As advisable as a visit to Root Hill Cafe might be, walking all the way down Fourth Avenue from Atlantic is not. Not only it is it a longer walk than it may seem on the map, but it’s not very scenic, and sometimes a little sketchy. When I went, it was also cold. Of course, I discovered on my way home that the same north-south walk along Fifth Avenue is worlds apart, as you pass along the sleepy neighborhood streets of Park Slope. It would be like wandering along the sketchier parts of South Van Ness only to discover that Noe Valley shops are right around the corner.
The good news is that once you get there, Root Hill is a very pleasant and intriguingly designed space to be in, from the unusual light fixtures that mimic a pressed tin ceiling to the modern tables and chairs to the green fabric covered, built-in couch-like structure wrapping upwards around the middle of the floor. The overall effect is, at times, a little busy, but nicely takes advantage of the older brick walls and concrete of the space. I wondered aloud whether the concrete ramps in the floor and the sloping green banquet seating was meant to evoke something of the neighborhood – i.e. Park Slope, but was informed that it had more to do with reflecting the look and feel of the surrounding industrial mechanic and auto-body shops.
One of the main reasons I was excited about Root Hill on this New York Coffee tour was that they own one of the last independently purchased Clover machines, which they managed to snap up just prior to the Starbucks buyout of the Coffee Equipment Company. Of course, I’ve had plenty of Clover-brewed coffee, but never at a cafe using Counter Culture Coffee as Root Hill does. As luck would have it, however, the Clover called in sick that day. It seems that, in fact, the machine has been calling in sick a lot recently. It’s been a while since my visit and I haven’t kept up with the latest Root Hill news, but when I was there, staff were discussing the possibility of switching to something less persnickety, like a pour-over drip bar.
Not wanting the brewed Mexican coffee, I opted for an espresso. Root Hill uses Counter Culture’s Toscano blend, which they pull on a 2-group La Marzocco GB/5. It was a pretty thick and wooly shot with a slightly less syrupy mouthfeel than I experienced at Everyman. It was also a little less bright and flirted with rough in the back of the throat, but otherwise this espresso with a darkish, splotchy crema tasted much like a bar of dark chocolate.
Without an appealing option of brewed coffee and with the day getting late, I ordered a decaf americano to go. While waiting, I noticed their quite extensive food menu and the racks for snack foods, gum, and other items for sale, making it appear as though Root Hills serves as a very multi-purpose operation, standing in for a kind of corner deli, only one with high-end coffee. The decaf americano was uneventful, but otherwise fine.
Overall, I’m striking a balance with the rating. Solely based on what I consumed, I’d consider bumping Root Hill down just a hair. However, with a functioning Clover, or even a pour over drip bar, ideally with a selection of Counter Culture coffees, I would definitely kick it up a notch. Certainly, though, if you’re down that way, then a visit to Root Hill is definitely advisable.