Union Square Cafe 2.0 is a great place for heartwarming American-Italian fare and for people who like to order main courses, but if I had to pick a Danny Meyer spot I’m excited about these days, it’s the place next door — Daily Provisions. The draw is quick-service fare, from fantastic egg sandwiches, broccoli sandwiches richer than hamburgers, and crullers that are fattier than foie gras. Though what makes DP truly interesting is how it might portend a change for the better, in New York’s cafe and bakery culture.
One of the first things you notice about Daily Provisions, a sun-drenched space that’s about half the size of a roadside Starbucks, is that there’s no line of cashiers standing behind a glass-enclosed pastry display or another type of fixed barrier. The main point of exchange at DP is a staffer at a small dais, though when things get busy, a manager takes orders down the queue with his iPad, and I’ve even seen the barista take full lunch requests in between pulling shots of espresso.
It’s tempting to get all McKinsey comparing this space — with a semi-open layout with multiple points of transaction — to an Apple Store, but I like to think the more appropriate comparison is, well, a restaurant (though most of the “seats” are at a standing bar and a counter). And while the sweets, respectfully, aren’t quite at the level of Bouchon, Dominique Ansel, or Maison Kayser, Daily Provisions boasts a level of warmth, hospitality, and openness I’ve never felt at those three venues after years of patronage.
Here’s something else you might notice: The receipt, like at most Danny Meyer spots, lacks a gratuity line, but that omission feels more startling here. As more restaurants go the no-tipping route (and this restaurant doesn’t accept cash) no-tipping is increasingly the norm at coffee shops, mobile vendors, or literally any food stall that takes Square. The question that arises is how much to tip, given that workers make at least the full minimum wage, rather than the lower tipped minimum of $7.50? Is a dollar per drink enough? Or is a full twenty percent necessary? Daily Provisions eliminates confusion by nixing the tip line altogether. Voila.
Here’s what to get and what to avoid.
Breakfast Dishes, Ranked
The Egg Sandwiches: The breakfast sandwich, traditionally a customizable and iconic bodega breakfast, has found a new life, like the restaurant hamburger, as a cheffed-up creation. Translation: The choices are made for you and you’ll pay a bit more.
DP serves three distinct versions, all on a poppy-seed brioche bun. First is the BEC, which isn’t so much a classic egg sandwich as it is a smoky, peppery, pork belly sandwich that just happens to have egg and cheese in it. Then there’s the sausage version, a patty of spiced pork with the usual accompaniments. It’s fine. Best of all is the Italian, a loose vegetarian riff on a classic Philadelphia-style roast pork hero. You get gobs of provolone, garlic, soft spinach, cubanelle pepper, and eggs on a roll. Just one gripe: Like all the sandwiches here, the egg yolks are cooked through. There’s no bodega-style “squirt.” $6 to $8
Everything Croissant: Soft and flaky but insufficiently everything-y, those assertive bits of onion, garlic, and coarse salt you get on a bagel are muted in this pastry. Throw in a few slices of lox for an extra $6 bucks I’d argue it’s superior to most lox-cream-cheese-bagel sandwiches, which are served too-chilled and too-stuffed. The DP croissant version is barely cool, with more judicious fillings. $4.50 to $10.50
English Muffin With Apples: If an open-faced sandwich is now called toast in its $15 state, I’ll assert that DP’s breakfast toast with fruit spread is essentially open-faced pie. Each half of an English muffin is slathered with runny, soft-cooked apple slices. Just when things border on becoming too sweet, the salty butter balances things out. There are other fruit-and-toast combinations here, but really, “pie” is the way to go. $4
Gougere Bombs: How is it that it took so long to reimagine the gougere as a Hot Pocket? Think of the exterior as the “egg shell” and the interior fistful of scrambled egg as the “yolk.” Such deliciousness prompts the question: When will Meyer stuff these pastries with soft-boiled eggs, or even pizza toppings? Just one gripe: It’s a bit undersalted and the flavors, even in the green eggs and ham version, are a little flat. $5 to $5.50
Kouign-Amman: Danny Meyer is trying his hand at the stubby, sweet-salty Breton pastry that has gone semi-viral in New York. While Dominique Ansel packages them in transparent plastic gift boxes as if they were $1,000 clutch purses, the Daily Provisions version is still not yet ready for prime time. The exterior is gorgeously caramelized but the interior is more bready than flaky. That’s problem number one. Problem number two is balance: The best of these rely on butter and salt to counteract sweetness. Here, the only note is sweetness, with overpowering notes of vanilla and orange. It’s like a Riesling with no acidity. $4.50
Those Crullers: Are these the next Cronut? I ask because you’ll sometimes have to get here before 10:30 a.m. to actually get one. The typical cruller, a ring of fried pate a choux, is an eggy French relative to the American yeast doughnut. But here, the level of sugar in the dough ensures more caramelizing, creating a dark exterior and a golden interior — a color contrast that evokes one of Brittany’s regal caneles. Each cruller tastes like its component flavors of maple, cinnamon, or glaze.
