I’m awful at keeping warm. Those cute ballet flats are too tempting and those attractive gloves are too tough to finagle under the tight arms of my winter coat. From people watching in New York this winter, it seems most people agree with me. Unless a polar vortex stops by, bundling up feels excessive. After all, walking quickly warms you up and no one wants to feel like a snowman in the subway.
Every once in a while, however, the city throws in an awkwardly warm day and everyone gets a little confused. The puffer coats get unbuttoned and the hats get stuffed in the bad. Last Wednesday was one of these days. I attempted to enjoy the spot of warmth, sitting outside reading in the park, sans gloves. Unfortuantely, my fingers soon told me that it was time to go inside and warm up.
Luckily, I was right by Little Collins so warming up wasn’t an issue. Little Collins is located in mid-town east, only a few blocks from Bloomingdales. The cafe is small — about five tall tables running along the right side with two chairs each and a bar in the front that fits another two — but it’s bustling. During the lunch time rush they were doing such a swift business, it’s a wonder they were able to keep fitting more customers inside the shop.
There’s been quite the buzz about Little Collins ever since it opened last autumn. They’re the first cafe in New York City to have a modbar — a coffee brewing device that flips the espresso machine upside down so the barista can interact freely with the customer as they brew their drink — and, since they’re Australian, the food is Proper Good. Although many NYC cafes seem to think of food as an afterthought (read: they offer a pastry case with stale pastries from Balthazar) Little Collins is as much a place for a good meal as for a good cup of coffee. Naturally, I had both when I went there.
I easily chose a cortado. The decision about what to eat was a bit tougher.
The food options are displayed on menu boards above the bar and difficult to read in the middle of the midday rush. They have a wide mix of sandwiches and salads, with a soup of the day (it was curried eggplant soup the day I went). After much deliberation, I chose to split the roasted chicken, squash, arugula, lentil salad dressed in a yogurt-sumac sauce and cauliflower schnitzel with my dining and coffee companion. We waited patiently for what took like eons for the drinks to arrive. The wait for the food was about as long as it took for me to finish my cortado and them to finish their flat white. We saved the mini shortbreads that came on the side for dessert, naturally.
The coffee was great, no doubt about it. My cortado was rich and nutty, though not appetite-killing. The flat white was creamy and milky, yet still had an almond-like sweetness peeking through. It was good. The reason to return, however, would be for the food.
A roasted chicken and arugula salad might not sound exciting, but rest assured, this one was. There was a good bit of arugula, but the salad was pretty evenly divided between greens, chicken, squash and lentils. No bite was relegated to good-but-familiar greens. The sumac add a smoky-berry flavor to the salad and nicely complemented the yogurt dressing (which, thank goodness, wasn’t acidic as yogurt-based dressings tend to be).
Any claims to health, however, were quickly squashed as soon as the cauliflower schnitzel arrived. The cauliflower schnitzel is, essentially, a glorified sub the proportions of which would be right at home next to the behemoths from No. 7 sub. The bread is light, crispy and slightly grilled with nearly no taste on its own. Inside, thick, fried cauliflower steaks are layered with pickles, tomatoes, and hummus. Looking at it, you sort of wonder how you’ll actually take a bite. Then, when you finally figure out how to maneuvere it, the previous thought quickly becomes a distant memory, lost in the wave of deliciousness.
Whether you head to Little Collins to warm up after a chilly NYC day, to get some lunch or just for a cup of coffee, you’re sure to be surprised at what you find. Who knew midtown could hide such a gem?! Squeeze in, pull up a seat, order some coffee and get some food. You’ll be glad you did.
Coffee: a drink to be savored alone, or equally as delicious with food?