Williamsburg, Brooklyn Tour de Caffeine (aka “That Time That I Had 1 Espresso, 1 Turkish Coffee, 1 Piccolo, Plus Devoción in 1 Day” Post)

I drink much more tea than coffee — always and forever. I’d just rather not require coffee to jumpstart my day every morning, needing caffeine to coax my consciousness to return to reality. …Which also means I’m woefully behind the curve in exploring the neighborhood’s beans scene. And so, in the name of “research” for an upcoming article, I hit four hotspots in one afternoon.

Parlor Cafe

First up: Parlor Coffee, located in the back room of Persons of Interest barber shop, is a super tiny space that gets crowded quickly, which basically means one barista, one espresso machine, one cash box and anyone else. The barber shop; the gleaming steel of the Speedster espresso machine; the two guys hanging out in said tiny space talking music and records; Parlor Coffee couldn’t have been staged better. The barista’s methodical process was impeccable; the espresso grounds are weighed out on a digital scale — down to the precise gram. Serious business.

A tiny stamped cup was handed to me. I took a sip. Zoom! 0 to 60 in three seconds. That espresso was so strong, evening thinking about it now, it makes my arm hairs stand on point. I wonder: Is this what it’s like to have a proper straight razor shave?

Scene Two: As of December 2015, Williamsburg now has an outpost for all things Turkish:  Lions Milk, a charming storefront that’s equal parts Mediterranean marketplace (with a great selection of imported food sundries) and cafe, serving a selection of sandwiches, pastries, beverages and a proper Turkish coffee, naturally.

I’m going to preface my mini expose on Turkish coffee with statements that I now know to be true: One does not drink Turkish coffee in a hurry. To have a Turkish coffee is to have an experience — the polar opposite of a quick caffeine fix. To have a Turkish coffee is a calming, earthy, murky, contemplative experience, served in a tiny porcelain cup with matching saucer, accompanied by tiny treats: Turkish Delights, or gelatinous, sugar dusted cubes of which there are both sweet and savory varieties. And when you finally unearth the sediment on the bottom, that is when you take the final bite of your final Turkish Delight and momentarily close your eyes and give thanks.

FullSizeRender 6

 

Scene three: First thought, “Where is this place?” Looking for the new kid on the block of a street that I claim to know so well, I felt a bit like a tourist in my own backyard. Set back from the street a down a few steps, Sweatshop is the kind of place I suspect one discovers rather than seeks out (and probably prefers it that way). A self-proclaimed “Melbourne style coffee and creative space built inside an active design studio and incubator,” the next destination on my caffeinated crawl is just feels different — if warmly indifferent, in that unstudied cool Brooklyn kind of way.

I thought that I had a rough idea of what I was getting into. Until I had no idea of what I was getting into: that disarming Aussie/minimal/neon signage/succulent plant/Brooklyn vibe, all fitted black t-shirts, casually unkempt facial hair, a menu of “espresso / filter / bevies / brekkie / waffles” (appropriately subtitled for Americans). Ahhhh… I’ll have the piccolo (“short strong latte” the subtitle read). And then the man in the black t-shirt with the not quite beard-ish facial hair proceeded to craft for me probably the best caffeinated beverage that I’ve ever had in my entire life — and I felt super fine.

Last stop, the epicenter of beans, from which so much of Williamsburg’s coffee scene emanates: Devoción (“devotion” en espanol). But don’t take it from me, let’s go to the source: “Our coffee beans are sourced from farms we hand-select deep in Colombia’s most inaccessible zones.” Harvested, air-shipped, roasted on site in Brooklyn, hand-packaged and hand-delivered to many of the neighborhood’s other coffee destinations — “Farm to Cup in 10 days” — that’s Devoción.

It’s an impressive feat, although perhaps the end result lost on this relative coffee novice, who still prefers hers with milk and sugar? And sure, while I can taste the difference in the flavor profiles of different beans, would I be able to tell the difference between beans freshly roasted, less than 15 days old, versus a month or two or 12? That’s next level coffee consumption.

Blue Bottle, Toby’s Estate Coffee, Black Tree, Konditori, Oslo Coffee Roasters, Gimme! Coffee, Vittoria Caffe — the list goes on and on. It would take a week or three to explore all of the caffeinated fixes in the neighborhood. So is this post comprehensive? Not by any means. A solid stamp of approval? Absolutely. Williamsburg’s beans scene definitely has some game.

Advertisements

Roberta’s x Humboldt & Jackson?! Yes, Please! (aka the “Takeover Par-tay” Post)

It’s safe to say that at this point in its tenure, Bushwick pioneer Roberta’s is a New York City institution. (If a Michelin star for Blanca, pizza approaching perfection and a high-stakes legal battle among owners doesn’t make a New York City institution, I’m not sure what does.)

