Simon Sips: Taking Oatmeal and Coffee Seriously

"Steel-cut oats, soaked overnight in a blend of water and skim milk, are double-boiled for an hour before they’re dished out."

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A good breakfast café is hard to find. Measured in terms of quality espresso, competent baristas, or top-flight morning goodies, Manhattan has an embarrassment of riches—but a real shortage of places to savor them.

20090424coffee.jpgMy neighborhood go-to, Joe Coffee, makes a perfect cappuccino, but breakfast selection is limited to pastries, and it’s a battle for every seat. Across the Village, Abraco’s house-made morning nibbles are memorable and affordable, their coffee even better—but with no seats at all, the tiny storefront grows crowded with even three or four lingering at the bar. And larger establishments like St. Ambroeus may have good coffee, a longer breakfast menu, and ample seating—but do I really want to spend $20 on breakfast? Very rarely.

That’s why I was so excited to find Simon Sips in the East Village. This little newcomer has plenty of morningtime competition, particularly on the weekends, with Little Veselka and Prune within a few yards. But equal parts coffee bar, quiet café, and proper restaurant—with prices far below many of its neighbors—Simon Sips has quite a bit going for it.

Starting with the coffee. They use Counter Culture beans, the pleasantly mild Espresso Toscano for all espresso-based drinks, and Papau New Guinea for the brewed stuff. And the barista, with two years of Counter Culture training, clearly knew what she was doing. My cappuccino ($3.25) was on par with the best I’ve had in New York.

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The morning only got better as breakfast arrived. A slice of frittata ($6), though not the juiciest I’ve ever had, was light but substantial, studded with capers and thyme, with a soft layer of onions and potatoes. The frittata is also served as a sandwich—thick slices on a Sullivan Street Bakery baguette, with mustard and melted Gruyere. That may necessitate a return trip.

But the clear winner was the oatmeal ($5). Steel-cut oats, soaked overnight in a blend of water and skim milk, are double-boiled for an hour before they’re dished out. Each generous bowl is finished with a drizzle of cream, a dot of butter, and a sprinkle of dark muscavado sugar. The resulting oatmeal is unbelievably creamy, without being too heavy, and the oats retained a nutty bite.

Onto the baked goods, all made in-house. I would love to try the date walnut bread ($3.50) fresh from the loaf pan. Darkly sweet, with a whiff of molasses, and heavy with hefty chunks of fruit and nuts, the flavors were right on. But the bread was a bit dry and tasted day-old—which I’m pretty sure it was. House-baked goodies plus low traffic pose a problem for a young café, and to Simon Sips’s credit, this date bread was still worth eating even when dry. Still, it wasn’t as fresh as I would have liked.

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Much better was the apple semolina bread pudding ($4.50)—gutsy and sweet, with real apple and raisin flavor, and a thick, almost custardy interior. Though I crave sweets in the morning, this was a bit much for breakfast. Next time, I’ll wait for dessert.

Also on display were an equally tempting fennel-seed cake, double cream cake, and a currant-spice soda cake. A few of the baked items rotate, but these seemed to be the regulars.

While Simon Sips may have slight room for improvement, my quibbles are very minor—and would be corrected naturally enough with even a slight uptick in traffic. Despite excellent coffee, tasty home-baked goods, and fair prices across the board, the café stayed nearly silent over the hour-plus I lingered. Which, at this point, only adds to its charm.

Simon Sips

72 E 1st Street, New York NY 10003 (map)
212-388-0614
simonsips.com

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