“This is my invariable advice to people: learn how to cook. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and, above all, have fun.”
My initial experience with Stacy Pagoda was through her buns.
The first of what will inevitably become many visits to the Paradise Cafe, located within Another Paradise Cove outfitters in Long Lake, NY, happened on a warm Father’s Day weekend visit back to my hometown of Syracuse, NY. I had heard wonderful things, not only about the cafe and co-owner, Pagoda, but specifically of her famous cinnamon buns. I am not usually a fan of cinnamon buns, always finding them to be a bit “too much”—too rich, too messy, too dense. But the first bite of Pagoda’s cinnamon bun was a religious experience, and I immediately knew she was something special. But it was the item line on the printed receipt that made us instant friends:
I paused my indulgences (and playtime with Pagoda’s puppy, Rumpus) in order to further speak to the woman who delightfully decided to make cinnamon buns her namesake. It did not take long before I knew I had to write about Pagoda, her cafe, her dogs, and—of course—her buns.
Long Lake: love at first sight
Pagoda grew up in Northeastern, PA before life brought her to Long Lake fifteen years ago. She immediately fell in love with the small town aspect. “Instantly, everyone was welcoming and making sure I had what I needed,” Pagoda said. “They were so accepting. Within minutes of getting here, I knew I wanted to be a lifer. I’m absolutely rooted here.”
The closeness of the community, which initially endeared Pagoda towards Long Lake, extended beyond the people and into the physical space of the town, itself. “I worked in big cities, but where I grew up was very rural. You couldn’t walk to get milk or walk to get a cup of coffee. So even though this is a small town with a small town feel, to me, it was big and accessible.”
Kayaks, coffee, confections, and canines come together
The building where Another Paradise Cove outfitters now resides was once a different outfitter store, a business also run by Pagoda for over a decade. It was during these years that the idea of a cafe was first planted.
“When I moved here, I was sad by the lack of lattes and good coffee in the area,” Pagoda said. “I put an espresso maker in the shop. People would see it and would just ask, ‘Hey, can I get an espresso?’ And it just kept going. It ultimately became one of those ‘if you know, you know’ kind of things, and I would just drink espressos on the back porch with customers. It became a thing.”
These “back porch espressos” would continue over the years, and Pagoda began to consider a new vision for the store in 2017. She ultimately partnered with the owner of the building to continue the outfitter, adding more clothing, more gear, more rentals, and—years later—a cafe.
Under its new name, Another Paradise Cove has been open as an outdoor outfitter and boat rental since 2018. Pagoda and co-owner George Carrothers planned to open what would become the Paradise Cafe in 2020. Those plans were put on hold with the rest of the world by the novel Coronavirus pandemic. However, this unexpected window of time allowed Pagoda to, as she said with a laugh, “plan recipes and eat a lot of pastries by ourselves.” With the help of her fellow outdoor-enthusiast friend to run the cafe, Talia, they were able to officially open the doors of the Paradise Cafe on Memorial Day weekend of 2021.
Pagoda’s back porch espressos evolved into a full-fledged coffee menu. After tasting over thirty different coffee beans, Pagoda landed on JB Peel Coffee and Tea in Red Hook, NY as her go-to source for beans. As to the variety of her menu, Pagoda simply brewed based on her personal experience. “I just started traveling around and drinking coffee and finding out what thrills me and what doesn’t thrill me,” she said. “Talia and I are good at making things we were accustomed to drinking, but eventually, I had to branch out and make things I haven't really had, like a soy chai tea latte. Thankfully, we haven’t made anything inconsumable or grossed us out!”
If you come on the right day, you may be lucky enough to sneak in a pat or a snuggle with Pagoda’s dogs. Mater, named after Sir Tow Mater from the Disney film, Cars, is a fourteen-year old Staffordshire terrier-pitbull who serves as the cafe’s primary taste tester. The nine-week old spirited beagle-pitbull, Rumpus, has found an early affection for ham. “She just discovered her voice and she has this little howl, but she only does it when I’m slicing ham!” Pagoda laughed. “I call it her ‘ham howl.’ Rumpus is our ham quality department and is personally making sure we have the best ham and cheese quiches around.”
