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504 West 42nd Street
Rustic Table 1 Cafes Hells Kitchen Midtown West

I stopped in at Rustic Table on a hot summer day, and Jordan, the owner, greeted me with a cold glass of mint-infused lemonade. Having opened in May 2015, the café was a young four months old when I sat down to chat with Jordan about its beginnings.

Though he’s been in New York since 2005, Jordan is originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, and much of the fare at Rustic Table takes inspiration from his home country. “There’s no bagel, no muffin, no bacon, egg and cheese,” Jordan told me. “We’re not your traditional cream cheese spot for the morning.” Instead, with his business partner Guy, Jordan is borrowing from Mediterranean tradition, featuring good strong coffee, and dishes that are “slightly off the beaten path.” Instead of the ubiquitous New York bagel, a morning meal at Rustic Table might consist of a homemade honey date granola, or a breakfast quiche.

With its confidently composed menu of light bites and dishes, it is hard to believe that Rustic Table is Jordan’s first venture into the restaurant business. I asked him to tell me about his first few months since opening, and he laughed, saying, “it’s like having a child that’s still in diapers,” noting that he is on call at every hour of the day. I laughed too at the metaphor, noticing that his t-shirt was printed with the words “carpe diem,” an apropos phrase for a man so clearly energized by the coffee that he serves, and a genuine passion for his job.

As we continued to converse, I learned that Jordan is not only a budding business owner – he also works in academia, as a researcher in political science at CUNY. I had to marvel at his ability to balance such diverse and demanding occupations. He greets many of his customers by name, a sure sign of his commitment to the business. “I’m proud of the response, the following we have here,” he told me, adding that Rustic Table already has many regulars.

It is easy to understand why they keep coming back. Jordan offered me the “early lunch,” a dish that I would be happy to eat for any meal of the day. Inspired by a classic Israeli military breakfast, the meal imports ingredients like chick peas and raw tahini, which blend perfectly with the slow-roasted brisket, avocado, arugula, and sunny side egg. The topping of toasted almonds adds the perfect crunch to finish off the experience. “We show love through food where I’m from,” Jordan explained, and I could taste it in every bite.

I finished off my meal with a flat white (a cappuccino variant with origins in Australia), and Jordan told me how he values the strong, quality espresso that he grew up with. “We don’t do sized coffee – a cappuccino here is short, not swimming in milk.” It’s an attitude that I appreciate, and I was even more excited to hear that Rustic Table plans to expand its offerings to include an evening wine and tapas menu in the near future.

“It’s a small place. This is always what I wanted,” Jordan said. “I’m not a big believer in big restaurants where you walk in and you’re just a number. I want this place to be, before anything else, friendly.” Rustic Table’s name pays homage to that philosophy, and to its communal dining table that encourages customers to break out of their private lives and converse with each other. “New Yorkers aren’t very good at that,” Jordan noted, but he hopes that Rustic Table can help people to forge new connections over coffee or a meal.

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Rustic Table 1 Cafes Hells Kitchen Midtown West
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Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.