There’s usually not much to rave about when it comes to international food chains, sans those rare occasions when a well-known taco slinger announces its beef contains more beef-like substance. But we are willing to make an exception for Beard Papa, especially since there is exactly one in Chicago — making it at least seem less chainy — located on the bottom floor of a flailing mall (Block 37 on State Street).
What makes Beard Papa’s worth visiting is its cream puffs, which consist of crunchy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside, light-as-a-feather choux pastries and of course, a vanilla custard filling. What makes Beard Papa’s interesting is it’s mishmash of influences: it’s a worldwide food franchise specializing in French pastries, with a logo and name that seems to evoke “Old Man and the Sea” era Ernest Hemingway. So naturally the company originated in Osaka, Japan. Don’t believe us? Just check out its whimsical website, which currently features a contest where you can win a life-size Hello Kitty doll.
As playful as Beard Papa seems, it’s not afraid to have a heavy dose of bravado. Beard Papa claims to make “world’s best cream puffs,” and while someone with a sweet tooth and busy passport might disagree, there’s little denying these pastries are highly (and perhaps dangerously) enjoyable. The vanilla custard is undoubtedly the best filling, although it would be fun to try the green tea or Earl Grey fillings if they were actually available here. Beard Papa serves a few other pastries and desserts, but we appreciate that it doesn’t try to fill its menu with weird egg sandwich concoctions, super-sugary muffins or super-shitty bagels.
Undoubtedly, a Beard Papa cream puff shouldn’t be a daily indulgence, even though it only has a surprising 7 grams of sugar, a not-too-awful 220 total calories and zero preservatives. We won’t say say Beard Papa is too good to be true, but it definitely seems too good to be a chain.