Since 1977 the Cornelia Street Cafe has enriched the cultural life of New York City.
For almost 40 years, this West Village mecca has provided delicious food and the unique, inspiring performance of music and the spoken word.
And it is currently proving as impressive and delightful an experience as ever, if not more so.
Stopping by for an excellent meal, I learned about their summer Solo Fest, starting this week.
Each evening will feature solo performers, beginning with Amy Stiller on Wednesday, July 13, in “Just Think,” a semi-autobiographical journey of the only non-famous member of a very famous family.
All Solofest offerings are at 6 PM and cost $10, which goes to the artist, plus a $10 food or drink minimum.
That is a spectacularly great price for the chance to see Arturo O’Farrill, the multi-Grammy-winning composer and leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, playing alone on the baby grand piano in an intimate setting. As he will on Friday, July 15.
And on Tuesday, July 19, the cafe’s own Robin Hirsch will present “The Whole Word Passes Through” with tales of the many fascinating people, both famous and obscure, who have crossed the threshold of the Cornelia Street Cafe.
This former Oxford, Fulbright, and English-Speaking Union Scholar never disappoints when it comes to his prose or his extemporaneous storytelling.
The festival runs through July 27, with music, comedy, theater, and political satire. See the cafe’s official website for the full line up and the many other performances taking place this summer.
There isn’t an item on the menu I cannot recommend. But my favorites include the kale caesar salad, with just the right amount of avocado and grape tomatoes; the smoked salmon plate with toasted bread, chopped red onion, herb cream cheese, and large capers on the stem; and the richly luscious sea scallops, when they have them.
My go-to entree has been the crusted salmon, which is always excellent. But I only recently had the chicken breast for the first time. Was I ever missing out? It is so tender and juicy and flavorful that it may make you rethink ordering more exotic fare when dining out around New York City. It really is that good.
Mr. Hirsch is understandably proud of the wine list, which offers some interesting and quite reasonably priced selections from around the globe, many of which you are unlikely to taste elsewhere.
I am a new and enthusiastic fan of the Skyline Red, from Idaho, of all places. This blend of several grape varieties is velvety to the point of buttery, with plump dark berries, and integrated oak that is spread throughout, rather than just providing the fruit bowl.
There is also the Cafe’s own label, which appears on a refreshing chardonnay of grape skins, with orchard fruits ripening over time, and on a juicy plum of a pinot noir, both with nicely mild oak and extremely moreish.
And just last night I had a very interesting white wine from France – Perle Bleue, made with a grape used for Cognac and Armagnac. I am not by nature a white wine drinker, but this was extraordinary. Not sweet, but not particularly dry, it had a wisp of sea salt on the nose, and arrived on the palate like an ocean wave, with a vibrant splash that quickly subsided into a relaxing, lingering finish. Itself moreish, but in a curiously enigmatic way.
I cannot speak much to the beers. When people ask me if I am a beer snob, my reply of “Beer is an English word for something made in England by Englishman,” usually shuts down the conversation rather quickly.
But the cafe currently has Bell’s Two Hearted Ale on tap. This Michigan brew is one of best beers in America, with a medium body that is dry yet malty and buttressed by a crisp hoppy edge that remains firm but not overbearing. So it is on par with an English IPA and therefore not the face-puckering astringent grapefruit juice typical of American craft brewing.
But I of all people would be remiss if I did not mention they have some nice Cognac brandy available, which is reminiscent of typical cafe digestifs in France – grounded and pleasant at a decent price. And they also have Brenne, the French single malt whisky.
Made with French barely in French stills in the Cognac region, Brenne is aged in new oak from the Limousin forest, and finished in casks that had previously aged Cognac.
A pure malt spirit of high quality, it is hard to believe it is a scant 7 years old. The telltale toasted marshmallow and wood spice of French oak are further enriched with the orange zest, white pepper, and maraschino cherries of the cognac finishing.
Its youth is revealed by the bubble gum vanillins and lactones on the nose, and the relatively quick finish. However, single malt this young would normally be a blend of various casks, to cover up the rougher edges of immature spirit and smooth out the uncouth tannins. Brenne is bottled as single cask whisky! – astonishing, since it shows none of the harshness normally experienced in younger malts.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the Cornelia Street Cafe is a veritable jewelry box of sensual pleasures and sensational Jazz, poetry, and other artistic expression. It is well worth the time if you are in Greenwich Village, and well worth the effort to get there if you are not.
