The Greenpoint Coffee House at 159 Franklin Avenue has been a staple in the neighborhood since it opened in 2003. The cozy lighting, dark wooden tables, and quaint, round booths give the restaurant its stately yet inviting aesthetic, an atmosphere that regulars appreciate at this go-to brunch and dinner spot.
Recently, however, owners Brian Taylor and Louise Favier (who also own the Pencil Factory a few steps away), as well as General Manager and the rest of the staff at the restaurant, decided that there was room for improvement. They hired Head Chef Jonathan Meyer, 25, who had been working the grill at t.b.d., in October to help create a new menu with a higher quality of ingredients and interest level.
“They’ve given me a lot of freedom,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to do a lot of things well. The guiding principal was to make the menu a lot smaller and do the things that we thought we could do well, given the constraints of the kitchen and the amount of people working here. It’s a really nice beautiful venue. They wanted to get dinner service a little bit more exciting.”
Meyer worked to bring in an array of new, mostly regional vendors with higher quality meat and produce; pared down the brunch and dinner menus to allow for a variety of seasonal specials; and in particular upped the dinner menu to allow the restaurant to establish itself as a high-quality dinner destination in the area.
“We got a little tired of the kind of food we had—it wasn’t really exciting, and we could tell that people were losing interest in us,” said Mike Mikos, 28, who started as a barista at the Greenpoint Coffee House when it opened almost seven years ago, and has now worked his way up to the General Manager position. “For both ourselves and the neighborhood, we wanted to start working with food that we felt more excited about and that was more in line with our ethics. There are a lot of other great restaurants, but we sensed that people wanted an exciting dinner, and in our own business, there was room for us to have a more ambitious dinner.”
The menu is still evolving, including the recent addition of a cheese plate, and a selection of regional beers to be added soon. Most of the suppliers are now from the northeast region, including produce from Bloominghill Farm, Satur Farms, and Red Jacket Orchard in New York. For the sake of quality, beef is currently supplied by Painted Hills in Oregon.
“The goal is to stay as regional as possible, without being so rigid about it that it affects our ability to provide a balanced and interesting menu and stand by the quality of the products as well,” Mikos said.
Some of the changes Meyer had made are minimal—quince instead of strawberry compote for the French toast; local, seasonal apples for the pancakes instead of bananas. They’ve started to make homemade sausage for the omlettes, including chorizo. The new beef is definitely an upgrade, as are the rest of the meat and produce. And items like Chicken Liver Crostinis, Fried Calamari, and Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Apples are a refreshing compliment to the standard dinner items like burgers and mac and cheese. Some of the other changes, however—like nixing the popular Cobb Salad, haven’t gone over as well.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, because this place has been around for such a long time, and it has a pretty strong cult following,” Meyer said. “When I started changing the menu, I got in trouble at first, because the menu has been the same for a really long time. I felt like I had alienated people by changing it. Some of the changes were hard to bare for the regulars—I took off the Cobb Salad because tomatoes out of season are gross, and avocados are really expensive and difficult to handle and keep the right quantities.”
“The problem with the food was that we were trying to please everybody, which you can’t do without doing kind of a mediocre job across the board,” Meyer continued. “Instead, we wanted to serve food that we could be proud of and that we believe in, and that is sourced from people that we think are responsible and that we want to support. We wanted to do only as many things as we can do well. Inevitably that involves disappointing some people.”
Mikos also noted the mixed response, though he had a conjecture as to the source of the unhappiness. “At the beginning of the transition, we had a tough time because we had a certain role; we fit into people’s routines in a certain way, as kind of a standby, low-priced dinner,” he said. “In our effort to improve things, we were disrupting people’s patterns. Even though we wanted to make dishes better, when something changes it can be upsetting for people. The initial response was tough because even though we felt like we were doing this great thing, people were rocked by it, more than we had anticipated.”
Despite some of the disgruntled regulars, business has been buzzing recently, with unexpectedly busy night last Monday and Saturday.
“I’m excited that there seems to be some buzz in the neighborhood—people are trusting us to give them food that costs a little bit more than it used to,” Mikos said. “I’m getting the sense that there’s another contingent in the neighborhood that’s trusting us to produce good and exciting food at a reasonable price. We’re more of a viable nice-dinner option.”