My master plan, in some alternate universe, is to open an all-oatmeal restaurant with two of my best friends. We'd call it Oat Cuisine. Once it became wildly successful, we'd open an adjacent hotel ("Oatel") and offer the finest bed & breakfast package. I already have the ceramic bowls and wooden spoons picked out in my mind.
So when I heard about the grand opening last month of OatMeals, the world's first oatmeal bar, I was equal parts jealous (idea thief!) and uncontrollably delighted.
It's on that Greenwich Village block of West 3rd, nestled between jazz clubs and a foot spa. The chalkboard sign out front boded well: "like a bazillion toppings...git some." And indeed we gitted some. There's a whole spread of toppings, much like what you'd find at a fro-yo bar, except more savory options like bacon, gorgonzola, and pesto. Oatmeal should not be relegated to only sweet toppings (!), so it's nice to see proper respect paid here to savory innovations.
The warm bowls of steel-cut oatmeal and a cold option—the no-cook fridge oatmeal with yogurt and chia seeds that's been sweeping Pinterest—comes in three sizes. Baby Bear, Mama Bear, and Papa Bear ($3.50-$6.00, depending on your toppings).
Fittingly enough, the woman behind it all is the Goldilocks-resembling Samantha Stephens. For the last decade she's wanted to open an all-oatmeal bar, but it took leaving her gig at J.P. Morgan and studying pastry at the International Culinary Center. Over the years she's been collecting oat tins, now displayed in the shop almost like religious icons. A vase of wild oat stalks in the window, oat sack pillows on the wooden bench, even an oat skateboard in the corner, as if the Quaker Man himself might swing by and grab it, then cruise off into the night. It's something of a Church of Oats, a religion to which I'd absolutely belong.
Stephens cooks steel-cut oats—sourced from Wild Hive Farm, in large batches ("I'm already on my second 50-pound sack of oats!")—a couple times a day to keep them fresh. You have two options: cooked with water or with milk. Creamier and slightly more rich, the milk option is more popular, but every now and then there's a customer who's lactose-intolerant or wants a less creamy experience.
The toppings menu, which occupies most of the wall, is broken down into: Fresh Fruit (berries, peaches, cinnamon-roasted apples, pineapple); Dried Fruit (figs, cherries, mangoes, currants); Nuts and Seeds (walnuts, pecans, pistachio, chia seeds); Sweet Stuff (chips of many chocolate varieties, granola, graham cracker crumbs); Savory Stuff (yes!!! many cheeses, pesto, bacon); Dollops and Drizzles (honey, balsamic syrup, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, jams); Milks (skim, whole, soy, almond, coconut, condensed); Spices (pumpkin spice, ginger) with many more options in each of those categories.
Stephens concocted some of her own recommended combos, our favorite being the Figs and Gorgonzola. "You see salads topped with figs and gorgonzola, so why not oatmeal?" Amen, sister. The dried, jammy fig bits swirl with a tangy-sweet balsamic vinegar glaze and the gorgonzola crumbles practically melt into the oatmeal.
Another favorite was the Shaved Parmesan with olive oil, flaky sea salt, cracked pepper, and a fluffy pillow of parmesan on top. Spoon some up and watch all the cheese shreds hang over like a weeping willow. It's like a comforting bowl of cheesy risotto, just with oats. Are you feeling Canadian? Bacon bits, sharp cheddar cheese, roasted apples, maple syrup, and sea salt is another popular order.
There are plenty of sweet varieties, too, if you're still wearing savory oatmeal training wheels. There's one with four different kinds of berries, and the Pumpkin Pie celebrates fall early with pumpkin puree, pecans, brown sugar, and warm spices.
Not enough oats? There's also a pastry case containing oatmeal croissants, oatmeal cookies, oatmeal cinnamon rolls, oatmeal cookie dough truffles, and even sandwiches on, yes, oat bread. "Oat flour doesn't have a lot of gluten, so baking with it took some practice," said Stephens. And with the help of her assistant pastry chef Jubitza Mojica, who used to work at Sullivan Street Bakery, they've figured it out. All of the oaty baked goods we tried were satisfying in a homey, from-grandma's-oven kinda way.
They even sell bottled Oatworks smoothies (wait, an oat smoothie company exists?) that are fruity, fibrous, and not at all lumpy as you might expect. Basically the only thing that doesn't contain oats here is the coffee. Sourced from the nearby Porto Rico Roasters on Bleecker, Stephens was excited to support her neighbors.
OatMeals is everything I'd hoped it would be and more. I'm not really sure how to end this piece. It's like saying goodbye to a friend who I never want to leave.