When one of Midtown Manhattan’s mid-century gems adds great coffee to an already-lauded bar program, you listen.
Launched earlier this year, Flora Coffee sits inside the Breuer Building, the ’60s brutalist inverted pyramid that once housed the Whitney Museum of American Art and is now the home of the Met Breuer. The cafe adds morning service to Flora Bar, the acclaimed new bar and dining space from Estela and Café Altro Paradiso founders Thomas Carter and Ignacio Mattos.
Coffee director Jess Che tapped Brooklyn roaster Parlor Coffee to fuel the program, and pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz (formerly of Marlow & Sons and Montreal’s Lawrence) to provide the treats. To Che, the lineup brings a bit of a, well, cooler vibe to Madison Avenue.
“When we first moved uptown from Estela and Altro, we were all coming from primarily a ‘downtown’ background, whether from the coffee, food, bar, or service side of things,” says Che. “In some ways, this could have been considered a gamble, but there is also something analogous and freeing about being a part of the Met Breuer’s opening year, in that we all were introducing something new and contemporary into the space.”
Che was already familiar with Parlor and In Pursuit of Tea from Estela and Altro (the latter of which is now offering a morning coffee service as well), and says she saw the daytime program at Flora as an opportunity to showcase coffees and teas “that might be stylistically new to an Upper East Side palate or a museum-going tourist.”
Alongside Flora Coffee’s espresso and filter offerings, made with Parlor’s Latin American blend named for the Brooklyn enclave Wallabout, is a selection of inventive baked goods both savory and sweet.
Pickowicz’s roster of pairable pastries includes a gianduja chocolate chip cookie, bacon gougères, walnut shortbread, and one big mother of a sticky bun.
The latter is a particularly inspired pastry that’s a little left of center, says Che. In a way that makes perfect sense with the space’s coffee—and the art.
“Everyone knows what a sticky bun is; they’re recognizable and comforting, but [Pickowicz’s] are subtle and unique in flavor, not overly sweet,” says Che. “It’s not always necessary to be hit over the head, and likewise, there’s more to museum coffee than a shot of caffeine. Our intention was to create a cafe experience that could live alongside the museum-going experience.”
And what an experience it is, sunken just below street level in an Upper East Side oasis of mid-century lines and curves. Although by lunchtime the sleek space becomes the terrain of gallery break-takers and sandwich-seekers, midmorning at Flora is a serene, and semi-secret, coffee hangout. There’s even WiFi.
“I’d personally love to encourage neighborhood folks to utilize the space,” says Che, who notes that one can simply tell the museum staff they’re headed right downstairs to the cafe and bar.
“If I didn’t work here, I’d be parked on that banquette for hours with a book.”
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge, and the co-author of Where To Drink Coffee, due this summer on Phaidon Press. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.