Taking Back My Lunch. Review of Birch Coffee.

Everything in life is a little easier with the help of friends. Taking back your lunch hour is no different.

Last week, serendipity smiled and gave me the chance to meet a friend for lunch.  The Flatiron District was our oyster, but as the weather was still crazy hot and humid, we opted against the affordability of the kati rolls and chicken tikka masala platters at the “Desi Truck,” and made a beeline for the nearest air-conditioned cafe, which, in our case, was Birch Coffee (5 East 27th St., NY, NY).

Sitting adjacent to the Museum of Sex and smack dab in prime, trendy, tasty real estate land, this place could easily just be another coffee shop in the seemingly never-ending line of “sustainable,” “community” cafes, but fortunately for them and us, these tired buzzwords actually hold pretty true at Birch. Whereas some cafe/coffeehouse feature formica, fluorescence, sterile walls, and aloof staff more attuned to their next food co-op shift than the food and the customer eating it, Birch features polished – yet simple – wood tables, islands, and countertops, warm lighting with large windows, and a perfectly attentive yet unobtrusive staff that was both honest (“The chai latte will take a little while to drip.”) and friendly (read: smiles and favorite items on the menu when we couldn’t make up our mind).

My friend was all over the Summer Strawberry Salad once she saw the mention of “coffee balsamic vinegar” under the description. And I was relieved to have my decision made for me since I had been wavering between that very same salad and The Vegetarian sandwich. The guy behind the counter sealed the deal when he told me that The Vegetarian is his favorite (well, maybe he just said he loved it) sandwich.

As you can see, the strawberry salad looked amazing plated, and was a generous portion of spinach, arugula, basil, walnuts, a dollop of ricotta cheese, and a good drizzle of the aforementioned coffee balsamic vinaigrette, which didn’t really taste like coffee. Fortunately, with a glass of Red Eye (house drip coffee with a shot of espresso) on to help wash it down, that’s all taken care of. My meal was a little less caffeinated, but equally delicious and filling, as I paired my sandwich of smoked tofu, walnut pesto, tomatoes, and marinated carrots on focaccia with a tall glass of iced chai latte.

Now, chai lattes are not all made equal. If you’ve ever ordered one from a chain coffeehouse, like Starbucks, you may have noticed that while they make the hot chai from scratch – actual black tea with cardamom, ginger, and vanilla extract – they resort to syrup for the making of iced chai lattes. That just strikes me as wrong. Here at Birch, they make the hot chai as expected, but then go and pour it over ice. Who’da thunk?! This “innovation” makes all the difference in terms of tea quality, flavor, and texture. Freshly brewed iced chai is much more subtle than syrup-based chai, and is so much more worth savoring for it.

Birch Coffee is a great spot to go to relax and reclaim a stake in your lunch hour, if you happen to work in the area. If not, then stop by and check out their very reasonably priced menu before, during or after a visit to the Museum of Sex, which I do not have a review of.

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