Restaurant Week: Why Maialino Is One Of New York’s Best Cafes

Maialino is Danny Meyer’s take on a Roman trattoria, but it’s much more than that. You could argue that Maialino makes a better café than most dedicated coffee establishments in New York. What follows is said argument.

Maialino employs six full-time baristas – six! –  meaning you can get an expertly prepared Counter Culture Coffee cappuccino at dinner along with one of their clean, vibrant takes on the classic Italian trattoria repertoire. But the true heart of the restaurant lies in its morning service. Maialino wants to be the center of its neighborhood community, and they’ve put a lot of thought and effort into creating a sumptuous yet informal coffee, pastry, and breakfast service that encourages lingering and repeated visits.

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Breakfast service runs 7:30am to 10:30am, and when I sat down at the bar at 9am on a Monday, the front seating area had a smattering of guests having solitary breakfasts. I saw men and women enjoying coffee and a newspaper, engaged in a business meeting, or sharing a friendly rendezvous with friends over pastries. In the back of the restaurant, guests had breakfast at picturesque blue gingham and white linen clad tables.

The bar faces a large set of windows overlooking Gramercy Park, a beautiful backdrop to what wound up being a truly superlative breakfast for this reporter. I enjoyed a cappuccino and the seasonally rotating house breakfast plate, or “Contadino” — that day, two perfectly poached eggs over a bed of brussel sprouts and pumpkin. A hard act to follow, but the cappuccino I had was just as stellar: the shot of Counter Culture’s Rustico was full of rich chocolate and surprisingly lively dark fruit notes that punched through the decadently sweet, perfectly textured Battenkill Creamery milk.

The service was as noteworthy as the food and coffee. Watching my server Rachel Ziff work was a pleasure–generous and attentive, she made me feel as welcome as the regular customers I watched her greet by name elsewhere in the dining room. When I finished my cappuccino, she offered me a complimentary refill of drip coffee, and encouraged me to linger and read my book as long as I liked. Best of all, Rachel was happy to answer my questions about her restaurant’s coffee service. Staff training and development is clearly a big priority at Maialino.

I also had a chance to talk with Andrea Czachor, Maialino’s General Manager. She’s quite proud of how the restaurant’s coffee service fits into Maialino’s overall vision. Is the sort of place where one can enjoy the simple pleasures of lingering over a cup of coffee? Yes, absolutely – Czachor and her staff love it when people do exactly that. She made it clear that Maialino’s a bustling neighborhood hub during lunch and dinner, and she wants that to extend to morning service as well. Coffee is served from an open bar area that smartly separates the less formal bar seating area from the more formal dining room. I watched a number of people walk right in and take advantage of the new (7:30am-4:00pm) to-go coffee offerings–something that Andrea hopes to see more of as more morning customers come to treat Maialino as their third place between home and work.

latteIt’s the best sort of third place, with fantastic coffee and pastries. In addition to a full espresso menu, Maialino offers a rotating selection of Counter Culture blends and single-origin coffees on French press, with a personal 20oz french press priced at $7 for Counter Culture offerings such as Variety: Bourbon and PNG Baroida, or $14 for top-end offerings like La Esmeralda Gesha and Aida’s Grand Reserve.

The French press I had of the Variety: Bourbon was exactly what I imagine the average consumer means when they say they want a “rich” coffee. My mug was full of big toffee, leather and blackberry notes, with a super creamy body. The French press is served with a small pitcher of steamed milk, and when I added some the coffee turned into luscious butterscotch. Perfect to pair with their Caramellato, a decadent toffee-glazed sticky bun. Make sure you get the staff to warm it up for you, as hot it is amazingly light and just gooey enough–like the perfect center of an ultra-refined Cinnabon.

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Maialino reminds me of the best parts of Italy’s grand cafés. It is a pleasure to stop in at any time of day, for just about any reason, and the experience is refined yet relaxed and accommodating. But this is New York City, and the truly stellar coffee service at Maialino far exceeds any Italian café. Come to think of it, it exceeds the vast majority of restaurants and cafes in New York as well.

Alex Bernson is a Staff Writer for Sprudge.com – read more of his work here.