So there was no way I was going to miss Roberta’s “kitchen takeover” at Humboldt & Jackson, which is, literally, the closest food and drink establishment to home. Part wine bar, part bar-bar, part seasonal menu; frequent host to trivia nights, live music, pop-up food and/or seasonal events, Humboldt & Jackson has made itself right at home in the neighborhood in the t-minus two years that it has been open.

Top billing on the menu was Roberta’s “square slice” pizza — an homage to Detroit’s hyper-local pizza style (a la Buddy’s Pizza) that’s best described by what it’s not: It’s not thin crust, not deep dish, square? yes, but not Sicilian (although billed as such, this is still questionable) and definitely not Chicago style. Roberta’s served up its famous pizzas (“The Bee Sting,” “Millennium Falco,” etc.) on an foccicia-like crust.

But the scene stealer? The stracciatella, a fresh, soft-stretched, languid heap of cheese goodness, which was served with toasted sourdough bread. Said bread’s toasty porousness was the perfect structure for every bite. (No photos worthy of posting, but this Washington Post recipe is calling my name.)

If you thought buratta was the pinnacle of Mozzarella’s excellence, think again, my friend. And then seek out stracciatella. One more reason why Roberta’s rocks — stracciatella is featured on its lunch and dinner menus on the regular.

For more on Buddy’s Pizza, cue up this Zagat video to 4:40min — but the whole thing is a solid watch: 

 

The Brilliance of Good Menu Art (aka the “Always Delightful Brunching at Isa” post)

Nothing sets the tone of a meal like what’s placed on the table upon seating — the humble menu.

The table setting, the restaurant decor, the waitstaff, the restaurant’s general ambiance — they’re clues to the dining experience to which the menu is the key. Menu in hand, all of the pieces fall into place. Menus tell a restaurant’s story on paper, an introduction to the chapters that will be devoured on the plates that are yet to come.

There are menus — and then there is menu art. Which brings me to Isa, a laid back, rustic-chic restaurant appropriately located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, serving up fresh, loosely “Mediterranean” fare for which the wood burning oven is the through line.

Isa_menus
November 2015 menus at Isa in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Elegant, refined, classy — Isa’s menus are not. But they are by no means an afterthought (one of the worst things a restaurant can do is not give proper consideration to the design of their menu, IMHO). A riotous mashup of color, collage, equal parts whimsy and cheeky, Isa’s menus always elicit a smile (and perhaps an arched eyebrow). Their menus change often and live on for perpetuity on their Tumblr blog. Without a doubt, their current cocktail menu, pictured above right, is one of my all-time favorites. YES, I want whatever he’s having! Let’s hang out and then go catch a wave! Oh, right … it’s November in New York.

Isabrunch
Brunch at Isa, clockwise from top: Breakfast pizza, Clawhammer Farms bacon, wood-fired chicken, wood-oven baked eggs.

The undisputed star of Isa’s brunch menu is their breakfast pizza, which is topped with eggs, Fontina cheese, coppa and a caper herb vinaigrette. Someone at the table has to get it and inevitably shares with the table whatever portion they’re incapable of finishing. And while the brunch menu does feature variations of egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches and other brunch staples, the offerings are overall thoughtful, original, clever and delicious — four adjectives you could also use to describe Isa’s menus. Delicious? A paper menu?

I’m not advising you to eat the menu — only to devour with your eyes.

The $6 Wundersandwich (aka the “It Could Be Possible To Live Off Nha Toi’s Menu Alone” Post)

Finally. A $6 sandwich in New York City that is everything I’ve ever wanted: Badass baguette that’s so fresh it talks smack: “Oh yah, what. Bring it.” A serious veggie crunch and bold, fresh flavas that stand up to the succulent, meaty, (in this case porky) protein at its core.

There’s more, nine more banh mi on the menu — lemongrass pork cutlet or shitakke mushroom, anyone? — all priced at either $6 or $7 dollars, NSA.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Nhà Tôi.

Don’t blink as you walk past this tiny storefront on Havemeyer Street, lest you miss it (inside, it’s almost all kitchen and about a mish-mashed seats). The bi heo sandwich that I had — stuffed with shredded pork and skin with roasted rice powder — trumps any banh mi I’ve had in the city, including Baoguette’s.

This is the kind of food memory that will make the injustices of that crappy, prepackaged salad lunch in Midtown and overpriced UES bodega sandwich — with all due respect, it’s just meat, cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, watery tomato, raw onion on a passably fresh roll — all the greater.

