The Little Cheese Puff That Could

Cheese Puffery Part I

O Café is all about sustainability—from their LED lighting to their close relationships with coffee roasters (“our dear friends Joel and Leticia Pollock in Miami, Florida”) and the compostable Birchwood cutlery. Both the website and earnest hand-lettered signs on the reclaimed wood walls trumpet the café’s commitment to a more livable planet.

This is very nice, but for me, it’s still all about the food. What will sustain me and make my taste buds pop? At O Café, it’s the Pão de Queijo ($2.00), a Brazilian cheese puff the size of a Spalding pinky ball. Get it hot to the touch. In one bite it magically condenses into the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever tasted: chewy, glutinous (but gluten free!), more cheese than puff. Argentine owner, chef and potter, Fernando Aciar, trained in Brazil and uses only minas curado. From Brazil’s Minas Gerais, this aged cheddar-like cheese is known for its white bubbly core. Three bites, and “pow”—it’s gone, and I must have another.

Yet there are other temptations in our snack budget. On the sweet side, the Pão de Mel (dark chocolate-covered honey bread) and on the savory, try the unlikely sounding avocado-egg fennel-coriander mix on pumpkin seed spread  with a warm slice of multigrain bread ($9.50)--whew! Wedges of avocado lie on a swirl of pale green pumpkin seed-tahini spread. This pumpkin/avo/spicy combo offers a piquant break from chalky hummus or now passé avocado toast, and the bread and halves of perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs dusted with chili pepper give you the option of concocting one hell of an open-faced sandwich .  Finally, because all restaurants claiming conservation creds must feature kale and quinoa, there’s a kale-centric tapendade, red cabbage and goat cheese sandwich on multigrain bread ($8.00) and a quinoa salad with chickpeas, kale, cabbage and tamari dressing ($8.50). 

For all their efforts to create a homey, neighborhood coffee bar—with excellent Brazilian espressos—O Café is not a place to linger.  It only seats about two-dozen patrons on too-high stools and a few comfier benches. Wi-fi is reportedly spotty, a drag for NYU and Cardozo students. My writing partner, Lydie, will beg to differ. After I introduced her to O, it has become her office before the office, and she's managed to write a book chapters, essays and a year's worth of wonderful blog posts! As for me, I'll take my pão to go, warm and rattling in a small brown paper bag.

O Café
482 Sixth Ave (@ 12th St.)