10 March 2009

South Brooklyn: Espresso Wasteland

Why can I not get a decent espresso in Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill?

I mean, they're trendy neighborhoods full of Yuppies who are obsessed with gustatory goodness. These are the ideal traits needed to engender a New York espresso haven, are they not? Plus, it's a neighborhood with a rich Italian heritage, and the espresso is an Italian thing. All this notwithstanding, not only can I not get a decent espresso, I can not even avoid an incredibly lousy one.

You'll have to forgive my irritability on this subject, but I recently returned from Italy, where, day after day, I ordered and consumed flawless and delicious espressos one after another. Not a dud in the bunch. Tight, short, dark and topped with beautiful cremas. Here, espressos are pulled so long you could swim in them.

At the Bagel Cafe near Carroll Park, you'll be given an "espresso" possessing the same mass and consistency as a regular cup of American java. The Coffee Den on Union and Hicks is equally unskilled at controlling the unbridled flow of their espressos, regularly serving them slack and sloppy. The guys at D'Amico, the old family coffee grinders on Court Street, know what an espresso should look like, and are fairly conscientious about getting the beverage right. But since the espressos are made with D'Amico coffee—which, I have pointed out before, I do not care for—it hardly matters.

Le Petit Cafe, Brooklyn Bread Cafe, Marquet, Sam's, Melissa's—I have had decent, but not thrilling espressos at each. And nobody seems to be really paying attention as they pull the coffee. There used to be one place in the area where you could be assured of getting a great espresso. It was a cafe at the corner of Henry and Union which lived for a short time under the awkward name of Henry's Cafe. It was run by two earnest and friendly Israelis. They served Bristot coffee and were intensely serious about delivering fine cups of coffee. Very often, the owners themselves would pull the espressos for regular customers, not trusting such an important task to their employees. It was beautiful.

But they left and sold the place to a new owner who hasn't much feel for the bean. He made a good move by contracting La Colombe, the fantastic coffee the comes out of Philadelphia—a coup in a neighborhood where no one currently carries La Colombe. But it's all for naught since the espressos aren't being made properly, despite the fact that the staff were given a tutorial by the La Colombe people. The espresso I had yesterday almost reached the lip of the cup. I stared in wonder at it. It was such a depressing sight.


Anonymous said...

It's not in Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill, but it's worth the hike (or brief F train ride) over to Cafe Regular on 11th st. off 5th Ave in South Slope. They have La Colombe and they know how to use it.

Nesta said...

I don't drink coffee, so all that comes to mind when reading this is the great scene from Mulholland Dr. with the old guy who keeps rejecting espressos. (I was going to add a Youtube link, but bizarrely, every version uploaded to Youtube appears to be overdubbed in a foreign language.)

Brooklyn Salt said...

Try Gorilla Coffee, they know how to do it right. The again, you may not like their blend of joe

mingusal said...

Blame Americans' need to get more and larger of everything, even of things where bigger is almost certainly not better. I'll bet they get complaints if the cup isn't full.

Edward Richardson said...

There's no way you can't get a great esperesso in Carroll Gardoens. That place is more old world Italian than just about any other place this side of the Atlantic.

It's a place where you can see an old Italian woman holding up a tomato in a store and saying to the manager "You call this a tomato?"

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Nesta, I'm sure in 30 years I will be that old man rejecting espressos.

tcg said...

Stumptown Coffee has come to Brooklyn, albeit a bit north of you...Peddlar Coffee, at the corner of Court and Warren, next to Jim and Andy's, in Cobble Hill. Just opened "soft" yesterday, real opening Friday the 13!! Had a cup yesterday of latte, and it was superb. No reason not to think the espresso is fab, too. [I understand; I was in Italy last summer.]

Edward Richardson said...

I made espressos for six years at Sarabeth's on 92nd and Madison Ave. It can easily be a case of who's making it and/or the machine itself. In some cases it can be the espresso grind. If anyone makes you one less than standard just question them about it. See where it went wrong.

I can't imagine the machines and beans or that much different than it Italy. I served tons of Italians and never had an issue with Sarabeth's midrange steamer and choice of beans (which was based partly on its low cost, not on fussiness).

Until then, head north to Atlantic Avenue and have a cardamom coffee at any one of a number of Middle Eastern places.