Open every day except Christmas Day, with 700 shows a year.
Delicious and nutritious pesto dish that is so satisfying
Ideal for Passover or just when you want to avoid all those bread carbs
Start with one good size tomato, chopped and chunky.
When garden or farmer’s market tomatoes aren’t in season, I find it worth the upgrade to vine tomatoes.
On goes some crumbled walnuts and about half dozen capers. In this case I added a few lupini beans and bits of peppers, taken from the olive mix that I buy at Blue Apron in Park Slope.
Steamed vegetables make up the largest part.
Cauliflower and broccoli are super nutritious, while the stalks under the florets provide a nice starchy firmness. Green and yellow summer squash (courgette/zucchini) are another staple for this dish. And I will often include some shredded kale.
All that’s left is to add pesto.
Be it homemade, or your favorite brand name, experiment with how much to include.
Mix it all up and enjoy, as your main course or a side dish.
For those wanting to go the extra distance, this is even better if you start with some fresh garlic simmered in olive oil, black pepper, and oregano. I often used a blend that has black, red, and white pepper together in one grinder.
After about 30 seconds sizzle, add the capers for another 30 seconds, being careful not to scorch the garlic. I often will add the walnuts at the end, but they will soak up all the oil. Adding more oil works well, but it also adds that much more fat and calories.
Pour the results onto the vegetables before you add the pesto.
But if you are in a hurry, or wish to limit the fat to what is already in the nuts and pesto, it tastes great without the extra step.
And for those who do not care about the bread carbs, this works very well with pasta too.
Please note that some freshly ground finishing salt can add a nice zing, but many pesto recipes already have plenty of salt.
How could I have lived this long without the scrumptious culinary delights at Russ & Daughters Cafe?
Well, it is partly because they opened just 14 months ago. But there is 101 years of tradition on sale at this shiny new eatery, located at 127 Orchard Street, a few doors above Delancey.
(click photos to enlarge)
The fourth-generation family enterprise has been in the business of “appetizing” since 1914. Their thriving sliver of a shop on Houston Street features smoked and kippered fish that temps from behind the left counter, while sweets are longed for from behind the right counter. It is one of the last holdouts from a time when the neighborhood was dotted with similar shops.
But while the cafe offers traditional Jewish fare from indulgent delicacies like caviar to kibbutz comfort food like kugel, it is a thoroughly modern concern, with a hip, multicultural staff and clientele, reflecting the demographics of today’s Lower East Side, although the menu is focused very much on tradition, and quality.
Even the coffee is excellent, if pricey at $3. There was none of the citrus sourness too often infecting boutique brews these days. It was nutty and robust, while the acidity was understated, so I had no inclination to add milk. But I did eventually, just to see. It actually took a good deal of milk to make a dent in such a deep, dark roast, but with the proper ratio it transformed into a luscious café con leche. Left black, it is full-bodied, with a taste akin to espresso, making it the perfect companion for my chocolatey desert.
But I am getting way ahead of myself, as that was the jewel at the end of a satisfying meal.
As a waspy Ohioan growing up a long way from the sea, I never liked fish of any sort. But I had always wanted to try matzo ball soup, after hearing about it in countless movies and TV shows. I have since become something of a connoisseur, so of course I had to order it, despite the 95 degree heat outdoors. Thankfully, the cafe’s AC is top notch, and it’s been ages since I tasted this centerpiece of Jewish bobeshi cooking. It was a great way to end my matzo fast.
Traditional but not typical, R & D’s matzo ball soup ($8) is made with a dark and savory bone broth. Russet colored and flecked with herbs, with a smallish ball of dense matzo accompanied by buoyant arcs of celery and a rogue piece of carrot that lounged against the side of the bowl.
It is incredibly salty! Stunning really. But my pallet adjusted quickly, and all that salt was balanced with the subtler flavors in the broth, accented by the tannic crunch of fresh celery.
The menu listed chicken in the ingredients, but I didn’t see any. And then I realized it was in the matzo ball. That is a nice touch, as it imbues much more personality than found in the usual bland wad of pithy dough.
Each bite provided a schmaltzy satisfaction, enhanced by the occasional little morsel of dark chicken meat. And the matzo ball was not salty, so it proved a toothsome counterweight for the broth, which took on more chickeny taste as the ball was sliced up. I only kept from drinking the last ounces because of all I had yet to ingest.
