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A narrow pizza slice in a box with bright yellow and red colors.
Focaccia from Travelers Poets & Friends.

This New Italian Market Cafe Doesn’t Need the Meat

Travelers Poets & Friends has done away with salami and other cured meats: That doesn’t mean it’s not good.

The rather pompously named Travelers Poets & Friends (no commas, please) wants to be your Italian everything, or maybe just your mini-Eataly. One corner displays premium groceries: olives, dried herbs, sauces, fresh tomatoes, jams, mustards, mozzarella, and dried pasta —- while in another corner three women in white outfits wearing floppy black hats make fresh pastas right in the front window, to the delight of passersby.

There’s a bread bakery that also turns out pizza and focaccia, and a pastry counter with a dozen examples: some Italian like maritozzi and bomboloni, some French, including a particularly large and luscious almond croissant. A pristine glass case offers freshly made food for carryout, including garlicky broccoli rabe, hummus, and thick Spanish octopus tentacles. Meanwhile, a coffee bar and cafe provides seating along a horseshoe-shaped counter and at a dozen tables. Did I mention that the place is pescatarian, and most of the food vegetarian? No salami, no chicken cacciatore, no veal cutlets.

A dark green storefront with golden letters above and big picture windows.
The exterior of Travelers Poets & Friends.
Pastas, dried herbs, etc., and a porcelain cherub.
One corner of Travelers offers groceries.

All this stuff takes up two storefronts at 457 Sixth Avenue, near 11th Street, with an additional storefront to the north already occupied by a gelateria named Pamina from the same owners, while another storefront to the south is under construction for a connected restaurant to be named Alaluna, all under the supervision of Emanuele Nigro and chef Riccardo Orfino. But before the restaurant is even open, a breakfast and lunch menu has rolled out at the cafe, and I went several times recently to check it out.

Even this menu — which is to be had until 6 p.m. every day but Monday, breakfast until 11:30 a.m. — is ambitious as hell. I tried to eat things in all seven menu categories (toasts, yogurts, sandwiches, salads, pastas, soups, and fritti), plus nibbled some focaccias, but still feel like I didn’t cover everything. The fritti proved spectacular, the kind of thing you might grab for a snack and walk down the street eating while humming a tune. The salt cod fritter ($3.50) was served with a zippy pink chile sauce; the cacio e pepe fritter ($5.50) had a creamy aioli and actual spaghetti strands inside.

The inside of Travelers, as described above.
The cafe and coffee bar on the left, pastry counter in the center, prepared foods on the right.
A pair of well browned fritters with sauces squirted on top.
Fritti: cacio e pepe and salt cod.
A bowl of red soup with a spoon holding beans, carrots, and other vegetables above it.
TR&F’s perfect minestrone.
A hand holds a sandwich with two fish filets.
Fluke Milanesa sandwich is one of the city’s best fish sandwiches.

I liked that fritter so much, I ordered the cacio e pepe with bucatini ($17) from the pasta list another day, so rich I shared it with a companion. Rigatoni with pistachio pesto was another beguiling choice. A minestrone filled with diced vegetables and small pink beans, subtle of flavor and irresistibly good, was served with a toast.

The salads were a little odd. The Mediterranean salad ($14) featured masses of quinoa with crunchy shaved cauliflower in a red-wine vinaigrette that saved it from being bland. Even better was a roots salad that had beets of various colors and squashes of various types concealed among dark kale leaves, with grated Romano on top and a citrus dressing. Both salads were meal-sized.

Seafood doesn’t make much of an appearance in this cafe menu, but among the sandwiches one called Milanese ($17.50) blew me away, made with breaded fluke filets slathered with tartar sauce on bread, heaped with pickled red peppers and mustard greens — it was the best fried fish sandwich I’ve had in years. I noticed that there’s a hamburger made with trout, but haven’t tried it yet.

The best slice of focaccia I gobbled was topped with yellow cherry tomatoes, anchovies, oil-cured black olives, and dried herbs, making for a lovely but greasy meal. I test drove several pastries, including the olive oil cake, and was particularly amazed by a poached pear tart ($6) that came in a pear-shaped crust. Really, this is world-class pastry making.

Two pastries on a marble counter.
Olive oil cake and pear tart.
Six stuffed squares of pasta with a flap on each.
Squash-filled capellacci.

That same day I carried out one of the filled pastas, of which there is usually one available per day, along with three or four unfilled varieties. Cappellacci are winged medieval priest’s caps, looking more like envelopes with the flaps pointing up. Squash tucked inside with two kinds of cheese, not sweet in the way pumpkin ravioli usually are. To go with it, I got a plastic tub of bright green basil pesto, oilier and less pungent that usual, which coated the cappellacci colorfully.

There was also a marinara sauce, making Travelers a good one-stop spot for a quick DIY dinner of pasta and sauce, with maybe a vegetable from the carryout counter on the side. It’s also a great place to meet friends for coffee and pastries or a complete lunch of fritti and pasta or a meal-size salad. I’m looking forward to seeing if Alaluna will be every bit as good when it opens.

Travelers Poets & Friends

457 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (212) 420-0057 Visit Website
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