American cafes: part office, part meeting place, part stop on the way to work and part restaurant. They’re so many things to so many people, it’s almost surprising how free and open we are with our cafes when our culture is so exclusive and restrictive in other areas. We like our peanut butter and jelly one way and our television shows to be filled with drama — so many things are only allowed one facet, one personality. Yet, when it comes to coffee, we are accepting as we strive for excellence. It’s one of the aspects I’ve grown to love most about American coffee culture: anything goes.
That being said, there’s still comfort in finding a few of the same things around. The same beans, the same decor, the same people; they might be boring after you go to the fourtieth cafe in a row that serves stumptown, but after coming back from Italy, I found the similarities extraordinarily reassuring.
Pushcart Coffee has been open on the Lower East Side for quite some time, but I’ve never made it down there (not surprising given my feelings about the LES). When I saw that there was a cafe opened in Gramercy, I walked over quicker than Italians eating breakfast. The cafe is in a perfect location: central enough so that you can go there all the time, but enough of a distance from everything that it doesn’t get too hectic.
I walked in and ordered a cortado, greeted by a group of people typing away furiously on MacBook Pros and reading on iPads. There were a couple of mothers in the back with their toddlers, knitting. It was a New York cafe scene if there ever was one. I took a seat and got out a revision book. Although revision will never be fun, it was exciting to be able to sit and read about Italian linguistics over coffee. I haven’t done that in a while, it’s good to be back!
Stumptown tastes like stumptown and this cortado definitely had that stumptown twang. Yet, while I find the flavor a bit intense verging on dull after cups and cups of it, I loved my cortado at Pushcart. Yes, it was dense and chocolatey, but it was richer and with a more complex flavor than anything you’d find in Italy. This was a coffee that needed milk and the cortado was just the right amount of milk to highlight the beans.
Pushcart’s cafe is also gorgeous. Open, bright and airy with plenty of tables, I could definitely see myself going back to sit there and get a bit more work done. They have free wifi as well, so you can park yourself with your laptop and check your emails. The pastries looked good, the croissants seemed like they might come from Ceci Cela, not too shabby.
I loved Pushcart, it was a perfect New York cafe. A bit of the same-old, same-old but done just a touch better. Not to mention, they had a jar of hershey kisses on the counter, free to take (don’t worry, I left a tip). Can you really get better than that? Wait, don’t answer that.
Do you find cafes that do so many of the same things reassuring or boring? It’s the starbucks question really…