While I still avoid the fishiest of fishes, decades of living in a deep water port have expanded my tastes, so I followed the soup with “the Classic” smoked salmon plate ($16) and was enraptured.
This fish is delish, and oh so rich. Silky yet firm, thin yet massive and melting with tenderness. It was lightly smoky – think Oban rather than Laphroaig, both of which are available by the glass at market prices for diners who like to pair smoked fish with smoked single malt whisky.
Being late in the day and intent on desert, I had my lox with pumpernickel bread, rather than one of their bagels (which are sourced from the Bagel Hole right here in Park Slope.) And I indulged in the tangy pleasures of the salmon, alone or as a tier in a stack of onion, tomato, capers, and cream cheese.
The menu refers to this fish as gaspe nova smoked salmon. Once upon a time that would have meant wild salmon from the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec that was prepared like traditional Nova Scotian “lox.” Today it means high-quality farmed salmon from Norway (where my favorite sashimi comes from,) which is smoked in Brooklyn, to approximate the gaspe nova lox experience. And it was terrific! The same can be said about the quality of everything that passed my lips.
The July tomato was meaty and tasted like it came straight from a garden, or at least the farmers market. So good, I ate most of it by itself. The onion was crisp and kindly, and every bit as fresh as the tomato; the cream cheese earned its qualifier, and the capers were plump and popping with flavor. My only complaint is that the smidgen of dill wasn’t nearly enough for the ample supply of fish. But I do know it has gone missing from local bodegas, so perhaps they are trying to stretch their current supply. Also, the bread was so mild it was basically a delivery platform. Next time I will try their old-fashioned shissel rye, as this salmon should stand up to it nicely.
Although they have a well-stocked supply of spirits and wines, I had one of their soft drinks, concocted at the soda fountain from seltzer and various flavored syrups. I enjoyed the cucumber soda ($5.) It was a good choice for the meal, softly flavored with essence of jasmine, fennel, dill, anise and lime, and garnished with a long slice of fresh cucumber, which when eaten was an ideal palate cleanser between the lox and the “babka french toast,” ($10) full of gooey chocolate spread, and served with fresh strawberries and sour cream.
Even with the very adult coffee, the babka was almost too much for one person – almost. But I did get a good look and whiff of the fruit compote blintzes, and I am definitely having them next time, after a knish or perhaps some latkes, and another smoked fish plate. I have always wanted to see what sturgeon tastes like.
Yes, one pays some premium to sit down to delicacies that can be had at the Houston street shop for less. But many things well worth having are available only at the cafe. And the AC is awfully nice, even though the seats at the counter seem made for one sprier and smaller than I. But otherwise, the environment is quite enjoyable, as is the cheerful, young wait staff, for their fashions and body art if nothing else.
I just happened to pick up some rugelach at the shop to take with me to Martinfest in a couple of days, and I was feeling a bit peckish. So I thought I would finally check out Russ & Daughter’s cafe, to see what it was like.
I am glad I did, even if I am also glad it is not closer to home or near my usual thoroughfares. Otherwise, it could be far too habit-forming.
A classic breakfast at a local eatery is among the simple yet cherished pleasures in the Western World, and easy eggs at Brooklyn’s Park Cafe is certainly one of mine.
While I enjoy the fancier brunch locations, there is something particularly pleasurable about the basics. And this weekend, my choice to seek out the basic American breakfast proved more entertaining than normal, as I found myself back at the Park Cafe, at 82 7th Avenue, between Union Street and Berkley Place, near Grand Army Plaza.
This establishment has been serving Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood for more than 30 years. There, I once again enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying American breakfast of crisp smoked bacon, home fries and a pair of over easy eggs, or “over lightly” as they tend to be called around here. As much I enjoyed the good eats, it was my timing that provided the entertainment.
Without a table to be had, and with larger groups pondering the choice of waiting or going elsewhere, I sat down as the lone customer at the counter in the back. From that position, I had an intimate view of the staff at the peak hour of 12 Noon.
I was simply astounded by the chief waiter. As the late morning rush collided with the impatience of customers who waited until early afternoon to break their fast, this young man attained speeds of digital dexterity and rapid fire articulation beyond what I thought possible outside of a movie where they speed things up for comic effect. And this went on for an extended period of time, as he went faster, and faster, and faster, trying to insure every detail was accounted for.
