Wednesday, March 25, 2015

24 Hours in Brooklyn

I got to spend a day in Brooklyn this week. Just the one day, and though it was for work, I found myself with enough time to wander off and get my hands on some mighty tasty food.

77 Hoyt St, Brooklyn, NY

I started out the Little Sweet Café, which is, in fact, a little, sweet café. Seats 8, maybe 10 if you’re under 5, as were many of the patrons. This is a Neighborhood Place. Allow me to illustrate:

  1. As we walked in, the man (young, beard, fleece) sitting at the table nearest to the counter was pulling out his wallet to pay. He found he had only a few dollars cash and said to the one-man-show running the place, “hey man, I don’t have any cash – I’ll just pay with a credit card” to which one-man-show replied “nah, don’t worry about, you pay me tomorrow.”
  2. Just after we sat down it started to fill up, which is to say, two moms, kids in tow, came in. They knew each other. That was not the impressive thing. The impressive thing was that one-man-show quickly deposited a slice in of almond brioche in front of the kid at the table next to us saying “it was my last piece – I didn’t want you to go without”

Little Sweet does three things – coffee, pastries, and crepes. Each was good. Not earth shattering, toe curling good, but really solidly legit stuff. I had the almond brioche (the second-to-the-last piece, apparently) and it was light and eggy, sweet without being syrupy. My coworker (both of us beardless and in sport coats, looking very clearly like intruders) had a crepe – simple and hearty, full of fresh veggies and nicely wilted spinach. Flavor in everything was understated and simple. 

85 Dean St, Brooklyn, NY

My next stop was at Blue Bottle. I know, I know, Blue Bottle belongs on the West Coast, but I knew they had come in pretty full force to Brooklyn and it was only a few blocks from my hotel. The pour over was amazing – just their house blend, but tons of bright flavor – the paper cup was a drag, but even in the paper notes of cinnamon and balsa wood came through beautifully. The latte (I was getting a little wired by this point, but I had to give it a go) was silky and beautiful, but didn’t have the same oomph as the coffee.

409 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY

Lunch was Shake Shack. Since they’re coming to Austin next month I thought I’d give them a whirl. I had modest expectations. It exceeded them. The burger had a nice crumble to it, the bun was a little sweet and exquisitely squishy, the special sauce (I never get special sauce, but I figured I should do it like it was supposed to be done) was actually amazing. I have no idea what it was, but it was sharp and creamy at the same time and did a great job tying it all together. The fries were OK. On the Austin scale, I put it ahead of Mighty Fine and behind Hop Doddy. Worth a visit, not worth a long wait in line.

298 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Dinner was Sotto Casa. I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo while I was there, but the pictures on the site do not exaggerate. So much like Little Sweet, this was neighborhood through and through, full of kids, and unflinchingly European. There are half a dozen salads and maybe 15 different pizzas. Pizzas are all super thin crust, maybe 14 inches, enough for 2, especially if you get a salad. The food was phenomenal, with kind of clarity of flavor you get from ultra-simple recipes. The salad was arugula dressed with salt, olive oil and lemon. The pizza was eggplant, tomato, fresh mozzarella. It was real food, unadorned, beautiful.

Food in New York is omnipresent. I could have done this routine for a month and had a different cup of coffee each day, a different breakfast, a different little hole in the wall Italian place. I love NY.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cuvee Coffee Revolution

Cuvee has been in the revolution business since the late 80s, from the massively hacked vintage drum roasters at their Spicewood headquarters to the hot rod La Marzocco espresso machines they've rigged up at local shops to the kegs of Black and Blue nitrogenated cold brew coffee that are showing up at venue after venue.

And now they've got a killer little coffee shop all the way down East 6th that's charting a new path for how coffee gets made.

The bar is a long, enclosed island with coffee along the front side and beer (once the permits come through) around back. That long coffee counter is the first revolution. You don't step up to the register, pay, and wait for your drink to pop out the other end. Instead, you shepherd your coffee through the process. Start out with the cup - 2, 4, 8, 12 ounces. Then choose your espresso. Choose your milk. Get your drink. Pay. It's Freebirds for your coffee.

It's different, but it's anything but complicated. The second revolution is the simplicity of the whole deal. There are no cortados or cappuccinos or macchiatos or flat whites or lattes. There is just espresso, coffee and milk. That's it. And really that's the way it's always been everywhere, it's just no one has really fessed up to it - all those drinks are just different names for proportions of the same two things. Sometime in the early 90s some clever folks up in Seattle fancified coffee. Cuvee took it back to words that make sense.

The third revolution is the espresso machine. Or lack thereof. Just two sculpted chrome arms extending from the counter top and a barista ready to walk you through the process. The plumbing and control is all under the counter.Why erect a two foot wall between the person that's doing the drinking and the person that's pulling the shot? It's a little thing, but it goes a long way to bring you closer than you've ever been to your espresso without pulling it yourself. Mod Bar for the win.

It goes without saying that the coffee is amazing - the pour over is the best I've had anywhere, and while the drink-formerly-known-as-latte was not the most beautiful I've seen, it was silky soft and rich. Meritage has been Cuvee's go-to Espresso blend for the better part of the last decade, and it's lovely and balanced. This espresso without bite, but with an earthy, woody depth that goes on a good long while.

Cuvee isn't a coffee shop where you and your laptop go for the afternoon to escape the loud guy in the cube next to you. It's way too alive for that. This is a place you go to drink coffee, to connect with friends, and to play.

  Cuvee Coffee on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2014

Grad School. They are Like Mushrooms.

They pop up like mushrooms after a heavy rain. In every city big enough to sport a Starbucks, there has risen a food-obsessed, local-inspired, heavily tattooed, sticker-adorned, farm to table establishment with clusters of young people spilling out onto patios and front benches. Done well, they are lovely. And Grad School, in a far corner of the blip of downtown of Springfield, MO, is done well.

On the continuum between well-funded subway-tiled newcomers and the ramshackle joints one gust of wind away from a pile of rubble, Grad School is one of the dives. This is a place where all of the stickers covering the soda machine are covered with stickers, and all of those are covered with a slight sheen of grease from fryer. It's a tiny restaurant, with one long room holding the open kitchen, a couple of bar stools and a handful of tiny high tops; a little back room with two sets of vinyl booths; and one long table out on the patio. Everything is narrow enough that navigation is an art. At 2:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday it was still packed, and there was still a wait.

The reason was clear. It's impossible to go to Grad School and not smile. Everyone is happy. The food is dead-on target. The chairs don't match.

A couple of high points.

The pesto vinaigrette on the house salad. A place this greasy is not supposed to have things this green. It was perfectly dressed and backyard garden level fresh.

The french fries. Nothing fancy just skin on, crispy, hand cut brilliant fries. They were amazing when they came out piping hot. They were amazing 15 minutes later when lesser fries would have wilted into sadness.

The soft cheddar on the Full Ride. Don't bite into this thinking it's a typical cheese burger. The soft cheddar melts into more of a lush sauce than a gooey bit of cheese. But it's dynamite. Sharp and silky and a perfect foil for the double burger. Not for the faint of heart.

The why-the-hell-not touches on the dishes, like the decorative swash of sriracha on the Micah's chicken. This is a delicious little quasi-asian sort of sesame chicken and rice number, and it's presentation was full on fancy. It was kind of brilliant next to the giant plastic Pepsi Cola cups we were drinking out of.

Low points were few and far between. It took a while for the food to come - but it was a happy while - and the jerk chicken was not quite up to the brilliance of the other plates (though the bits of pineapple were  genius). And they should maybe dust the ceiling fans.

 Grad School on Urbanspoon


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