Country of Origin: Israel
Locations Worldwide: 119 in Canada, Israel, Kazakhstan, Romania, Ukraine, and US
NYC Locations: One each in Soho, Midtown, and the Upper West Side
Unlike many coffee chains, Israeli Aroma Espresso Bar is as much about the food as the java. In fact, most of the customers filling the red leather chairs at communal tables aren't drinking coffee at all, but nibbling on the tiny chocolate bar that comes free with each order.
With a breakfast menu that ranges from mini pancakes to shakshuka, poached eggs in a tomato-pepper sauce, and serves fresh salads and vegetable-heavy, multi-grain sandwiches well into the evening, the food has an appealing wholesome bent. Since I've never been to an Aroma Espresso Bar on its home turf, I can't say first-hand if we're missing out on the original's quality. One thing we are lacking is some of the geographic-based names for the dishes; what we simply call a tuna sandwich is dubbed the Tunisian in Israel.
If you make to Aroma before the lunch rush, there are likely to be more savory pastries left. I was too late for the fully loaded bureka with feta, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, tahini and pickles--ingredients that make many repeat appearances--but the flaky, sesame-topped crescent ($4.90) filled with only the salty cheese is still worth trying. All that buttery richness could've used a little pickle tartness for contrast, though.
A half sandwich and small salad combo ($11.90) offers variety, and the salad is larger than its name would indicate. The warm garbanzo salad, re-named from the Jerusalem on the Israeli menu, is a mix of temperatures and textures and combines the chickpeas with chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, dresses with tahini, and garnishes with croutons and a fluffy mound of grated hard-boiled egg. Crammed with vegetables and protein, it's the perfect antidote to more common leafy salads.
The Mediterranean, known as the Iraqi in Israel, is served on nice, chewy bread; it goes down a similar path with the addition of grilled eggplant to the tomatoes, hard-boiled egg slices, and tahini. No one's keeping customers on a Mediterranean diet, though; roast beef, BLTs, chicken and mozzarella sandwiches using cheese from Soho's Joe's Dairy are all available too.
Rugelach may be the more traditional sweet, but Aroma's popular alfajores ($2) are pure South American bliss. Aroma's dulce de leche-stuffed shortbread dusted with coconut is a highly recommended sugar blast to end a healthy meal.
Aroma Coffee Bar
205 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017 (map) 212-557-1010
161 West 72nd Street, New York, NY 10023 (map) 212-595-7700