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The Cultural Politics of Coffee

The Cultural Politics of Coffee

Joseph Sciorra (January 26, 2008)
Joseph Sciorra
Mimmo Lepore, Sal’s Pizzeria, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. January 26, 2008.

In Search of a Decent Espresso in New York City.



As a born and bred New Yorker, I should know better than to go public with secret culinary information. But I just can’t take it any more. Everyday after lunch, I search in vain for a shot of coffee, for a simple cup of espresso.
Unfortunately, I work in midtown Manhattan, where a simple caffè is as hard to find as someone who knows what the IRT is. (Yes, the “green” line.) Why is it that scores of local and international travelers can walk into any “bar” around Rome’s Termini train station, or anywhere else in Italy for that matter, and be served a simple, perfect cup of coffee within a minute of ordering it while at the “center of the universe,” we’re forced to wander the teeming urban canyons in desperate search for our afternoon fix?
While there are plenty of places in midtown selling Italian-style coffees, the problem is they’re offering pitiful facsimiles. A “solo” at Starbucks, the McDonalds of caffeine, is a watery, burnt brew served in a paper cup twice the size of a regular espresso tazza.   
But we New Yorkers have been informed there’s hope. “Artisan baristas” are here to save the day! Over a year ago, The New York Times featured some of “the best cafes in New York” and I was surprised to read that one such establishment exists a mere two blocks from my Brooklyn apartment. I had seen the 20-somethings congregating there on my way to the supermarket but I never seriously considered checking it out. It seemed more hipster haven than a place to get a cup of Joe. 

Coached as “geekiness,” New York barista speak is a tad bit pretentious, with its attention to
“provenance,” “dosing,” “tamping,” and “28-leaf rosetta."   Yet the rave review the paper of record gave the shop piqued my curiosity. The key to this “artisanal” coffee we are told is the “triple ristretto” preparation, which makes for a Williamsburg version of Turkish coffee, calling for an ice water chaser to wash the tick concoction down. Disappointed, I felt I had been sold a bill of trendy goods that was more hipster hype than substance, prepared at 198 degrees and under thirty pounds of pressure. Whatever.
While no supporter of cultural proprietorship, I can’t help but sympathize with Paulie Walnuts’s whining tirade about culinary highjacking.  
It’s simple food. If they could only get it right.  And you’re still wondering why he stole the Moka coffeepot?!
I should have known better after a 2004 restaurant review made a Brooklyn eatery sound like some Italian-American fantasy of Sunday dinner in nonna’s basement kitchen. The reviewer appeared to have gorged on one too many mob movies with her description of “the long-nailed women mopping their plates with bread, the tough teenager barking a request for more" [. . .] gravy. I discovered that while the food was good, it was just another trendy but small Italian restaurant frequented by regular New York foodies, and hardly some old neighborhood eatery. (I’ll take you to my favorite Italian restaurant when you’re in town but until then, zitto zitt’!)
After my caffeinated adventure, I returned to my regular haunt, Sal’s Pizzeria at the corner of Lorimer and Devoe Streets. Named for its previous owner, the pizza parlor is frequented by burly cops from the 90th precinct, hipster moms and their kids, neighborhood teenagers, and artists of various stripes. Run by Mimmo Lepore from Rutigliano (Bari province, Puglia), the place dishes up some of the best New York-style pizza. (Don’t get me started about the general decline of pizza in Manhattan!) 
For a $1.50, Mimmo (or Alonso aka “Niño” from Hidalgo, Mexico) serves una bella tazza di caffè without the fancy flourishes of simulated fern fronds. The next time you find yourself in Williamsburg checking out the art galleries and in need of a caffeine kick, skip those other touted places and head to Mimmo’s. Refreshed and back on the L train, you might actually think you’re heading for la fontana di Trevi by way of the Empire State Building. 

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Cultura Politics of Coffee

Just read this only 2 years late - But I was just thinking the same thing the other day when I had to wait in line for 15 minutes for my cafe`! Things still haven't changed at least in Philly - I know, I know, you say we're just a backwater, but STILL!

CAW--FAY !!! thanks for

CAW--FAY !!! thanks for breaking it down. however you say that in Italiano. I couldn't think straight one morning, on the phone with Edvige Giunta. I said lemme have an espresso and call you back. "It's necessary," she said, "yes, prende il caffe. Call me after the coffee." that stuck with me. It took a Sicilian to capishe me. If she had said why don't you go for a morning jog, instead, we wouldn't be friends.

is that you?!

ANNIE the Ice Lady?!

hey, on Saturday, i found a place in Queens that sells ice blocks. maybe it's the same place you go to. we'll talk, joe

ICEWOMAN says theres only

ICEWOMAN says theres only one plant I've found that makes crystal clear ice. they're in the Bronx. tell me the Queens contact. i'm always on the search for carriers of ice

ice in queens

(was that you that commented originally?)

i don't know if they have what you want -- you're the ice lady -- but here's their web site: