New Flavor at Beard Papa's in Costa Mesa

Unless you follow foodie bulletin boards and blogs, chances are you haven't heard of or had a Beard Papa's cream puff. That goes double if you don't normally venture out of Orange County, where there are only two outlets of this Osaka-based chain.

There's one at Santa Ana's MainPlace Mall, and another at the Japanese market in Costa Mesa that isn't Mitsuwa: Marukai. Both opened a year ago to little fanfare and zero hype.

From the first few weeks in business to now, visit either location and you'll see no queue, no crowds, nothing like the craze the owners must have observed at other Beard Papa's stores in Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan (even L.A.).

I have a few theories to why it hasn't caught on here in O.C. Aside from the not-so-convenient locations, there's the fact that cream puffs don't play kindly into low-carb diets -- it's far too similar to a Twinkie.

But I believe something else is to blame: the car.

Singapore, Japan and Taiwan are urban jungles, connected with a comprehensive network of subways which everyone uses. Almost no one drives. Most walk from their homes, to the stations, grabbing snacks between stops at food stalls which exist on every corner, at every turn.

In Singapore, in particular (a foodie city I recently visited), there's the equivalent of an American mall food court at every station (except a hundred times better, of course). It's in this kind of environment that I think Beard Papa's cream puffs function best.

The delicacy requires on-the-spot consumption, and therefore perfect for someone with both hands free and an appetite between train rides.

But here, if you try to eat one in your car on the trip home, you'll dribble cream all over yourself, the seat, the steering wheel...and pretty soon, the gurney in the ambulance that will cart your bleeding, broken body to the hospital.

So really, O.C.'s Beard Papa's outlets are pretty much out of luck. Even with these ridiculous gas prices, no one's going to give up their automobiles. But still, they relent.

Recently the Marukai Beard Papa's introduced a new "Cookie Crunch" crust to accompany their original, green tea, and chocolate eclair flavors. But save the extra cash it costs and get the original.

This new puff is just the old puff with a few crushed up cookie crumbs baked on top. It doesn't add anything and feels like a desperate gimmick, like Pizza Hut's Stuffed Crust.

Even the green tea flavor, which is filled with a green-tea infused cream and dusted with green tea powder doesn't improve on the original -- a cream puff the size of a small boulder with a shattering crust as pock-marked and cratered as a moon landscape, overstuffed with an injection of vanilla custard cream until it's practically ready to burst.

For those who've not tried one, there's a single rule of thumb on how to best enjoy a Beard Papa's cream puff: Eat it immediately.

The crunchy and creamy interplay between the choux pastry crust and the custard has a notoriously short half life. It's the reason they wait until the very last second before shoving it into a metal pipe to begin the custard pumping process.

If you let it sit overnight in the fridge, it will degrade into just another soggy cream puff. And by then, you might as well eat a Twinkie.

Beard Papa's (inside Marukai Market) 2975 Harbor Blvd. Costa Mesa, CA 92626


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