Food: the tastiest love language of them all
While it will come as a surprise to anyone who has tasted any of the delicacies offered at Another Paradise Cove, Pagoda’s baking skills are entirely self-taught. “I am more interested in the cause and effect of ingredients and the science of it, like what happens if you overdo it with baking powder or if you underdo it,” she said. “So that’s what intrigues me—the consequences.”
Pagoda’s step-by-step methodology for any new recipe is a science of its own. She reads twelve or so recipes surrounding the item she is considering and thinks about what’s missing or should be modified. Once she decides upon a recipe, she makes it four times in a row. “That’s the only way to dial it in,” Pagoda said. Every item in the cafe was uniquely designed by Pagoda specifically for the cafe after being thoroughly researched and—you guessed it—being baked at least four times.
Her affinity for baking extends far beyond a hobby. For Pagoda, baking is the way to show someone you care. “I came from a family where that’s what we’ve always done. In times of celebration and in times of grief, we feed people. That’s how we show affection, and that’s really the only way I know how to show affection—to feed people sugar.”
Contrary to my expectation, Pagoda had not been raised in a home filled with baking, “We would buy the pies for someone rather than make them ourselves,” she said. “My mom passed when I was young, so I don’t have many memories of her baking a ton. She would bake things if I had show-and-tell at school or something like that, but she was really last minute. Exuberant, but not necessarily a great planner. I remember getting onto a school bus with a tray of hot cookies and oven mitts,” she added, laughing.
From abstention to indulgence
Trying her own baked goods is a unique treat to Pagoda. She spent over ten years competitively racing canoes and kayaks on flat water, and the athletic diet she had to maintain for optimal performance did not leave much room for pastries. “I was on that athletic course, so I couldn’t enjoy what I was making,” Pagoda said. “But then I moved here, worked at the shop, and just abandoned it all. The shop I was running was open seven days a week which made me miss races, so i just let it go and haven’t once looked back.”
Pagoda's personal favorite baked delight in the cafe is the triple-chocolate peanut butter cookie. She is also quite fond of her key lime pie. Customers are huge fans of her muffins, the peach-walnut being a consistent front runner. Flavors like coconut almond raspberry, coconut almond blueberry, and coconut almond filled with Nutella and topped with Bavarian cream (what Pagoda calls “a muffin willing itself to be a cupcake”) are frequently seen in her display cases. But, the ultimate fan favorite is Stacy’s Buns.
Stacy’s Buns have got it goin’ on!
So, are the cinnamon buns ACTUALLY called Stacy’s Buns?
“It’s in the cash register that way. It’s on the receipt that way,” Pagoda said, laughing. “That’s actually the first and only thing I learned about programming the Square was that I could call them ‘Stacy’s Buns.’”
Regular customers have arrived early to the Paradise Cafe in order to get their favorite baked goods before they are sold out, Stacy’s Buns being a big reason behind the early push. She recalls being a young girl and going to a local bakery before other customers in hopes of improving her chances of getting certain homemade pies or sticky buns before they were gone. “So that’s kinda what’s going on here,” Pagoda added. “It’s like, ‘We have to get down there! Stacy’s Buns aren’t going to last!’”
The recipe finds the perfect balance of sticky sweetness and doughy delight, and their perfection has only been enhanced by Mother Nature. The summer has been off to an unusually warm start, but Pagoda and her buns are reaping the benefits. “It’s not that I want the region to be extraordinarily hot,” she said, “but with the temperatures having been so warm, my buns are rising like crazy! They are bigger than they’ve ever been!”
I know I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time mentioning Stacy’s Buns, but believe me—they will live up to the hype!
Come in for a bite
If you find yourself in Long Lake—or even near it—a visit to the Paradise Cafe is a must. Pagoda stressed that whether you are a local or a visitor, her place is meant to be visited with a vacation state-of-mind. “When you are on vacation, every part of you should be on vacation. We have this dream that you can have whatever you want for breakfast. Like we encourage people to have pie for breakfast or bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. So that’s our goal, to supply ‘vacation-land’ with these ridiculous breakfast ideas.”
While you're there, rent a kayak or a SUP from Pagoda to enjoy some time on the water. If you want to venture elsewhere, Long Lake and surrounding regions are filled with opportunities for a bike ride or a hike (Pagoda recommends enjoying the sites from the top of Blue Mountain), or you can enjoy any of the shops the town has to offer.
However you choose to spend your day, the Paradise Cafe (and a bite of Stacy’s Buns) will make it one to remember.