South Slope's 5th Avenue started 2009 with two new coffee shops. A sterile soulless-feeling chain off 16th Street called High Point with multi-colored triangular flags outside that should go back to the car dealership, and the polar opposite, Roots Cafe, off 18th Street. Comfy and cushy—somewhere between hipster living room and the grandparents' backwoods cabin—Roots is the winner of the two.
Formerly called Cafe Sutra, it was owned by a Serbian couple ("sutra" means tomorrow, despite the obvious kama reference) who got up and left a couple weeks ago, leaving new owner Jamey Hamm, a neighborhood barista, with a new toy. He added a bookshelf (Dave Eggers, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mr. Tolkien all included) and chalkboard menu, which includes his personal favorite, the bologna and cheddar sandwich ($3.50, the cheapest besides the grilled PB&J). "Yeah, it's just Oscar Mayer or whatever." He's not ashamed. He considered using the fancier stuff, but knows that after frying the pink meat for a second and throwing it on good bread with good cheddar, it's just fine.
The green eggs and ham ($6.75) is a Seussian-California fusion with the avocado. "I used to be afraid of avocado." Luckily Hamm faced his fears because avocado is, um, magical. The breakfast sandwiches—you can technically add egg to any of the paninis—are served all day.
The cheesy grits have also been really popular, and Hamm is excited to experiment more with tofurkey.
The tea is nothing fancy—"yeah, I use Lipton for my iced tea"—but the coffee is where it's at. Portland-based Stumptown Coffee was a recommendation by his Oregonian buddy, and Hamm should give him a friend award. Fellow Serious Eater Michele, also along for the Roots ride, would even go as far to call it "honeyed" and "floral." Neither of us are coffee snobs, but we agreed: no unpleasant acidity. Just smooth, roasted, and good.
The wall o' mugs near the registers was almost too much. Is this place from a fairytale heaven? After paying for the first round, regulars can score free refills. As South Slopers, Michele and I got warm, fuzzy feelings knowing we could call this our "nabe" spot. I want to hang my mug here and bond with other bologna converts.
639A Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map) 205-246-2149
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