A waterfall-laden garden paradise in Midtown East? Yes, it exists! The public Greenacre Park, nestled on E 51st Street between Manhattan’s usual concrete and steel structures is so lovely that it inspired one proprietor to open his own plant-filled coffee shop and cafe directly across the street — creating a soothing, verdant pit stop in one of the borough’s busiest areas.
“I was actually looking for the park when I found this space,” said Pedro Mendez, the owner and operator of &Cafe, which specializes in small-batch pastries, Portuguese-flavored brews, espressos, ceremonial-grade matcha lattes and slow-brewed loose leaf chai tea. The restaurateur, who also previously owned the Zulia Grill in Linden, New Jersey, “always wanted to open a coffee shop” in the city, and took the serendipitous realty find as a sign to set up on the same block.
The peaceful, green-themed cafe launched in May 2022 and has been steadily serving specialty drinks and a charming, quiet ambiance to local residents and park goers, though Pedro added that they hoped to expand their reach as a more known destination rather than an unexpected find. “We’re still looking for that first group of true regulars,” said Pedro, though after tasting the delicately brewed, perfectly spiced chai tea latte, we predict that &Cafe — and Greenacre Park — will soon be a summer afternoon standard for New Yorkers and visitors alike.
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Much of Pennylane's personality is evident in its chic - yet stark - decor. The walls are painted black and grey and the people who queue up around the wooden countertop are clad in colors from the same palette: office grays, blacks, and blues. Founded by a former member of the fashion industry, Sung Kang, Pennylane encapsulates the trendy New York vibe. Just off Second Avenue, it is a haven for aficionados who crave a serious cup of coffee from producers like Parlor Coffee or Heart Roasters. It is also a great place to unwind with a stronger beverage, as Pennylane serves wine and beer later in the day. For most of his life Sung had been complacent about his coffee choices. He would stop by a familiar Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for a cup of joe and would go about his business, like many other New Yorkers. One day, a few years back, he came across a cafe in TriBeCa that changed the way he saw coffee. Sung was so impressed by the flavor, its richness and texture, that he started doing some research. Sung read every book on which he could get his hands and spent some time on the web reading NY Times writer Oliver Strand's famous coffee-related column, "Ristratto. " Eventually, Sung realized that he wanted to start his own cafe and began to ask his friends what they thought was the best coffee shop in the city. A couple of friends pointed him to Sweetleaf, a cafe in Brooklyn. Sung offered to work as an unpaid intern there so that he could learn about the business and, after chatting with the manager, got the job. He stayed there for six months before he got up the courage to begin his own business – Pennylane Coffee. In the early summer of 2014, while we were walking 45th street, Sung was coming up on his first anniversary and reflected on what he had learned in the past year. The thing that was most different from his previous job, he thought, was facing the consumer. As a merchandiser, he never had to interact with the people who bought the final product. Instead, he would work with store representatives and stay behind the scenes. As a barista and business owner, Sung has had to learn to interact with customers and try to gauge whether they like the coffee or not. Sung prioritizes customer service and tries to talk to people about the coffee they are drinking when patrons are not swamping the counter.
The Pickler sells coffee on one side and a wide range of sandwiches on the other. David Lowenstein, who opened the Pickler in 2015, decided to give the store a light and funny name when he took over the space from his boss. He decided on the Pickler after considering the names of several of the Batman villains. As a fun touch, he adds a pickle to every sandwich served. David first started working in restaurants when he was in college. He originally wanted to be a teacher, but quickly decided that the restaurant business was better suited to him. After working as the operations manager for three different restaurants, the space on 46th Street became available, and he decided it was time to set off on his own. He renovated the entire restaurant, knocking down walls and redesigning it to be more open. He kept the order windows in the back, which connect to LIM College, so students are able to stop by in between classes. David said that their food comes from "clean sources, " including their meat and dairy, and the coffee comes from organic fair trade farmers.
In the mornings, this wittily named coffee shop is filled with frenetic Midtowners seeking their daily jolt of caffeine. The afternoons, however, find it decidedly more relaxed. Wandering to the back of the cafe, I lingered for quite some time among the shelves of books and comfortable couches. The space is perfectly crafted to encourage guests to indulge in literature, cups of excellent coffee, and freshly baked croissants. The cafe's owner, Etienne Wiik, moved from Paris to New York in 2012 and spent his first year in the city "figuring out how to bring something hip and young to a primarily corporate neighborhood. " Etienne passionately explained how Ground Central reflects his "sense and vision of New York. " After 5pm, the cafe boasts an incredibly well priced tapas and wine menu, making this the perfect place to both start and end a day.
