Clinton Hill Vs. Bed-Stuy, Personified at Tiny Cup

One more Cupdate (3/26/2011):

Tiny Cup became the third place on my Americano tour, and after drinking the whole unadulterated cup, I give it a 6/10.  It was a little too burnt. Stick with the coconut water Americano here.

Yet another Cupdate (3/7/2011):

I wound up at Tiny Cup again for breakfast and coffee with Jenn. The menu has changed a bit even from just a few weeks ago. I know they're still new and inventing themselves, but I wonder if maybe they don't plan on every really having a set menu.

Jenn ordered The Southwestern sandwich. I didn't have it in me to be a total asshole with the camera, perfecting the settings, using flash and all, so this picture is wanting:

The Southwestern: a buttermilk biscuit with cheddar, soysage, tomato, fried egg and salsa de arbol
You know, after eating several bites of another of their biscuit sandwiches, I've come down on the side of wishing the biscuits weren't so bitter.  The soysage was nice, and the arbol sauce was nice and spicy (though not quite the kind I prefer (more on this when I understand it better)), and the whole thing would be one big ball of yumness if the buttermilk biscuit were a fluffy, delicious creature instead of a bitter, crumbly-ish one.  Perhaps that's sort of low-brow of me, I dunno.

In all fairness, there may have been an extra bitterness in my mouth as I'd just realized I'd been robbed (quite possibly by a co-worker) at a friend's house party the night before of $33 cash and a Metrocard, taken from my wallet, which was inside the pocket of my coat, which had been hanging on a hook in the bathroom.  At least I've since been able to have that card disabled and had most of the remaining time's worth of money refunded to my account.

And then I tried their Chicken Tortilla Soup, about which I'd become curious on my last visit and which has now officially made it on to the menu (instead of its previous place on a chalkboard).

Chicken Tortilla Soup served with a cheddar cheese biscuit
I'm a little confused because there didn't seem to be any strips of tortilla anywhere.  Also, I was hoping for some cilantro, some cheese, maybe some avocado, perhaps a slice of lime...  I could be wrong, but it seemed to be a can of diced tomatoes and chilies, a can of corn, some chicken and some seasonings.  It wasn't bad, but it was disappointing.  I guess a Texan is bound to be disappointed by the "chicken tortilla soup" at a coffee shop in Bed Stuy though.

Time for a Tiny Cupdate (2/19/2011):

The menu has changed, mostly in the direction of expansion.  You can still totally get those biscuits and vegetarian gravy, thank goodness.  You can also now get a sharp cheddar, gouda, roasted red pepper and jalapeno pimento cheese sandwich, or you up the ante to the southern fried biscuit sandwich:

All that stuff on a biscuit with a fried egg, tomato and applewood smoked bacon

Delicious! It crumbled on my first attempt to pick it up, but I didn't mind too much eating this as a sort of pot pie with a fork.  The biscuit was a touch more bitter than I'd prefer, but generally speaking, this was a big ball of yum.

I decided I'd also just go ahead and try their coconut water americano as I never seem to get around to buying coconut water to make it at home anyway:

Coconut water and espresso
I know it sounds weird, but that shit works! Coconut water has just enough sugar in it naturally that nothing else is necessary for this americano to be a totally enjoyable way to get your fix.

You may have noticed something in the background of that picture, and yeah, I got a big cookie.  How was I supposed to resist a vegan chocolate snickerdoodle?!

Vegan chocolate snickerdoodle!
Soft, chocolatey, snickerdoodley goodness, with a bit of cayenne letting a light burn bring up the rear of this happy train. Word.

I'm delighted by this little place.

I also overheard someone order tortilla soup, which is apparently sometimes a soup du jour, and I noticed they now have Splenda among the options on the coffee-dressing table.

In more foodie Bed Stuy news (12/16/2010):

The coffee shop/cafe at Nostrand/Clifton (a block south of the Bedford/Nostrand G stop) has changed hands, and while they're still peddling coffee, breakfast and lunch, there are plenty of differences.

The first thing I noticed was that I wasn't greeted with the thick fumes of butter, melted brie and other indulgences that used to flood my senses as I opened the door. This was quickly forgiven as the staff is now friendly (among the 15 former employees, it looks like a couple of the best have stayed on with the new people)! I always felt like there was some sort of weird bohemiany(?) or hipsterish(?) vibe there before that made me feel out of place, and now the people on either side of the counter seem more like human beings to me. And there are still good smells wafting around, just not quite so overwhelmingly. This does mean, though, that some of the old menu favorites such as My Brother's Panini (egg, avocado, roasted tomato, chipotle mayo and a generous portion of melted brie) are no longer available.

On the other hand, you can sop up your tears with buttermilk biscuits and vegetarian gravy, which were fucking delicious!

They may look a little mushy after I carried them home in a little aluminum tin underneath my coffee and brownie, but they were amazing,  This may be the best vegetarian gravy I've ever had.  It had a wonderful spicy kick!  Try them!

I also ordered some coffee.  They listed coffee options with nations of origin and little tasting notes, but unlike some places, they still only charged me $1.75 for my Guatemalan coffee with chocolatey notes (plus my requested soy milk, for which they're using -at least for today- Trader Joe's Original Soymilk.  Terrific!)

