01/07/20 11:42am

Before touring the countryside in a vintage bus, I enjoyed a traditional Japanese breakfast.

I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality!

After seeing posts of my onigiri breakfasts in Tokyo, my good friend Stanford had encouraged me to try a traditional Japanese breakfast so I was glad to start day two of my Hirokawamachi adventure with just such a repast, prepared by Chef Kodai Nishizaka at Hirokawa Sato Cafe. It’s not on the regular menu, but Nishizaka-san prepared it especially for us that morning. It consisted of rice, homemade miso soup and cool tofu accompanied by grilled salmon, bean sprouts, tamago, and pickles. Along with a bright cup of green tea, the light meal was a great way to start the day.

Our destination as seen from the window of our ride for the day.

After breakfast I stepped outside and marveled at the green and beige 1965 retro bus. Every year during the last two weekends of November, the local tourism board provides free shuttle service for Taibaru Icho Meguri, or ginkgo leaf peeping using the vintage vehicle. Soon we met Kaoru Miyamoto, our driver who was clad in a snazzy chauffeur’s uniform. He’s one of only two men in town who can wrangle the 1962 manual steering schoolbus. Normally, it’s packed with leaf peepers, but that day our crew of four were the only folks on the field trip. “Sit up front next to the driver Joe-san,” Sakata-san instructed, so I did. We were soon on our way south to the golden grove of ginkgos. (more…)

10/22/18 9:41pm

The fig and rosemary latte from Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters.

I’d just wrapped up a rather epic food tour of the entire 7 line in Long Island City. Before parting ways with one of my guests we had a brief chat about overpriced coffee in L.I.C. and how he never patronizes the local cafes. After we parted ways I proceeded to one of the aforementioned cafes, Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters for an espresso.

When it come to highfalutin java I’m an espresso man, or if I’m feeling kind of fancy a cortado. I hardly ever get lattes, and certainly never flavored ones. But when I saw the sign on the counter for a $5 seasonal fig and rosemary latte, I couldn’t resist. If I’m going to overpay for a coffee, it might as well be a fancy one.

Thankfully both the rosemary syrup and fig preserves were on the light side, but it was definitely a sweet drink. In any case I’m sure it was way better than the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte. So here’s what I like to know friends, what’s your favorite fall beverage? Let me know in the comments below.

09/03/15 1:21pm

Flushing Cafe Collage

Since Yelp exists, there’s really no point in making an exhaustive list of coffee and tea shops. However, there’s still room for a curated list, so I’m going to present my favorite Flushing spots for coffee, food, working, and hanging out. Unlike some other parts of Queens, the eastern end is still limited in terms of Third Wave coffee shops, but this is changing gradually.

(I’ve created a companion Foursquare list for this article. Go ahead and save it so that you can visit them all.)

Although Flushing’s eastern border is officially Parsons Boulevard, for the purposes of this article I will use the moniker as it often is, as a shorthand for Greater Flushing, encompassing Murray Hill, Auburndale, and Bayside, and will append Douglaston/Little Neck, the New York City neighborhood that abuts Long Island.

However, I’m primarily interested in the somewhat insular, heavily Korean neighborhood that runs along Northern Boulevard from Main Street to the border of Long Island (and beyond), because this is where most of the cafes are situated. The only exception is a recent Chinese-owned entrant, Presso Coffee, located in the attractive new One Fulton Square development in downtown Flushing. (more…)

10/29/13 12:22pm

Bo kho, beef braised in Coffeed beer with Brooklyn Grange baby carrots.

On a dark, drizzly winter’s night I took the bus to a bleak stretch of Metropolitan Avenue in Ridgewood to meet my friend Max Falkowitz for dinner at Bún-ker then a new Vietnamese spot in a neighborhood better known for junkyards than Southeast Asian fare. I got lost, really lost, cursing in the freezing rain lost.

“Man, I don’t know where this damn place is!”, I bellowed to Max. “Look, just start without me.” Eventually I made it to the funky little dining room. At the time I found the food to be good, but not great. I am of course fully aware that perhaps my opinion was skewed by my blowing a gasket in an attempt to find the joint. (more…)

10/21/13 10:37am

The block of 49th Street that houses Brian Donaldson’s Native Roasters is in the 11103 ZIP code,which covers three neighborhoods Astoria, Long Island City, and Woodside. Between different delivery protocols for the USPS,UPS, and FedEx that can be somewhat of a logistical nightmare he says. Perhaps the fact that his eight-month old small batch coffee roaster exists at the nexus of three neighborhoods explains why this video is part love letter to Queens, and part love letter to coffee. With its jazzy sound track, I know it perked me up. (more…)

06/26/13 12:42pm
Is this the Cronut of breakfast sandwiches?

