Sort-of Secret: Littlemans Kitchen, a fledgling food brand and pop up that makes insanely good Japanese cream puffs
A series that shines a spotlight on the city’s hidden edible gems
The sort-of secret: Littlemans Kitchen, a fledgling food brand and occasional pop-up named after a cat
You may have heard of it if: You follow their home cooking adventures on Instagram
But you probably haven’t tried it because: They only make 40 of their popular cracked puffs a week
Choux au craquelin—also known as crack buns or cracked puffs—are baked cream puffs with a crumbly, crackly coating. They’re made by layering craquelin, a thin cookie disc, on top of choux pastry (the foundation of eclairs and profiteroles). As the pastry bakes to tender, airy perfection, the cookie wraps around it to form a crunchy topping, and the resulting puff is often filled with whipped cream.
Tomo Hosogoe and Elaine Jyll Regio—the husband-and-wife team behind the operation—fill their cracked puffs with salty-sweet miso custard and drizzle them with thin stripes of caramel, which harden to enhance the crunchy outer layer. You can find them on weekends at McCormick Park Cafe, a tiny, not-for-profit shop that runs out of a shipping container in Little Portugal. If you want to try the puffs, plan on getting there early: Hosogoe and Regio cook out of a regular oven at their apartment, and the 20 pastries they bake on Saturday and Sunday typically sell out within a few hours.
“The first time we tried crack buns was at a train station in Tokyo—they were mind-blowingly delicious. We’re trying to recreate that experience, but with our own twist,” says Hosogoe. “We had miso caramel ice cream over the summer, which made us think to include miso in the filling. I think it gives it more of a savoury richness, almost like butterscotch.”
Hosogoe and Regio are not cooks by trade: he’s a freelance fashion designer with his own clothing brand, she’s a stylist and fashion editor at Elle Canada. However, Hosogoe says that since his father is a professional chef, he basically grew up in kitchens, and the couple has always been creative when it comes to food (they started posting their pasta-heavy culinary escapades on Instagram last year).
The pandemic gave the two more time to dedicate to cooking, and in August, they held their first pop-up. It was an outdoor barbecue affair with a menu that featured Japanese hambagu-style cheeseburgers. The hambagu—like an extra-juicy meatloaf, complete with hand-minced short ribs—came topped with gruyere and a red wine reduction simmered with short rib bones, on a house-made brioche–milk bun hybrid.
Littlemans’ second pop-up in early October featured Japanese-style beef and veggie curry stuffed into deep-fried sandwiches and crammed with cheese, lettuce, tomato and kewpie mayo ($9 each). “A lot of the food we cook is a nod to what we enjoy eating on trips to Japan, where I regularly visit for work,” says Hosogoe. “In Tokyo, they have these really good curry buns—essentially doughnuts filled with curry—and our sandwiches were a riff on those.”
More pop-ups may be on the horizon, but the pair are carefully watching how the pandemic progresses before making further decisions. For now, they’ll be supplying their popular cracked puffs ($3.50) to McCormick Park Cafe until the shop closes up for the winter, and slowly making their plan for next year, when they hope to open a more permanent location for Littlemans. The tentative idea is a takeout-focused, standalone storefront with an emphasis on in-house bread products, burgers and sandwiches. What’s not tentative is the label—Littlemans is named after the couple’s cat. “We were sitting around one day and wondering what to call our food-focused Instagram account—and there he was,” says Hosogoe. “He runs our house, so the name will definitely stick.”
Follow Littlemans Instagram account to find out where and when they’ll pop up next