No klutzy character, this particular professional elevated the game of all those around him, calling out for the large tomato juice seconds after failing to get a response from his support people the first time around, as he scribbled things on a green pad, while waiting for the toaster, since he had a scant few moments at the counter before rushing off to get more orders. And still he found time to help the even-younger waiter locate the more obscure items on the menu so the kid could complete someone’s bill of sale.
And then he saw me.
“Have you been helped, Sir?” He asked me, as if it was a point of genuine pain, should my answer be in the negative. I said that I had not, quickly adding that I was in no hurry, but knew what I wanted. The even-younger man assured him I would be taken care of, despite all the delivery orders arriving by fax and phone, with every table in the place full of expectant mouths to feed. So, the veteran spun around to collect hot plates from those behind the dressing station wall, where he promptly returned one, to their general surprise.
“These are not well done! I know this customer; he will not be happy unless you burn the potatoes BLACK. Look! I am just saving you from him sending them back.”
And so they ended up back on the griddle, which was in plain view from my seat. There, the short order cook placed them among his many other charges.
Now here is a master at his profession. This slender youngster in the phat ball cap, featuring a Yankees NY logo, but with the crown in Knicks orange set off by a blue bill, moved his long, thin metal spatula with the precision of a surgeon.
As the orders mounted, being shouted around the corner, often in a list of three, or four, or six separate meals, the cook seemed oblivious, as he kept right on flipping, sliding, slicing and dicing. The tickets were hung along the dressing station at his back, so he could refer to them as needed. But I never saw him look at a single one.
At times the flat silvery griddle was festooned with pancakes, and omelets, and cured meats, and bricks of what I assumed where slivered hash browns, as opposed to their normal chunky home fries. The waiter would return with more orders, and vocally prod him for things still on the griddle, and yet the cook remained steadfast, unflustered, but in constant motion, as he scrubbed sections of the steaming surface with steel wool and water, prior to covering each spot with some new portion of an awaited breakfast.
My Time Approacheth
When I saw two plain eggs placed side by side, front and center, I had a feeling they were mine. When he turned them over, I started counting. Far too often in this city I have ordered my eggs too late in the day and found them totally overcooked. Although I must say, that was never in this place of brisk breakfast business, before now.
I watched my eggs sizzling away, as he began someone’s omelet, then scooped up another finished omelet, which was dressed on one of two different plates with their obligatory potatoes and extras, and then he whisked them to the dressing station, before filling the empty space with some new order.
At exactly the thirty-second mark, he scooped my eggs from the griddle, slid on my portion of potatoes before laying the crispy bacon over top, and handed them to those unseen behind the dressing station wall, who promptly placed them under the warming lights.
He was faster than expected, so I waited happily for my toast before I was brought my plate.
The eggs were perfect. My request for orange marmalade was met instantly. My coffee cup refilled, just as I began to refill me.
An Unpretentious Institution
The proprietor was stationed at the coffee maker, just on the other side of the counter from my privileged point of perspective.
Slightly hunched with the resignation of one who knows from experience that there is no influencing Father Time, the slender man of medium height with barely a touch of gray in his black hair and matching mustache, was occasionally shaking the metal dispenser none the less, to hurry the output, as 10-cup pots were depleted moments after they were filled. He shrugged his shoulders, and sighed as he shook his head at the waiters flying around him, nearly frantic in their efforts to stay afloat on the latest wave of customer demands. He knows; nobody’s gonna die if they don’t get their eggs before they wish. They come back anyway. They always do.
“A hundred pots, on Saturday and Sunday. So, that is… What? A thousand cups a day?” He answered me with a voice that suggested mild fatigue and remnants of a Greek accent.
And yet, he always finds time to engage the smallest children among his clientele. It is something he has never grown tired of in all those years. Taking genuine delight in their antics, he teases them wryly, while keeping his jokes well within their sphere of comprehension, and leaves them with a sense of being appreciated for their expert opinion on Raisin Bran, or the French toast, which comes in the normal white bread variety, or made with Jewish challah bread. No one seemed to complain that the usual Cartoon Network had been replaced by the Olympic Games, on the two wide screen TVs set high up over the crowd.
Honed to a Comfortable Edge
The Park Cafe is not a Grecian diner, although the newest waiter slipped into Greek when seeking clarification from more experienced colleagues. He was always answered in the same flowing tongue, tipped with k’s and p’s like white caps on a busy surf. None the less, this place is as Brooklynese as Bugs Bunny.
