I sloshed down to Brooklyn, this morning, half-asleep on the V and F trains. At four, when a storm had crashed into the city, J. and I stumbled out of bed and ran to close all our windows. It’s hard to fall back asleep when the inside of your head is still echoing with lightning, though.
At the Bergen Street station, I wandered out and up to Court Street. It’s the heart of Cobble Hill: brownstone-lined streets, cheese shops, antiques stores, restaurants (minus Miriam, where a friend had taken us shortly after we’d moved here, perhaps sensing that we missed Israeli breakfasts) and cafes. But Cafe Pedlar, where I was headed, is no ordinary cafe. Its lineage is coffee rock-stardom: Duane Sorenson, of Stumptown, is the force behind the cafe, along with Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli of Frankies 457 and Prime Meats.
The friends I was meeting there are two prolific writers I’d met at Kim Ricketts’ dinner at Tabla, a while back: Michaele Weissman (author of God in a Cup) and Julia Price (Biscuits & Brioche). Both women know seemingly everything and everyone there is to know about coffee, food, New York, and living on words.
Sleepily, I ordered a macchiato, and took in the spare, quiet space echoing with bursts from the LaMarzocco espresso machine, and with a stream of patrons through the front door. Michaele and Julia arrived, and we clustered around a table with a tiny “Reserved” sign that other patrons looked at longingly, balancing their coffee and bags, trying to head out the door. The cafe sent over a plate of baked goods: fresh homemade pretzel pieces topped with pumpkin seeds, sliced and spread with local butter and sea salt; glistening olive-oil and citrus cake pieces; nut-brown slices of linzer torte; and streusel triangles. But the coffee sang the most: a macchiato with a balance of wild foam and earthy espresso, and cappuccinos that stayed firmly cupped in people’s hands, like a favorite book.
What I know about coffee is the result of one blissful morning at La Boheme Cafe, run by Charles Fleer, just outside of Prague, in a giant house with a roastery in the basement. (As good as an introduction that was, however, it’s really not enough to keep up with Michaele and Julia, who sketched, in a matter of minutes, the family tree of Seattle-San Francisco-New York coffee and independent food people down to the smallest leaf.)
There was a lot going on at our table: talk of writing, researching, and ethics; the latest in New York eats; future projects and books–all couched in dry wit, and with an eye toward how to best do what you love while hopefully earning enough to keep doing it. As we left, I broke away to come back to Queens and sort out coins, clothes, and article ideas for Prague.
Tomorrow, I’m off to Newark for a tour of my great-grandfather’s haunts. He was the son of Irish immigrants, who rose quickly through the ranks to become president of a group of hatmaking companies in New York and New Jersey at the beginning of the twentieth century. He died when my grandfather was eight, so even though he’s clearly visible in my grandfather’s and father’s faces, and in the photos that line the hallway, back home, his life is a mystery. My father’s cousin, who’s leading the tour, has done the kind of research that goes into novel-writing, so I imagine that I’ll come back to New York knowing far more than I do now.