It's common enough these days for coffee bars to switch to beer when happy hour arrives — some now sell wine and beer all day long on a co-equal basis with the javas being pulled. But now in the West Village, where rents in storefronts have skyrocketed, a pair of coffee bars have introduced sit-down, full-service meals. At first the menus were brief and tentative, now both places offer three meals a day. Certainly, many coffee bars provide light fare, including sandwiches and pastries, but have any previously decided to become sit-down restaurants? Will coffee bar-restaurant hybrids be a wave of the future? I decided to check out both places to find out what a coffee bar can do with a full meal. In one case, at least, I was pleasantly surprised.
Open a little over a year near the corner of Hudson and Perry streets, Upright Brew House started out serving coffee and draft beers; soon a snack menu was instituted, mainly truffle-oil fries, chicken wings, bread dips, and such. But a few months later, a dinner menu was presented, and then breakfast and brunch. Unfortunately for coffee drinkers, getting a simple cup of coffee is now a table-service proposition; no more dashing in and out for a cup of joe.
The place has a popular sidewalk seating area with four tables that has lately been outfitted with California-style heaters that look like metal trees. Inside is a long bar with an espresso machine and beer taps, and, further inside, tables in a small but handsome dining room. A window looks into a sliver of back yard. The lighting is kept relatively dark all day. Offered at lunch and dinner, for which the same menu applies, the hamburger ($15) was a delight, in this case customized with a runny egg and cheddar for an extra $3. The fries were good too: slender, nicely browned, skin adhering. A pickle was provided, and the price included bibb lettuce and tomato, though onions were conspicuously absent.
The dinner menu is a somewhat truncated document. Most of the choices boil down to hot and cold sandwiches, such as the CBLT (croissant bacon, lettuce, and tomato), toasted cheese, and pulled pork. Only one entrée falls far from the tree, a gorgeous salad of mixed lettuces, chicory, and planks of yellowtail ($19) — spice-rubbed, seared, and left bright red in the middle. The salad came coated in a slightly sweet mustard vinaigrette. During happy hour (4 p.m. until 7 p.m.), a snack menu kicks in, including Buffalo wings by the dozen or half-dozen, cheese and charcuterie platters from Murray's Cheese, and truffle-oiled popcorn. 547 Hudson St, (212) 810-9944
Said to be inspired by the coffee culture of Melbourne, Australia (who knew?), Bluestone Lane opened its first coffee bar on Third Avenue in Midtown a little over a year ago, and another soon followed on Broad Street in the FiDi. The third location, at the corner of Greenwich Avenue and Perry Street, has a more ambitious agenda, and for that purpose has incorporated a pair of small dining rooms and a larger sidewalk seating area, with the intention of providing a "classic Australian café experience," according to the website. If that means serving uninspiring food, they've achieved their goal.
"This food has a reheated quality," said my dining companion as she daintily pulled a French fry from the metal cup and chomped down on a recent evening. Indeed, the fry was stone cold, and the exterior obdurate and unyielding. The cheeseburger that came with the fries, smallish on its smallish bun, tasted mainly of truffle oil. The main appeal of Bluestone's menu is relatively cheap prices for the neighborhood: $15 for a cheeseburger and fries. There are impressive discount deals, too, including a serving of what is termed "traditional" chicken parm ($15), which comes with a pint of draft beer of the restaurant's choice. Unfortunately, though the chicken was juicy, the sauce poured over it tasted bottled. A pizza that seemed like a bargain at $12, turned out to be no bigger than a bandanna handkerchief. Nevertheless, it came pleasantly littered with sweet bell peppers, pumpkin, and cheese, though it fell short of providing an appetizer for two. 55 Greenwich Ave, (646) 368-1988
Recently, Kat Odell reported a similar phenomenon in the same neighborhood: a tea house just around the corner from Bluestone Lane on Seventh Avenue South that has begun serving some serious — and seriously wacky — food. Tiny Presstea now offers a ramen-centric menu including a ramenrrito: a noodle-filled burrito. You can wash it down with a Wild Himalayan Macchiato. 167 7th Ave S, (212) 888-6666
The downside of a full-course meal in a coffee bar or tea house involves choosing from a shorter menu that has been prepared in a kitchen with limited resources. And, of course, always being aware that one is sitting in a coffee bar. For a working dinner with your laptop, this could be a good thing; for a romantic date, maybe not.