty, even though it was filled with carrots and onions. But I was slightly surprised to have it served to me in a Styrofoam bowl and my accoutrement, a slice of tomato focaccia, on a paper plate. I accepted the casualness of the atmosphere, ripped off a crispy piece of focaccia and dipped it into my soup.
My panini and empanada came shortly after, and I was pleased that neither was too oily for my liking. I find that grilled vegetables can be slathered and sometimes slide easily off a sandwich, but they were confined to more focaccia bread by a layer of homemade walnut pesto and a single slice of flawlessly melted cheese.
The empanada was a flaky crescent of comfort food. It was warm, chewy, not too cheesy and pseudo-healthy, but it was lacking in memorable flavor.
At last my taste buds truly met their match: the cookie sandwiches. Similar to a whoopie pie, the cookie sandwich is comprised of two butter cookies held together by a generous layer of butter cream cheese frosting. Whether you prefer key lime, chai latte or cocoa butter between chocolate chip cookies, or the peanut butter cookie with chocolate ganache, they are a finals-week-bad-breakup kind of treat — one is enough to cheer you up. I always say “the more butter, the better,” and there is no better way for a dessert-obsessed person to end their meal. The butter cream cheese soothes, the cookie melts — it’s like a dream made of sugar.
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the sandwich cookies put the chromatic quality into Chroma Café and Bakery.