The first bite is rich and moist. Then the second bite is more: Heck I’d even call them juicy. The interior glistens with a fatty sheen and the bottom half of the cruller bag turns grey with oil. It’s as if the pastry is perpetually confit-ing itself, and as a result you can have it roughly 10 hours later and it won’t have gone stale. Is it the most moist cruller in town? Without a doubt. But maybe that’s not something to shoot for. Let me be clear: Do not eat more than one, if you actually choose to eat one. $3.50
Lunch Dishes, Ranked
Cake in a Cup: Espresso ganache with gooey goat’s caramel and crunchy, chocolate-y stuff. This is the ideal way to eat cake, as there’s no risk of errant crumbs spilling over the side of a plate. A touch of salt mitigates the sweetness. This is the best thing you can have for lunch at Daily Provisions. Cake is the best lunch. $5
Roast Beef Sandwich: Medium-rare beef on a roll with crispy onions and Muenster cheese, beet carpaccio, and horseradish. Incredibly flavorful, the beef has a clean, concentrated muskiness, while the frizzled onion amps up the sandwich, as frizzled onions do. $12
Blondie: I’m tempted to disqualify this because it’s more of a cookie than a brownie. It’s round, whereas a blondie should be a bar, which is not round. I’ll leave it to the commenters to discuss taxonomy. But what I will discuss is taste, which in this case is spectacular: a soft butter crumb with caramelized pecans and chunks of white chocolate. The exterior is markedly crunchy, and the interior, soft. $4
Chicken Sando: Avocado, slab bacon, and rotisserie chicken. It’s a pretty respectable club sandwich that’s almost as good as the blondie, but not quite. $10
Minestra Soup: The hot soup is heavy is heavy on fennel, which adds a clean, licorice-y perfume, and heavy on oil, which you can feel on your tongue. The oil makes this vegetarian dish just a touch heavier than it should, but so be it. $7
Broccoli Sandwich: Essentially a pate of chopped up broccoli florets cooked down with chile, garlic, and olive oil and slathered on a roll. It packs a nice vegetal funk and a lingering heat but the entire sandwich is exceedingly greasy. How greasy is it? When I brought one back for my editor I had to wipe off the wrapper so she didn’t think it sat out in the rain. Ever dab a slice of orange oil pizza with a napkin to cut down on the fat content? First of all, don’t do that. Second of all, this is greasier. $9
Milanese Sandwich: On a sandwich of fried chicken on focaccia with kale, mozzarella, and peppers, the chicken has all the flavor of matzo and the texture of massaged shoe leather. Everything else is great though, if you don’t mind that the bread tastes like was left to sit overnight in olive oil. Olive oil is the point of focaccia, but really, let’s keep the fat levels in check! $11