When life brought Chef Ali Sahin from Turkey to the USA, his first American address was in the East Village. Though he studied economics back home, in New York City he worked in restaurants, first as a bus boy and eventually as a cook. When he decided food was something he might want to turn into a career, he went to culinary school to learn essential techniques, such as how to prepare the perfect egg, something Ali told me chefs love to talk about but few dare to actually serve in their restaurants. C& B (“Coffee and Breakfast”) Café serves eggs all day long - really good eggs - along with other brunch plates. The chef uses his small kitchen to its fullest potential, even going so far as to make sausages in house, and hopefully one day his own cheese. On the afternoon that the Manhattan Sideways team visited, Ali arranged a beautiful bowl of chicken and eggs, one of the café’s top selections. The slow-poached eggs, each cooked for over an hour, and the flavorful shredded chicken with potatoes and toast perfectly captured the café’s fine dining approach. They enjoyed each bite of the colorful dish while Mr. Brown, “The Espresso King, ” crafted beautiful lattes, teas, and pour-over coffees for customers working at the communal table in the back of the shop. Ali told us that all thirteen of the C& B menu items are created using only seasonal, local ingredients, which is why he never serves avocados. To Ali, sourcing is the most important part of cooking. He explained that while growing up in Turkey, all his food came from provincial farmer’s markets, as there were no supermarkets in the region. With that in mind, he modeled his café after one of his old East Village haunts and one of his favorite cafes in LA that serves solely organic fare. East Village dwellers appreciate Ali’s vision: the café opened in January 2015 but already boasts a large number of repeat customers. Ali takes the time to get to know the regulars and has really helped C& B to take root in the neighborhood. The walls of the café are adorned with paintings from community artists and even some of the cafe’s staff. Ali drew the café’s logo himself to reflect the leaves of the American Elm Trees growing across the street in Tompkins Square Park. Serving the most important meal of the day all day, while emphasizing healthy, wholesome ingredients, C& B Café is gearing up to become a new neighborhood favorite.
Although the entrance to this Latin bistro is on Avenue A, on nice evenings, it is the sidewalk café on 7th that gets all the attention. Lively music can be heard from the street, and the mood here is as festive and fun as you might expect from a restaurant inspired by Latin America and Spain.
What could be wrong with sitting in a classic barber shop chair and having a beer - or two - while getting a quality hair cut by personable and talented barbers? According to my son, absolutely nothing. This is his go to place. And that is just for day time fun. Come by in the evening, as we have done on several occasions, and walk through the sliding doors of the barber shop (that closes at 9: 00pm), and stroll through into a living room atmosphere with cozy chairs and small alcoves to sip your well-concocted drinks. Bottom line is that this is a terrific find at any hour of the day.
With so many coffee shops featuring increasingly complicated menus, 9th Street Espresso has instead opted to keep it simple with a menu of only four drinks: brewed coffee, iced coffee, espresso, and espresso with milk. This devotion to minimalism is echoed in the café’s décor: the original’s 10th street neighbor is located in a slender, uncluttered space with white walls, wooden floors, and little seating. Here too, coffee is the main event: the café’s central wall decorations, complementing an elegant map of the world, are ground coffee displayed in wall pockets close to the back of the store.
You might recognize this classic, horseshoe-shaped bar, that was built in the 1920’s, from such hit movies as The Godfather Part II, The Verdict, Crocodile Dundee, Serpico or TV favorites like "Sex and the City" and, most recently, "Person of Interest. " Despite their fame, they are just a friendly and inexpensive watering hole with screens in every direction – a safe bet for a classic New York sports bar experience that many of us have had. And yes, there is a side entrance.
It was a humble entrance that guided me into Gnocco, a space with tables barren of cloths, waiters devoid of ties, and the owner leaning against a wall in a casual tee-shirt and jeans. Upon closer look, I noticed framed photographs of the East Village in the 1980s taken by Michael Sean Edwards, fresh, savory pizza being tossed and fired in the room next door, and a backyard dining area where greenery intermingles with twinkling lights. When Modena native Gian Luca Giovanetti first opened Gnocco with Pierluigi Palazzo in 2000, customers did not understand why veal parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs, and fettucine alfredo were not on the menu. “We are Italian, ” Gian explained (in his wonderful accent), “and those dishes are not from where I’m from. ” Modena lies in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy where the cuisine differs from the southern Italian food most Americans are used to. Having already run a successful restaurant back home, Gian knew how to make good food, and would not compromise his menu. “I told them to just sit down, and if you don’t like it, you’re not gonna pay. ” They paid. Part of the reason for Gnocco’s sustained success are the niche that it fills. For the neighborhood, the restaurant bridges a gap between refined dining and fast food - it is an eatery “for every pocket. ” And for Gian, the restaurant brings him closer to his childhood and family. The gnocco, filled and fried pockets of dough, was a dish his grandmother would prepare, and it was his mother who recruited a team of four other ladies to perform “quality control” during the restaurant’s early beginnings. Even his son, who spends the school year in Italy, takes to the kitchen when he visits Manhattan in the summertime. While Gnocco may be Gian’s only current endeavor, he has had a hand in quite a few other places in the East Village. Perbacco was an Italian wine bar that was given two stars by the New York Times, Caffe Emilia offered casual Romagna food, like Italian clubs, to the neighborhood, and Café Pick Me Up, probably the most devastating closure, after twenty years and a rent surge, has lived on through Gnocco’s extended menu and hours.