It’s becoming more and more difficult to get to new coffee shops in New York, but not because there aren’t any from which to chose. It’s because one becomes quickly overwhelmed by choice. The small stretch of Washington Avenue in Brooklyn between Atlantic and the Eastern Parkway, for instance, sports three promising shops that have sprouted up in the past year, all within a short distance of one another: The Glass Shop (somewhat disappointingly) slinging La Colombe, Sit and Wonder serving Stumptown, and Ortine delivering coffee from Crop to Cup.
So before I headed off to meet New York coffee cartographers, Anne and Neil, and consume some delicious beer in that wonderful beer garden of Washington Commons (1,2), I stopped at charming Ortine, which has a good looking (yet untasted by me), organic breakfast and lunch menu, some beer and wine of their own and the aforementioned coffee. How’s the old saying go: coffee before beer…
The antique furniture with modern touches is a nice aesthetic that distinguishes this restaurant from the sense of style that guides the hands of so many third wave cafe designs. While I like a modern aesthetic when done well, there’s an argument to be made that it’s rapidly becoming the dogmatic approach to new cafe design and even a tad cliche. Certainly it’s become formulaic enough to be co-opted by Starbucks as is evidenced by their latest unbranded, and slightly controversial, coffee shop endeavor, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea (1,2,3) – otherwise known as the Starbucks that wasn’t. The approach that Ortine’s designers came up with compliments the comforting aspects of the food and reflects the contrast apparent in this rapidly gentrifying working-class neighborhood in a way that doesn’t exacerbate tensions, even if its clientele tends to reflect that first wave of gentrification (I say this having played a similar role in San Francisco’s Mission district).
The drip coffee at Ortine, from roaster Crop to Cup, is prepared in a Fetco commercial brewer and stored in heated urns. I didnt’ really know what to expect as I was handed my cup of Uganda Bugisu coffee in antique china. I’d never had Ugandan coffee and never had anything roasted by Crop to Cup. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I was by no means blown away but I was met with a hearty, bright cup of coffee with overtones of marzipan. It solid backdrop with sufficient acidity was pleasant enough to temp me into buying some from Ortine’s small selection of beans for sale, but I was weighed down with enough other stuff on this trip to take a bag to go.
As I waited for my espresso, I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the selection of blues music playing, watching the muggy weather outside break into occasional showers. The barista prepared the shot on Ortine’s older, 2 group, La Spaziale although I didn’t particularly watch the perfomance. I kind of wished I had since what arrived had a very light, thinnish crema that didn’t last long. I was kind of curious about whether the less than thrilling shot that arrive was due to barista skill or coffee quality. I’m guessing it was a little of both. The shot was very mild and slightly creamy, nutty and somewhat underextracted moving from bright to somewhat astringent.
All in all, I don’t know that I’d recommend Ortine for its coffee alone. But with good beer and wine and an excellent looking menu, it seems like the kind of place that’s well worth the visit for breakfast, lunch or simply a late afternoon snack. And if you’re there, you should probably try a decent cup of coffee.