If artists are the first sign of the gentrocalypse, cafés are surely the second. We’re not going to get into all that right now (since we very recently discussed it), but suffice it to say that Bushwick became home to not one, not two, but six new cafés in the second half of 2013. We trekked across the neighborhood to check them out and see what each has to offer:
Express Yourself Barista Bar (82 Central Ave.), opened October 2013
If you’re extremely easy to please and aren’t look for anything more than a comfortable setting and a hot cup of coffee, then Express Yourself is perfect. This café sits between Melrose and Jefferson Streets and offers a basic coffee menu with beans provided by the Brooklyn Roasting Company. For the peckish, there are bagels, croissants and ridiculously saccharine pastries, but not much else. Unlike most cafés, the seating at Express Yourself is almost entirely communal so we wouldn’t recommend it to those who prefer to curl up at a corner table and hunch over a laptop. Still, it’s a quiet and sunny space with a painting of a mustachioed Biggie waiting to be filled with eager patrons.
Nearest subway stop: M at Central Ave.
Milk & Pull (181 Irving Ave.), opened June 2013
Our first impression of Milk & Pull is that it is much, much longer than it is wide. This cozy little retreat stands out on a block that doesn’t feature much more than Fritzl’s Lunch Box, a laundromat and a handful of residential buildings. Milk & Pull offers gigantic donuts from Bed-Stuy’s Dough (in fact, every café on this list has them) as well as bagels, muffins and croissants. There’s even Nutella to put on said croissants, which is really quite thoughtful of them. The café’s beans come from the incomparable Stumptown and as of last week, Milk & Pull serves neighborhood-inspired sandwiches with names like “The Evergreen” to accompany their brews. Back to our initial impression, though: if you’re looking to stick around, Milk & Pull ain’t got time (or room) for all that. There are two small tables and a bench tucked in the back and not much else up front, so if you plan on kicking it for a while, arrive early. Otherwise, get your order to-go and head elsewhere.
Nearest subway stop: L at Dekalb Ave.
Strangeways (87 St. Nicholas Ave.), opened July 2013
Like Milk & Pull, Strangeways is pretty small, but the space is set up very differently with seating way in the front, a coffee bar way in the back and open space in between. The cash-only café’s walls are lined with shelves full of tchotchkes like a photo of Elvis , animal skulls, religious candles and other elements of Americana. It has personality, to say the least. Strangeways also features a massive chalkboard menu that lets patrons choose their own adventure by starting with drips or espressos. The espresso list is delineated by milk content while drips fall into the “pour over” or “drip” category. The staff is very serious about coffee (read: no decaf here) and the menu features an ever-changing lineup of beans from Africa and the Americas. While Strangeways isn’t quite the place to spend an afternoon pounding out a term paper, it’s a great place to catch up with a friend over a seriously good cup of joe and do a bit of people watching if you’re so inclined.
Nearest subway stop: L at Jefferson St. or L at Dekalb Ave.
AP Café (420 Troutman St.), opened June 2013
If this were ancient Greece, AP Café’s contemplative set-up would be a philosopher’s haven. The first thing patrons will notice is the ceiling-to-floor waterfall that pours into a gaggle of river stones and pond grass. Then there are the stark, white walls, which feature little more than a large mirror and a hanging bookshelf. The café is bathed in natural light from two skylights and large front windows and boasts plenty of seating. In all, the place is meant for those who are in it for the long haul. There’s coffee, tea, hot chocolate, hot cider, juice and pastries galore to while away the morning and a back kitchen serving soups, sandwiches and quiches to get you through the lunch hour. Still, they want you out by dinner: AP closes at 6 p.m. every day.
Nearest subway stop: L at Jefferson St.
Fair Weather Bushwick (274 Wykoff Ave.), opened December 2013
It’s pretty hard to miss Fair Weather Bushwick since it’s the only building on Wyckoff Ave. with an entirely wooden exterior. As a result, the café seems to be inside-out, making it a crazy but fun place to start one’s day. Fair Weather serves up a variety of Tazo teas, coffee brewed from Brooklyn Roasting Company beans and roasts from the owners’ native Turkey. The café is also in the business of serving meals and patrons can choose from breakfast sandwiches made using Ceci Cela croissants (i.e. the best croissants in the whole damn city!), salads, hummus plates, avocado toast and a slew of sandwiches including one named The Fair Weather with turkey, sun-dried tomatoes and chili sauce. Above all, Fair Weather is perfect for those looking to camp out for the day. In fact, the staff seems downright dejected when you leave.
Nearest subway stop: M, L at Myrtle-Wykoff Aves.
Dillinger’s Café (146 Evergreen Ave.), opened November 2013
Of all the cafés listed here, Ksenya Roz and Mary Kaushansky, the owners of Dillinger’s Café, are probably the most aspirational. Their sunlit and cleverly-decorated café (see: gangster-themed wallpaper) offers the usual morning fare, but it also features an impressive and ever-growing menu of imported loose leaf teas and Russian-inspired cuisine, bringing a distinctly international feel to the place. Day-to-day, Dillinger’s serves up menu items inspired by the owners’ childhoods in the former Soviet Union and Brighton Beach, like Russian-style hotdogs on a pretzel bun, dumplings and pancakes with jam. On weekends, they bring in a chef to whip up brunch fare, including french toast and pulled pork sandwiches, using recipes crafted throughout the week. Once spring arrives (and their liquor license comes through), Roz and Kaushansky plan on opening their massive backyard, serving drinks and roasting kabobs on a specially-made grill. Ideally, they hope to create a tasting menu and bring on a full-time chef, but for now this little corner of nostalgia is the best place to start exploring Russian food culture without ever leaving Bushwick.
Nearest subway stop: J, M, Z at Myrtle Ave./Broadway
Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk