Monday, February 20, 2012

The mark of a great city: neighborhood cafes

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 3:00 PM

I must have been insufferable when I first moved to America. It was 20 years ago, but I vaguely remember my constant nattering about how everything is better in Australia. The especially stark comparison was between my hometown of Melbourne and the city I landed in, Hartford, CT.

Atlanta is a whole lot better than Hartford (like, approximately 20,000,000,000 times better), but having just returned from a trip back to Melbourne, I'm again finding myself comparing everything to that city. And the thing that's bugging me the most right now is Atlanta's lack of cafes.

I'm not talking about coffee shops. I mean the neighborhood cafe, that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. I'm talking about the places in Paris where Parisians sit and drink wine and coffee and look iconically Parisian on the sidewalk. The panini place in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn that served Spanish wines and blood orange bellinis and great coffee and was open from approximately 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Or the place just up the street from that, which was basically the same concept except French, or the other place around the corner that was crammed with oversized antiques and had a great beer selection and the best brunch around, and where you'd sit on metal chairs in the leafy back courtyard and eat oysters at 3 p.m. or sausages at 2 a.m.

Why don't we have that? Or something like that? In Melbourne, every neighborhood has about ten places that are coffee and wine oriented, where you can go to get avocado on toast for breakfast, quiche for lunch, and simple pasta dishes for dinner. The occasional pork belly sandwich, or more ambitious kitchen serving a light "new Australian" menu.

Over the weekend, I bitched quietly on Twitter about how much I wanted somewhere to go get coffee and charcuterie and wine and maybe a croque madame, and the response I got back was: Empire State South. It's true - they really are the only folks in town I can think of that fulfill that need, the wine-and-nibbles in the afternoon need, that casual quality European way of eating. It's kinda sad, isn't it, that the only place in town that knows how to be a casual neighborhood cafe is actually a very large and quite fancy Midtown restaurant.

No cafes, and yet, over the past few weeks two "cupcake boutiques" have opened within two blocks of my house. TWO!! Cupcake boutiques, food trucks, burgers, and not a neighborhood cafe in sight.

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