Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New in New York: Crispy Rice Puts on the Ritz at Treat House

By Mitch Broder

Rice Krispies Treats were originally named Marshmallow Squares, back when a company could actually miss a chance to name a thing after one of its brands. The Squares were likewise humble. This made them ripe for elevation. And they have now gotten that in the form of a store all their own, named Treat House.

Prepared in your home, as originally intended, Marshmallow Squares were a blob in a pot. It could be eaten in gobs or, if you had patience, spread into a pan and cut. At Treat House, the snack is refined. It comes in perfect cubes, in deluxe flavors. The Treats think they are cupcakes. Each one wears a hat.

The Bubble Gum Treat, for instance, is topped by a wad of Dubble Bubble. The Mint Chocolate Chip Treat is topped by a section of chocolate mint patty. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Treat sports a jaunty chocolate peanut butter cup, and the M&M treat, needless to say, is crowned by M&M’s.

These are gourmet Treats. They have been created by a pastry chef. They make a better appearance at, say, your wedding reception, than gobs from a blob. This explains why Treat House makes its home on the Upper West Side, and why one Treat costs almost as much as a box of Rice Krispies on sale.

Still, Treat House is not stuck up. It is a playful place. “Treat House” sounds like “treehouse,” so the shop has treehouse d├ęcor. It makes creative use of logs. And in the back you can sit on a stump and dine on Treats in a room that looks like it belongs on a branch.


It all began in 1939. That’s reportedly when Mildred Day and Malitta Jensen of the Kellogg’s company invented Marshmallow Squares. Legend has it that they invented them as a fund-raiser for the Camp Fire Girls, but it seems more likely that they invented them as a fund-raiser for Kellogg’s.

Seventy-two years later, Chris Russell got the idea for Treat House. He really did get his inspiration from a fund-raiser. His sons Daniel and Eli wanted to help children in Africa. They would have a bake sale. Conveniently, they had a father who was also a chef.

Chris, with the help of the boys and his wife, Jennifer, came up with three Treats: Chocolate Mint, Butterscotch Sprinkle, and Raspberry Chocolate. The Treats sold out in two hours and netted $300. “A couple of weeks later,” Chris says, “it dawned on my wife and me that there were so many potential flavor combinations.”

They enlisted the pastry chef, Wendy Israel, and everyone pitched flavors. They spent two years determining their Treat choices and techniques. “We learned early on,” Chris says, “that if you just add ingredients to crisp rice cereal, you get soggy crisp rice cereal, and nobody wants that.”


Treat House has been a smash. But for some customers, the Treats take adjusting. “They’re not traditional Rice Krispies Treats,” Chris explains. (They’re also not made with Rice Krispies.) “We pack them denser than you would at home. So sometimes people’s expectations of what it should taste like are different from what it does taste like.”

Fortunately, Chris believed that I should draw my own conclusions. He gave me several  samples of Treat House Treats. I adjusted quickly. They were delightful. I was impressed that the Raspberry Chocolate tasted like raspberry, and that the M&M had M&Ms inside as well as on top.

The shop also has Treat Pops, Treat Breakfast Bars, and Treat Ice Cream Bars. The Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Bar is what I’ll eat daily when I decide to let myself go. The flavors change, but there is always a choice of at least 12 Treats. And 10 cents per Treat goes to the Food Bank For New York City, so the more you eat, the more philanthropic you are.

Chris was once an owner of the once red-hot restaurant Moomba. This place is different, of course. But then again, in a way it’s the same.

“If you want a two-dollar brick of Rice Krispies, you go the deli,” Chris says. “If you want something a little more sophisticated, you come here.”


Climb up to the Treat House, 452 Amsterdam Avenue, between 81st and 82nd streets, New York City.




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