But Nhà Tôi’s menu doesn’t stop there. Once you get past the sandwiches, there’s a full menu of pho to explore, as well as snacks. On my visit, I was blatantly oggling the crispy spring rolls at the next table (can’t help it, close quarters warrant awkward seating and wafting smells).

… and the drinks? Well, no booze. However, the lineup of canned Southeast Asian beverages strung up on a chord will keep you perennially interested, e.g. basil seed beverage with “creme soda flavour” ($2). What’s it taste like? Says Nhà Tôi chef/owner Fred, “Well, I grew up with it. So I love it. But there’s definitely a certain texture to it.

So how does Nhà Tôi keep their prices down? I’d guess from low overhead costs. In addition to being tiny, there’s only one menu, on a sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, full of Sharpie cross-outs and tacked-on additions.

Why not print more? Not sure … that’s between a man and his laser jet. I’ll be back to Nhà Tôi in a split second, but I’m not going there.

Nhà Tôi, 160 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St., 718-599-1820. Cash only.

South 4th Street Just Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Blowing Up (aka the “Traif, Mazel Tov!” Post)

South 4th Street just can’t stop, won’t stop, blowing up.

First, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and their glorious comfort food and even more glorious pies. Then, Dram, a cocktail geek’s cocktail bar that’s been almost two years in the making. I stopped by on Friday night and management said they’d “officially-officially” been open for a week at that point.

Now, the eminent arrival of Traif, with its passion for all things un-kosher organized into an eclectic menu of small, sharable plates of deliciousness — shrimp, scallops, bacon, chorizo, pork belly, pork cheeks, potstickers, foie gras, lobster, ribs several ways — separated from one of Brooklyn’s prominent Hasidic communities by a  mere eight lanes of traffic accessing the Williamsburg Bridge.

Foot-in-mouth move? No way.

The dynamic duo running the restaurant — co-owners Heather Heuser and chef Jason Marcus — were scouting locations in the East Village and LES for Traif long before settling on this South Williamsburg gem (check out the restaurant’s blog for photos of the sleek, casual interior and stunning backyard).

They’d also checked around a bit with the community, said Heuser, when the chef and I chatted with her on Friday night. If anything, the response they got back was: “Well, that makes it easy for us to know where not to go.” (“Traif” is a Hebrew word that refers to un-kosher foods.)

….Which just means more un-kosher goodness for the rest of us. High-five to that!

TIP: Absolutely do not skip one of Traif’s signature cocktails, the Red Pearl (chili-infused vodka muddled w/ kiwi, Thai basil and homemade sweet and sour mix), which is named in homage to the Cali restaurant where Heuser and Marcus first met. If the brightness and freshness of these flavors are any indication of the duo’s plans for the restaurant, I’ll toast to that.


Pies ‘n’ Thighs, 116 S. 4th St., at Driggs St., 347-529-6090. More info here.
Dram, 177 S. 4th St.,  btwn. Driggs St. and Roebling St., 718-486-dram. More info
here.
Traif, 229 S. 4th St., nr. Borinquen Pl., 347-844-9578. More info
here.

Something Kind of Magic Under the JMZ (aka the “Hello, Moto” Post)

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that such an utterly romantic, sweetly nostalgic restaurant as Moto could exist — nay, thrive — in a corner of Brooklyn predominantly known for its Hasidic and Dominican communities and fast-food neon …

And yet, that’s exactly where I found myself on a quiet afternoon this last weekend, sipping a black velvet ($7) — a deceptively effervescent Guinness and champagne concoction — and channeling every bit of my attention that wasn’t swooning over the jazz music, muffled and crackling as if from another era, or the way the wooden ceiling fan cast an oscillating pattern of shadows onto the antiquated turnkey clock, while the JMZ Train rumbled on overhead … wait, where am I?

Oh yes, the task at hand: I was alternating between skewering mushrooms that had been marinated in olive oil and sherry vinegar, and finished with capers, rosemary and red pepper flakes, with toothpicks, and constructing gorgeous bites from a deconstructed salad composed of slices of cucumber, tomato, radish and soppressata, hulks of Bulgarian feta, garnishes of fresh mint and black olives.

This was just to sample something the menu; I will surely be back for more.

Moto evades categorization except to be called “excellent.” The best I can do is to say that as I sat there in my reverie, studying my surroundings, more than once I considered comparisons between Moto and such old timey, Euro-inspired cycling-centric bits of pop culture as The Triplets of Belville and that Stella Atrois commercial from last year, which I’ve pasted below:

Moto, 394 Broadway, at Hooper Street, E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-6895. Photos of the restaurant and a bit more information here, great writeup by the Village Voice here.