Dueling Croissants in Cincinnati

A tantalizing cross section of Sebastian’s Strawberry and cream filled croissant.

It appears that there are two top pastry chefs dueling for the best croissant in Cincinnati.  Based on the long lines of fans each Saturday and Sunday at their respective brick-and-mortars,  they are chef Randy  Sebastian of Sebastian’s and Chef Elaine Townsend of Café Mochiko.  

co owners of Sebastians

Co-owners of Mochicko

Café Mochiko bills themselves as an Asian American restaurant serving coffee, pastries, and Japanese Yoshoku café fare.   Elaine Townsend and Erik Bentz, owners,  ran a series of ramen and pastry pop-ups for two years, before opening their East Walnut Hills restaurant.   The two met in Napa California, fell in love and then went to Chicago, where Bentz learned Japanese Yoshuku fare at Momotaro.   While they’re also cult-followed and stalked for their ramen and noodle bowls (including a Cincinnati Chili Ramen) – it’s the croissants people, like me, stand in line up to an hour for.   I braved a 45 minute line, holding a trip to the bathroom to not lose my place.     

Mochicko has a standard ube halaya croissant – filled with purple yam jam and sweet yam cream.    I haven’t had that yet, but I tried their special hazelnut cream filled croissant, which was literally out of this world.  The cream was light as a feather, smooth, not too sweet, and accentuated with perfectly toasted hazelnut halves.  I’m a fan of the savory croissant, so I’ve also tried their kimchi and egg and cheese croissant, which is also absolutely amazing.

Mochiko’s egg cheese and kimchi croissant.
Mochiko’s hazlenut croissant and thai tea snickerdoodles.

Sebastian’s, co-owned since early 2020 by pastry chef couple Laura Kate Adelmann and Randy Sebastian, specializes in viennoiserie which are buttery, laminated (that means multiple layers of pastry/butter, like sweet and savory croissants, danishes and other morning pastries.   The couple met at the Horseshoe Casino’s food service before moving to Las Vegas and killing it at a variety of restaurants there, like Caesar’s and Nobu-Las Vegas.      Randy was also the pastry chef at Cincy’s Boca Restaurant.

It’s funny that the croissant, something we associate with France, even the city of Paris, is actually part of a category – viennoiserie – named after the city of Vienna, Austria, where the laminated pastry, a la strudel is said to have originated (after they stole the concept from the Ottoman Turks).       Other love-children include France’s kouign amann (basically a croissant with a crunchier, sugar crusted outer shell), Germany’s franzbrotchen, and NYC’s cronut.

It’s also funny that both Sebastian’s and Mochiko’s croissant flavors are somewhat Asian inspired – seen by Townsend’s Korean inspired kimchee croissant.

They’ve been doing a pre-order popup pickup at Dutch’s Larder on Erie Avenue in Hyde Park East on the weekends that snakes several blocks down Erie.     I have hungrily and jealously passed the line on the way to my weekend events schedules.    But I’ve seen the food-porn photography on facebook that shows a cross section of their strawberry filled croissant, their blueberry croissant, and their chocolate orange filled. 

In addition to croissants, both have other amazing pastry creations unique to Cincinnati.    Sebastian has what they call the cruffin, a mashup of a muffin and croissant.   Randy spent time in California at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse learning the delicious delicacy from its inspirational young creator, Aaron Caddel.    Caddel was in his mid twenties, an engineering student studying Arabic with goals of joining the CIA, and fighting a cancer diagnosis, when he invented the now cult-loved cruffin.

Mochiko also makes savory filled bao buns, which are delicate steamed rice flour buns, a corn cake bibingka, a soft milk bread called shokupan, melonpan, a small light bun covered in a thin cookie layer, and a thai tea snickerdoodle.

The 45 minute line for croissants I waited in at Mochicko.
The line at Dutch’s Larder for Sebastian’s croissants in freezing weather.

Line sizes and James Beard Awards may separate each of these croissant artists, but I’m just glad that each are within walking or short driving distance from my house.      I look forward to seeing where both take these amazing pastry shops that we are super-lucky to have in the Queen City.

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