Is this the Cronut of breakfast sandwiches?

Sandwiches so large, so ungainly, so messy that I have to remove my watch are among my favorites. In all the time I’ve been writing about sandwiches I’ve rarely, if ever, had thought, “I am glad that sandwich was so small.”  Sadly that very thought crossed my mind this morning. It occurred moments after my last bite of the Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Breakfast Sandwich.

Ever since I read about this purported breakfast treat breathlessly described  on the Dunkin’ Donuts web site as “pure deliciousness,” I’ve wanted to try it. Two days after its launch on National Donut Day I popped into my local Dunkin’ at around 9 p.m. to ask if they had the sandwich. “Yes, we have it,” the clerk said excitedly, “but we don’t have the donuts.” (more…)

04/15/13 9:52am
It’s packed with the goodness of goat milk—and salted caramel.

It’s packed with the goodness of goat milk—and salted caramel.


The other day I asked my buddy Peter Cuce, the man behind  Project Latte, for a West Village coffee shop tip. Soon I found myself at Prodigy Coffee where I knocked back a perfectly nice cup of espresso. And then I headed next door to Victory Garden, for some goat milk soft serve. I’ve only had goat cheese, before so I was curious to try goat milk it in ice cream form. Victory gets its goat milk from Side Hill Acres in Candor, N.Y.

Perusing the flavors I decided to go with salted caramel. I did so for two reasons. One, I have a pretty serious salted caramel habit. And, two, fine as it was, something was missing from the espresso I had at Prodigy. That something was the salt, cream, and sugar that I’ve been adding to my morning coffee of late. The goat milk soft serve ($4.75) fit the bill on both counts. That said there was definite underlying goatiness to the frozen treat. In any event, I am glad that I tried it. Plus, according to a sign on the wall, goat milk “is is lower in fat than cow’s milk, but with all the nutrition.” Good thing considering that day’s lunch consisted of Harold Dieterle’s decadent bone marrow and uni.

Victory Garden, 31 Carmine St., 212-206-7273

04/01/13 9:55am
Coffee and cocktails combine thanks to a partnership between Dutch Kills and Sweetleaf.

Coffee and cocktails combine at the new Sweetleaf.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of the third location of third wave coffee bar Sweetleaf for months. When I heard that it would be serving cocktails from Richie Boccatto of nearby Dutch Kills I became even more intrigued. So the other day I stopped by, partly to get a jolt to ward off an M.Wells-induced food coma and partly to check out the joint. Coffee maven and Sweetleaf co-owner Rich Nieto fixed me a macchiato while I soaked up the atmosphere. The wooden bar is equally suited to downing an espresso or sipping a fine libation. Ditto the comfy chairs in the front. There’s even a design element that pays homage to the gantries which are just down the road. (more…)

03/11/13 12:48pm
An ice cream parlor twist on an Italian classic.

An ice cream parlor twist on an Italian classic.

When I was a kid I loved ice cream sodas. As an adult I discovered the affogato, a very grown-up Italian treat that takes its name from the word for “drowned.”  It’s a scoop of ice cream with a shot  of espresso poured on top. One day I was in Eddie’s Sweet Shop, the quintessential Queens ice cream parlor and I noticed they had had an espresso machine.

“Do you make affogatos?” I asked. The kid behind the counter had never heard of one, but proceeded to tell me about the Donovan, an off-menu creation of one of his co-workers. “I don’t know how to make one though,” he said. About a week later, I returned when Donovan was working and ordered his specialty. It’s vanilla chip ice cream drowned in espresso and topped with a crumbled sugar cone and hot fudge. Think of the $7 treat as an affogato as invented by Willy Wonka or a bearded soda jerk with too much time on his hands.

Eddie’s Sweet Shop, 105-29 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, 718-520-8514

01/16/13 4:09pm
Espresso is best taken neat.

Espresso is best taken neat.

Coffee is often more of a necessity for many rather than a gustatory pursuit. And so it was and continues to be for me. Lately though I have begun to notice flavor nuances in the bean, mostly in espresso, perhaps because it is more extracted than other forms of coffee. Apple Jolly Rancher, stone fruit, and toasted coconut are some of the flavors that baristas at places like Sweetleaf like to discuss. Every time I detect one of these flavors in a shot of espresso is an aha moment for me.

Such flavor epiphanies are rare though. I have always liked my coffee strong, perhaps overly so. For years my morning coffee was prepared with a French press and taken with milk and sugar. Lately I have been grinding my own beans, and using a plastic pourover. To the resulting brew I add vigorously shaken half and half, a goodly amount of sugar, and a dash of sea salt. Unconventional, but to me delicious.

So here’s what I’m curious to know. How do you take/make your coffee. Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.