Growing up in New York, I never would have thought that someday far into the future I would experience the best coffee (specifically it was cappuccino) in my entire life in the east village (and I’m not be hyperbolic)! In those days, East Village brought forth immediate depressing images of Tompkin’s Square Park, hippydom and the drug culture. But things change in two generations and now the East Village has become a destination. A mere 15 minute walk from where I live, it is a most appealing NY neighborhood. A few weeks ago I had three major epihanous experiences over three usually common place ingredients: mushrooms, pork, and coffee!The first was at an enchanting new vegetarian restaurant, provocatively called Dirt Candy, off Avenue A on east 9th Street. On their blog, chef/owner Amanda Cohen explains the derivation: “When you eat a vegetable you’re eating nothing more than dirt that’s been transformed by plenty of sunshine and rain into something that’s full of flavor—candy from dirt. Chef Cohen has created a most imaginative and tasteful menu. I was utterly blown away by an innocent little grey bunker-like appetizer billed as Portobello Mushroom Mousse and don’t miss the jalapeno hush puppies—crisp, airy--addictive. The mushroom flavor virtually exploded in my mouth, defying it’s ethereal texture. For photos of the restaurant and many of the specialties on the menu visit www.dirtcandynyc.com
Two days later, perhaps the desire to reaffirm my card carrying status as a full-blooded carnivore, propelled me to try the porchetta plate at Porchetta on East 7th Street. Juicy chunks of Berkshire pork with my favorite part, the crispy caramelized crackling, served to make me forget everything else that came with it which meant I had to go back and try it again. The deliciously bitter broccoli rabe with sautéed garlic and huge white perfectly cooked beans bathed in the pork juices were absolutely soul satisfying. Owner Sara Jenkins, together with Mindy Fox, just published a beautifully photographed cookbook Olives and Oranges (Houghton Mifflin). Abraço (Portuguese for embrace—isn’t that lovely!) coffee bar is just across First Avenue from Porchetta. It couldn’t be tinier—so tiny in fact that I had to remove my wide-brimmed rain hat to keep from bumping into someone with it. There’s not a single seat, but somehow it feels right to be standing and invites chatting with the owner, staff, and other visitors who arrive in a steady stream of enthusiasm and great coffee expectation. I was privileged to get to see it a year ago just before opening, when it was under renovation. My friend Caitlin Johnson, formerly of Miette bakery in S.F., brought me to meet the owner Jamie McCormick (co-owner baker Liz Quijada) who had worked with her husband (they were married just recently) Jamie Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee Co. When I had tasted his coffee near the Miette Candy Store a few years ago I was deeply impressed so it was no huge surprise that Jamie McCormick’s cappuccino was so perfect. If I lived any closer I’d be having my morning coffee there rather than at home. But the pastries are so excellent maybe I could justify at least an occasional morning visit—think of the exercise walking there and back—it also surely would burn off the calories from the sugar and milk in my cappuccino. Jamie on the right! My Favorite Savory Cookies with Olives! All I can say is if you don’t live in NY, time for a visit!