Coffee & Beignets in Greenwich Village

An order of beignets at CafeMarie; epic pleasure for a mere $5.

An order of beignets at CafeMarie; epic pleasure for a mere $5.

When I moved to New York City nearly 30 years ago, the West Village was my neighborhood of choice. Not only is it where my parents lived back when they briefly were New Yorkers, but Greenwich Village – as it is formally called – is arguably the city’s most storied neighborhood in terms of counterculture. And it still retains some of that flavor, even after all these years.

I’ve been enjoying a bit of a Greenwich Village renaissance as of late. I don’t necessarily go out that much, but I do occasionally take in films at the art house theaters around there. If I’m heading to the Angelika, I’ll likely gravitate towards Parm on Mulberry Street. But if I’m over at the IFC, I didn’t really have a go-to spot because Joe’s Pizza hasn’t quite been the same since they moved from their original corner location.

I had been hitting Turkiss on MacDougal Street until the Burger Joint opened up an outpost on West 8th & MacDougal, which is now my default dining destination in the area. But now I’ve discovered a place for, well, dessert.

CafeMarie at 120 MacDougal Street.

CafeMarie opened earlier this summer at 120 MacDougal Street, just south of Minetta Lane. It’s a clean little hole in the wall serving coffee and beignets, the French doughnuts from New Orleans. And in keeping with that tradition, they offer coffee with chicory as well, including cafe au lait.

I stopped in the other afternoon to give the place a taste. Fortunately for me it was after 3:30 PM, because that’s when they start serving the beignets. The reason they are not available throughout the day is because they are all freshly made when you order them. These are not the kind of things that sit around on the counter or in a display case.

I grabbed a cup of coffee along with an order of beignets. I received three large beignets, carefully covered with the customary powdered sugar. Only these beignets had a twist, in that they actually did have holes in the middle – well, more like small slits – which I found helped cradle the powdered sugar better than a traditional, hole-less beignet. And, frankly, I’d have paid a lot more than five dollars for the order of three I received.

They were delicious. I couldn’t have been happier unless I was sitting down at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, stuffing beignets in my face before a night out on Frenchmen Street. And while I was carefully stuffing my face at CafeMarie, trying hard not to drop any powdered sugar on my shirt and pants, I witnessed two New Orleans natives stop by and testify to the authenticity of the beignets. Sure, there were grumbles about having holes in them, but I’m sure they too would eventually see the wisdom of it.

Now I have yet another culinary reason to head to MacDougal Street in the West Village. CafeMarie is a huge find. And all my friends, particularly those who have ventured to New Orleans with me on many an occasion, will surely be delighted to welcome it into the feeding fold.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band Hits Harlem

I have yet to make it up to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, but I did meet them halfway the other night when they hosted an outdoor concert at El Sito Feliz Garden on West 104th Street in Spanish Harlem. It was the band that drew me there: The Lucky Chops Brass Band.

LCBBI had never heard these boys play. And boys they were, in their early 20s. But I have a soft spot for brass bands and, while there is an abundance in places like New Orleans, you don’t seem to get a whole lot of them up here in New York City. And Lucky Chops did not disappoint. In fact, I was beyond surprised by how good, authentic, inventive, and entertaining these musicians were.

First of all, how many brass bands do you know with a baritone sax? They’ve got a kid who can play the shit out of that thing, and manage to dance while doing it. The trombone player seems to be that band’s leader, as well as an extremely likable fellow who offers up the occasional vocal accompaniment. Add to that equally strong sax and trumpet players, a classically understated drummer, and a tuba player that’s even shorter than I am. It’s a magical mix of talent, energy, and passion.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

I don’t know if this is the regular line-up, as it’s the only time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform (so far!). But what I did gather is they are a collective from the tri-state area with the core emerging from a Bronx high school – all too recently for my gray-haired head.

Rather than being a bunch of wannabes, this quintet offered its own take on classics like Joe Avery and Let’s Do It Again. They reached heavenly heights with gospel favorites like I’ll Fly Away and This Little Light of Mine. And they pioneered brilliant interpretations of R&B hits like I Want You Back and My Girl. Mix in some blues, a little ska, and a touch of klezmer and you’ve got the winning repertoire of the Luck Chops Brass Band.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

The Lucky Chops Brass Band at El Sito Feliz Garden in Spanish Harlem.

Second only to the sounds they make is the performance they give. Traditional New Orleans brass bands are known for adding a little theater to their stage performance, and these kids certainly don’t lose sight of that – as many northern imitators do. Not only do they deliver musically, but they also put on a lively show. Even the deaf will be entertained!

The gig I saw was the last of the National Jazz Museum’s summer garden concert series for the 2013 season (and the light was fading, so please forgive the quality of these photos and videos). But you can catch the boys at Battery Harris in Williamsburg, where they appear to be regulars, or visit the band’s Web site for upcoming shows. I know I’ll find my way over there this fall to get another fix, and thank my lucky stars for discovering the Lucky Chops Brass Band!