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JP’s Food Adventures: Best Espresso on the L.E.S.

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Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

For decades my home coffee setup was the Latina grandmother-approved aluminum moka pot and can of Cafe Bustelo – perfect for making a good, strong cafe con leche. Far from perfect for espresso, though.

A couple years ago I picked up a Gaggia Classic espresso machine from a neighbor who found it at a garage sale. Got it for a song. For a while I was pulling ethereal shots in my own kitchen, with crema rippling through them like foam through a properly poured pint of Guiness. Eventually the Gaggia required servicing, which requires a trip to the Bronx. So out came the moka pot and the yellow can. That was months ago. Until I make it up to the Bronx I’ll be going out when I have a taste for a proper espresso. Fortunately I have plenty of good options in the neighborhood.

I’ll admit my favorite espresso in town is a little to the north, at Everyman Espresso (136 E13th Street). They’re pulling Counter Culture coffee, which I consider the top roaster on the East Coast. Closer to home I can get Counter Culture espresso at Roots and Vines (409 Grand Street) – rich, mild, with perfect crema and hints of caramel. For a place that prides itself on serving Mexican and Vietnamese “street food” their espresso is very, very Italian.

Those who prefer a darker roast will find satisfaction at Pushcart Coffee (221 E. Broadway), formerly Dora. They pull Stumptown coffee, and their espresso is bold and intense, with good, viscous crema.

88 Orchard offers Irving Farm coffee. Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

Splitting the difference between mild and bold is 88 Orchard, pulling Irving Farm Coffee. I had an espresso there a couple weeks ago that was correct in every way, nuanced in flavor, with generous, lasting crema.

Prefer a lighter roast? There’s Roasting Plant at 81 Orchard. I find light roasts tend to be sour, the way very dark roasts tend toward bitterness. Not so here. Their espresso is mild, even a bit simple. I prefer a little more nuance, but those who like their espresso on the less bitter side would do well to check it out. They also have a novel brewing/grinding system involving pneumatic tubes, which gives the place a little bit of a steampunk vibe. This automated system pulled a shot that arrived with over half an inch of thin crema, most of which dissipated within seconds.

Got a favorite neighborhood espresso I failed to mention? Hit me up in the comments section!

JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well,  consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.

Here we are in the dead of winter, and I still find myself drinking one of my favorite white wines of summer: Marques de Riscal, Rueda ($10 at Seward Park Liquors). The crisp acidity and very slight residual sugar make it easy to pair with food. I even have it with some Chinese and Viet meals. Of course it goes exceedingly well with Iberian style seafood dishes. And it’s a value.


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  1. They also have Blue Bottle coffee at Brooklyn Taco in the Essex Street Market, but they don’t have an espresso machine.

    I agree about Intellegentsia. They’re the only roaster whose espresso I’d put on the same level as Counter Culture. When I spent a few months living in Los Feliz, Los Angeles I’d hit the Intellegentsia shop in Silver Lake, and it was some of the best espresso I’ve had in the US.

    I was getting frighteningly good results feeding the Gaggia Classic Counter Culture’s Espresso Toscano. I recommend giving that a try at home if you like lots of caramel notes. (I do). You can get it at Roots and Vines, Formaggio Essex or Bluebird (72 E1st St). Milder and a little less complex than Black Cat, but no less rich.

    (The Bustelo cafe con leche made with the moka pot is a good enough eye opener that I’m not exactly racing to the Bronx to get my Gaggia serviced. It’s nowhere near the same league as real espresso, but it’s awfully good for something one can buy in a supermarket. Or maybe it’s just that it’s so familiar, having been my morning cup for two decades…)

  2. Home Espresso Bar @ 250 Broome St has easily the best espresso in the hood. The food is awesome also.

    Brooklyn Roasting Co.!!!

  3. I was hoping someone would bring up Grumpy, because I haven’t made it there yet, even though I’ve walked by several times. Is it true they do Australian/New Zealand style flat whites? I was doing those in my own kitchen before my Gaggia went down.

  4. Yup they do! I almost wept with joy when they opened shop down the block, its far too difficult to find flat whites here.

  5. I’d vote for lost weekend (orchard b/w grand and hester). blue bottle beans.

    dora was always great, haven’t tried its replacement yet, but am keen to (esp. now)…

    lost weekend > grumpy > 88 orchard or roasting plant

  6. I’d vote for lost weekend (orchard b/w grand and hester). blue bottle beans.

    dora was always great, haven’t tried its replacement yet, but am keen to (esp. now)…

    lost weekend > grumpy > 88 orchard or roasting plant

  7. nothing to add for the neighborhood–but i’m a big fan of Joe–any of the several locations around town.  also i’ve been working around the corner on Horatio and Washington from a European style cafe called Kava, and they serve up a great espresso (not to mention americano, which is what i go for).
    great food writing Mr. Bowersock!

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