I discovered La Colombe in its hometown of Philadelphia, visiting the glorious Dilworth Plaza branch. There I was recommended the Lafayette Street branch in New York City (several New York baristas suggested it too). However, they might have meant the flagship store at 400 Lafayette Street, near Union, which I only discovered having already visited 270 Lafayette. Although it looked impressive, there was a line out of the door when I went by, so perhaps I chose wisely.
Although Lafayette Street shares many things with Dilworth Plaza (excellent coffee, splendid crockery, soaring glass windows, high ceilings, interesting mural on the wall, no Wifi or menu, forcing you to engage with the lovely, friendly baristas) in many ways they’re like chalk and cheese. Compared to Dilworth Plaza, Lafayette Street is tiny, although by NYC standards (eg I Am Coffee, Gimme! Coffee, Bluebird or Everyman Espresso) it’s positively huge. However, it lacks Dilworth Plaza’s open spaces, multiple seating options and there’s nowhere to linger at the counter and chat with the baristas. That said, given how busy it is, it wouldn’t be practical if there were.
Despite this, Lafayette Street has more than enough positives to make up for any perceived shortcomings…
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
La Colombe on Lafayette Street is almost as tall as it’s long and about half as wide. Two glass windows rise from floor to almost ceiling, the one on the right containing the recessed glass door. This lets in plenty of light, rendering the five large lights on the left, and numerous spots on the right, almost superfluous. The sense of light and space is accentuated by two large mirrors, one running along the left-hand wall, set at a slight downward angle, the other at the back, behind the counter.
Curves predominate: the front window, counter and seating are all curved. The counter goes from around 45 degrees on the left, curving all the way around the back of the store before merging with a little bar along the right-hand wall. This doesn’t seem to be used, leaving the space between door and counter clear, giving plenty of room for those waiting to order/collect their coffee.
The only seating is on the left, a bench running along the wall, with six curved triangular tables fixed to the floor at regular intervals. There’s another fixed bench on the other side of the tables. Both benches curve around to the window, dovetailing with its glass curves. The only disadvantage with this layout is that you have to climb over outer bench to get to inner one.
Unlike Dilworth Plaza, Lafayette Street only offers bulk-brew and espresso, the latter from two two-group La Marzoccos behind the counter, business-ends facing the customers. There’s a choice of two espresso blends, the regular Fishtown and the guest Nizza, plus decaf, dispensed by three grinders behind the counter. They’re roasted in-house by La Colombe and you can buy all three, plus some single-origin filter roasts, as beans.
I was well looked after by the two baristas, Rachel and Elizabeth. Having only had straight espresso at La Colombe’s in Philadelphia, I was keen to try something with milk. Following a prolonged discussion, I selected the Nizza as a cortado, having been advised that the Fishtown gets a little lost in milk (which was what I was told in Philadelphia). It was an excellent choice, the resulting drink being very smooth and sweet, neither milk nor coffee dominating, instead presenting a harmonious whole.
I followed this with a decaf cortado, Elizabeth pulling out all the stops on the latte art. It was very different from the Nizza, not quite as sweet, but coming through a little stronger. Anyone who thinks that decaf is bland or tasteless really needs to try this.
I also had a cake, described as “like a panettone”. No-one seemed to know exactly what it was called, so we settled for “panettone-thing”. It was sitting all alone on a shelf full of croissants, just asking to be eaten. Given the state of my stomach that week, it was a risk, but it spoke so eloquently to me that I had to give it a try.
I was advised to be careful if I was wearing black due to its generous coating of icing sugar, but since I was wearing red, I decided to risk it. It was indeed very tasty, richer, denser and sweeter than a panettone. It had an orange flavour, but with a crunchy, macaroon-like topping, sprinkled with almonds, which added to its sweetness.
|270 LAFAYETTE STREET • NEW YORK • NY 10012 • USA|
|Monday||07:30 – 18:30||Seating||Benches, tables; bench outside|
|Tuesday||07:30 – 18:30||Food||Cake|
|Wednesday||07:30 – 18:30||Service||Counter|
|Thursday||07:30 – 18:30||Cards||Mastercard, Visa|
|Friday||07:30 – 18:30||Wifi||No|
|Saturday||08:30 – 18:30||Power||Limited|
|Sunday||08:30 – 18:30||Mobile||N/A|
|Chain||Yes||Visits||14th March 2014|
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