I could have ordered an americano using coconut water, which is fun, but I may try that at home first.  I already play around with coconut milk, but I hadn't thought about using the water with espresso...

Anyhow, the other wonderful thing about the Tiny Cup transformation is the new book selection.  Formerly, there were dozens and dozens of books on two bookshelves, but it was clearly a random, haphazard assortment of books from stoops or maybe the Brooklyn Free Store or other such places.

Not so anymore.  It's now a curated selection of books you'd actually like to read, including Salinger, Sedaris, Kierkegaard, The Love Poems of Sappho, The History of Doubt, and many more.

So to sum, there's some lesbian with great taste in books whom I need to marry so I can get those biscuits and gravy served to me in bed.

From my chat with the owner (I'm pretty sure he was the owner, or co-owner anyway), I found out that he was able to buy the place from the former owner, Lisa Bayer, because she had started to kind of hate spending her life running the place.

Bayer originally started up a cafe in a neighborhood she had by then lived in for a couple of years that had very little else like it.  Starting in July of 2007, she was offering her neighbors good coffee, delicious pastries, and delightful cafe food options of a higher caliber than anything around.  She may well  have, for instance, been the first person to put the words" brie", "goat cheese", or "vegan" on a menu east of Classon Ave. in Bed Stuy.  There just wasn't any other place around where one could get a roasted beets, sunflower-crusted goat cheese, grapefruit & orange salad with a roasted corn dressing.  She had a corner on a market, a market that was just beginning to grow as young people began to utilize the low rent potential Bed Stuy offered now that Williamsburg was officially way too fucking expensive.

Much of the patronage was not coming from the people who'd lived in the neighborhood for very long, but rather what some people would call "Pratt brats."  These were the people lingering over their laptops for hours on end in her shop.  Issues of gentrification and racial tension?  Probably.

Before I visited the place for the first time, a friend who'd been there often mentioned that he considered it the hipster haven in Bed Stuy.  Another friend said she had only ever seen white people in there, quite a feat for a cafe west of Bedford Ave., though obviously an exaggeration.  In February of 2009, a reviewer on Urbanspoon said "There was no diversity, at least there wasn't that morning, and the general vibe was not a welcoming one."  It's clear from the rest of her review that, whatever race she is, she's not white, and that she felt unwelcome by both the staff and the other customers.  I could be totally wrong, but from a bit of google imagery I think that the former owner is white.

On the few occasions I visited, I felt like the baristas were pretty cold toward me, leading me to write a note to myself on the copy of their menu I saved, "Service: not too friendly.  Try tipping more next time, now that you know they bring your food out to you."  I wrote it in pencil, hoping for a better report the next time.  By the way, I'm white, in case you hadn't glanced at my profile picture.  I'm pretty sure I felt this way about service I'd received from both black and white baristas.  But I'd pretty much felt awkward and out of place everywhere I went in the neighborhood (as well as tons of places all over NY), so I just chalked this all up to either my possibly not following some social norms of which I was unaware or possibly not looking like their kind of person.  I had all sorts of insecurities that I looked like a tourist or else just a way too new interloper who people perceived as someone they wouldn't care for.  I felt like it was markedly worse if I wore my Miami Beach hoodie.  I didn't know if inquiring as to the availability of splenda or soy milk or ranch or whatever else would give me away as the kind of person someone despised..  I often left social interactions repeating the phrase, "You don't know me" in my head over and over again.

I feel like I have to post almost all of this one review on Yelp:

"for the wave of coffeshops in the clinton hill/bedford-stuyvesant area - this is a disgusting addition.

There are flies everywhere.
Whenever I leave this place I smell like crap- the ventilation is horrible.
There are annoying emo hipsters everywhere.
There is a wannabe mulit-culti feel that seems to have seeped through from the Outpost on Fulton.

Don't eat the food! it's made by people who have no idea what they are doing - trained under 5 minutes!

And all the rich Pratt students who can't afford to pay $1500 for an apt in Clinton hill seem to live in this area - where they're paying $1000 for an apt

oh and the coffee is CRAAAAAPY - totally watered down!!!

This is not a read and work friendly place btw! the tables are too squished together."

There are similarly negative reviews on all of the restaurant review sites.

Now perhaps none of this has anything to do with what she called "a personally difficult year for me and the decision to move my life in a different direction", but I could see how a former private chef who wanted to offer a nice little neighborhood cafe to an underserved area might decide that running this apparently controversial little joint, which now also required 15 employees despite its relatively short days (12-7:30 on weekdays and 10-6 on weekends) had become more than she'd bargained for.

So now, some entrepreneurs who are probably totally into getting in near the ground floor in the burgeoning Bed Stuy market have reopened for business with a similar but modified style to the hugely popular cafe, at just the same time that Cinnamon Girl opened next door and SCRATCHbread opened a retail window on Wednesdays.

Many patrons of the former version of Tiny Cup will probably be upset that some of their valued food options are gone, but most of them will probably get used to it and will find other dishes and aspects of this place they like too and maybe even prefer.  I also imagine that the menu will expand beyond its modest debut pretty quickly.

Tiny Cup on Urbanspoon

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