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Ground Support and Major Zell

Name: Ground Support
Location: 399 West Broadway, New York, NY

Roasters: Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea

Rating: 3+

What works for a New York cafe when it comes to operating as a successful business is something of a mystery to me. There are countless coffee closets popping up precisely because the rent is so high, and then you stumble into a cafe like Ground Support, which is positively gargantuan by New York City standards. It’s even bigger when you count the courtyard that get’s taken over when the day isn’t the sort of blustery, frost-biting kind my nephew and I braved to get there.

Perhaps a place of Ground Support’s stature can survive because it meets some simply New Yorker expectations. Someone told me that New Yorkers still expect a cafe to have a sandwich. Ground Support delivers with a full menu of sandwiches and baked goods that up the ante over the usual lot (just see the menu photo below). Apparently then, there’s room for a spacious cafe as long as it bills itself as a lunch spot? Whatever it is,  Ground Support seems to be making it work since they’ve been around now for over half a year.

Of course, it’s not only large. Ground Support’s space is well crafted and is clearly appealing to the up-scale adult crowd. The enormous, concrete bar supports pastries and treats up front then wraps around and runs the full length of the cafe.  There is seating up front, specifically a bench perched just behind sliding doors which presumably open when it’s not bitter cold.  There’s also several rustic wooden tables populating the skylit back section. Ground Support feels polished, clean, modern and comfortable and is simply a really nice place in which to enjoy a cup of coffee.

That coffee comes in a few varieties. Baristas pull Black Cat espresso from their three group La Marzocco Linea.  My shot looked good with plenty of reddish, enduring crema. It was pleasantly creamy with bitter chocolate notes and a hint of anise. I need a better side by side comparison to know if my lack of enthusiasm had to do with Black Cat blasse or something about the quality. While I’d endorse this espresso it wasn’t over the top. (3+)

For filter coffee, Ground Support brews Intelligentsia’s House Blend in a Fetco brewer and stores it in thermal carafes.  I’m pretty luke-warm on Intelligentsia’s house blend and feel like Ground Support may be trying too hard to fit those New Yorker expectations I spoke about early. It seems like they might be playing it safe with this option.

As though they could anticipate my potential complaint, Ground Support offers a brew-to-order Chemex option, and when I ordered, staff gave me a choice of the Colombia on the menu and a Pacamara Peaberry (which is from Nicaragua, I think). The Peaberry’s light, tea-like body formed a nice menu contrast to the Colombia, which can be sharp and full. The Peaberry was very bright, perhaps pushing sour, with some nice caramel sweetness underneath. (3+)

I suppose my major complaint about this coffee is the large quantity. Don’t be confused. I’m not commenting on Doug Zell’s recent post on coffee prices. I think the roughly $5 per 16 oz price is quite reasonable given that it was enough coffee for two. My issue is just that I think a customized cup of coffee ought to be fully customizable. As a mostly curmudgeonly misanthrope, I vastly prefer the 8 to 12 oz option. Fortunately, I was in a rarely outgoing frame of mind. I shared my coffee and didn’t even pick up the tab. Thank you friend.

The bottom line then is that Ground Support succeeds in raising the bar for the average New Yorker. It’s good coffee, good food and good atmosphere. It won’t make my top lists for New York but it is a worthwhile stop if your in that part of town.

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