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, which opened in the late summer of 2014, pairs ease with elegance as a welcome addition to 51st Street. “We live in a very fast-paced world. ” In midtown Manhattan, these words resonate. But spoken by Aldo Sohm, seated at a table in his eponymous wine bar, they seem incongruous. “The idea is basically that when you walk in here, you walk into my living room. To me, it’s always important that you be in a place where you feel comfortable. ”Sohm continues his role as wine director at Le Bernardin, the four-star restaurant located across the 6½ Avenue pedestrian plaza. At the wine bar, however, he and Le Bernardin’s co-owners, Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert, have created a setting distinct from the formal restaurants in Manhattan, in its simplicity and lack of pretense. To be clear, it shares the elegance and attention to quality of its neighbors. But upon entering, an open arrangement of sofas beckons patrons to sit down. Sohm has noticed guests who arrived separately conversing across tables - sometimes even discussing their choice in wine. And wine is the focus at Aldo Sohm. Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin’s acclaimed chef, oversees the food menu; so, whether wine accompanies lunch, dinner, or a snack, it promises to impress. Guests can order bites to complement a glass of wine, like a grilled foie gras “lollipop” or a warm skewer of baby beets. Shareables include a whole baked cauliflower and a plate of Murray’s cheese with a Maison Kayser baguette. Sohm emphasizes the flexibility of the experience. If not in the lounge area, there are tall square tables for seating. The thick oak “sommelier table” incorporated into the bar seats guests on both sides, ensuring that no one is excluded from conversation. Sohm chose these arrangements intentionally. The wine bar endeavors to be unpretentious, relaxing and fun. Evoking this sensation, the architectural firm Bentel & Bentel incorporated clean lines and bold color in designing the interior. Sohm and his co-owners deliberated considerably in choosing the art in their “living room. ” Ample shelves extend to the double height ceiling, featuring artifacts meaningful to Sohm. Having grown up in Austria, Sohm points out, “I like things very very clean, very European. I like colors on top of it. ” A stack of Interior Design magazines becomes a design object itself as a cube of rainbow spines. The curves of miniature Panton S-chairs, each a different color, mirror the charred wood molds of the delicately hand-blown Zalto glasses in which each wine is served. Sohm is the brand ambassador for Zalto, an Austrian-based glassware manufacturer. To learn more about the varied wine offerings, visitors can reserve the tasting room. Aerial photographs of wine growing regions flank the eight-person table, allowing the sommelier to incorporate a visual element and story of provenance to the tasting. Sohm - once designated the “Best World Sommelier” by the Worldwide Sommelier Association - maintains humility despite his accomplishments. He wants the wine bar to be just as down to earth; an antidote to a demanding day, it exudes precision and sophistication.
While the lineups at Radio City Music Hall have changed dramatically over the years, the "Showplace of the Nation" has long been at the center of the city's entertainment scene. Opened to the public in 1932, the Art Deco building, with almost six thousand seats, was initially intended to "house high-class variety entertainment. " However, the space was later converted to a movie hall, with films accompanied by stage shows. This lasted until 1979 when, for a variety of reasons, Radio City began transitioning into a concert hall. Besides consistently booking some of music's hottest stars, Radio City has also hosted numerous award shows, including The Grammys and The Tony Awards and is the home to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes, a tradition that commenced in 1933.
Saar, which translates to “the essence of something, ” has a double meaning for Pastry Chef Surbhi Sahni. It represents the essence of Indian food, as well as the essence of her relationship with her husband, Chef Hemant Mathur. Although Surbhi has been in the industry with Hemant for years, the two have not worked together on a daily basis since their days at their Michelin-starred restaurants, Devi and Tulsi, both of which are now closed. Saar represents their fresh start while also staying true to their culture and roots. When Surbhi and Hemant met in 2000, Hemant was teaching Indian cooking classes at New York University as he was getting ready to open Tamarind on Park Avenue. Surbhi joined the opening team at Tamarind, designing the tearoom and promoting quick lunches. He went on to operate five different spaces, including Sahib, Haldi, Chote Nawab, Malai Marke, and Chola, while Surbhi helped manage events. During that time, she also launched Bittersweet NYC, a pastry business focusing on wedding cakes and Indian style desserts for larger corporate events. Surbhi’s relationship with cooking is unlike the typical love story of most chefs. Her experience in the kitchen started at the age of ten in New Delhi as more of a responsibility and chore when her mother’s health declined. She explained to members of the Manhattan Sideways team, “It was not something I could ever imagine myself doing for the rest of my life. I wanted to do art and write and paint or sing and dance - every other activity in the world but cook. ” Notwithstanding these sentiments, Surbhi was encouraged by her father to take a job in hotel management in New Delhi. She was part of the Sheraton Group’s revolutionary all-female kitchen and restaurant at a time when there were only approximately twenty female chefs in all of New Delhi. At age twenty-five, however, Surbhi chose to move to the United States to pursue her Masters in Anthropology and Food at New York University. Despite never getting to study writing and painting at university, these endeavors have always been an integral part of Surbhi’s life. Her father is an accomplished artist exhibiting in both India and the US. Today, she is proud of her own teenage daughter, Soumyaa. "She is the true artist of the family. " When entering the dining room on 51st Street, Surbhi’s artistic aptitude is obvious. The modern space is both clean and dramatic, with natural light and bright pops of color. Saar was a particularly exciting project for her, as she was given free rein in its design. In a mere five months, she turned what she described as a dingy, confused room into an open, tasteful dining space. Saar has also allowed Surbhi and Hemant to completely reinvent their menu. They focus on regional food, staying authentic to the specific flavors of each area. For example, Surbhi told us that the Turbuj Pachadi - a tomato and watermelon salad with a fennel and ginger dressing - is a Rajasthani staple, as watermelon is a fruit that is readily available there, and is usually consumed with freshly baked bread. She has also made an effort to challenge conventional conceptions of Indian cuisine. The Mango Coconut Soup is a light and sweet palate opener, proving that Indian food is not always too spicy or a combination of too many flavors. She believes that Indian food is actually very demarcated in the way flavors are put together. “Just how in Japanese food they have many different layers of flavors they add as they’re cooking, we do the same with Indian food. ” While cooking can serve as a creative outlet, Surbhi still tries to write and paint whenever she can. In ending our conversation, Surbhi emphasized the importance of food’s role in building a community - something she looks forward to creating on West 51st Street.