While they do have the obligatory section of Greek dishes, centered on feta cheese and “gyro meat,” they have as many dishes that claim to be Italian, or Mexican. But really, the menu is decidedly American diner-style food, where even the Mexican named dishes like the Huevos Rancheros are Anglicized into their own unique yet enjoyable versions. And then there is the Sombrero, which has a foundation of corned beef hash. The Park Cafe is known for its “Sloppy breakfast,” a sort of bubble and squeak of meats and vegetables chopped to bits and mixed with eggs, before being entombed in a coating of thin, melted cheese. And there is the “Healthy Sloppy,” a version featuring turkey-based meats, along with broccoli and mushrooms rather than potatoes.
For another thing, the Park Cafe it is not open 24 hours a day, which means it does not qualify for the traditional title of Diner within the five boroughs of New York City. So, cafe it is. But it is more American coffee shop than a cafe as Europeans might know the term. With some irony, the coffee is basic diner brew, sightly nutty with a tinge of burnt around the edges. But it is good enough that I tend to drink it black and on the weekends it is guaranteed to be fresh. But some of my coffee snob friends lament that this otherwise excellent breakfast nook has such average joe.
What the Park Cafe is regaled for are the pancakes, among many other things. But the pancakes are far and away superior to all the other coffee shops and diners that fall within the original historic district of Park Slope, which is centered on 7th Avenue and runs from Flatbush Avenue to 9th Street. While one may find a snootier restaurant along 5th Avenue that has enjoyable pancakes, or perhaps on 7th Avenue, beyond the old 9th Street border, they will also pay considerably more for the privilege.
Here, the pancakes are typical, nicely priced, and most importantly, good. Golden, of medium weight, they are satisfying from start to finish, without ever seeming like some nondescript hunk of dough, like those found in similar places. They are available as a regular stack or silver dollars, as well as wheat cakes.
I wish they would offer a short stack, which could be easily matched to the usual bacon and eggs. But perhaps it is best they do not, since that keeps me from ordering them too often.
But really, I tend to stick to the basic breakfast, and the Park Cafe is just far enough away from my dwelling to require a genuine choice on my part when seeking out my easy eggs. It is an effort I gladly make.
The Park Cafe on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn offers fast friendly service, and food generally a step up from all other 7th Ave diner/cafe eateries in its class. The bacon comes crisp, and is of notably better quality than the competition. The home fries are a little salty, but they have just enough green pepper and onion mixed in, while other places either fall short in this respect, or over-do it. But a customer may order their bacon or eggs or potatoes cooked as they prefer, and odds are in their favor that they will get them just the way they like them.
And for all those people who choose to go there, rather than other places, most of them rarely notice just how much effort goes on around them to make their experience as enjoyable as possible. While I was already aware of how busy the waiter is when I visit the Park Cafe, after this weekend I will be even more appreciative of just what he is dealing with when not focused on me and my needs.
Your Favorite Breakfast Spot?
Everyone has their favorite breakfast spots. If you love Huevos Rancheros in Flagstaff, Arizona, it is MartAnne’s. If you are into the classic American fair in Southern Connecticut, it is Huxley’s Bookmark Cafe, in Meridian. Some of the grits and biscuits eateries across the South are national treasures, while the chili cheese omelets found along the beaches of Malibu hold a special place in my memory. The incredible edible egg is a true joy of existence. But having someone else fix them for you, in a way that leaves you immensely satisfied, elevates the experience enormously. Which would YOU recommend?
One Man’s World would love to hear from you about your favorite place for breakfast, or brunch. Please, feel free to contribute your favorite breakfast nooks, and what you recommend there, by using the comments field below this post.
I am sure travelers would be happy to have a list of the best breakfast spots around America. or for that matter, beyond the borders, as I know a few places where the British bacon is a highly coveted treat.
I should like nothing better than to begin compiling that list right here.
And as I was contemplating that very notion, it brought to mind a favorite monolog from the Sam Shepard play Cowboys #2, extolling the virtues of breakfast in all its variety. And then I thought of a favorite song, by a favorite band, Life in a Blender.
I went looking for it on YouTube, to add some version or other at the end of this post. I find none have ever appeared there.
So now, there is one. And it is posted here below, for your enjoyment.
And that is one man’s word on Easy Eggs at the Park Cafe.
And “Easy Eggs” happens to be the name of the song. Be sure to change the resolution to the highest-def your device can accommodate, for the best sound.