So of course it was my city walker and snack spotting friend Lydie who told me about the phenomenon of Matto. “There’s this place,” she told me, “Where EVERYTHING is $2.00.” “Everything?” I asked, incredulous, and Lydie, said, “Everything!,” and “They’re all around.” We mused over their business model. How can they offer lattes for $2.00 when everywhere else offers them for $4.00 and up? A wedge of cake for $2.00 when that same wedge of cake is $5.00 at Irving Farm or Fika or Joe? I had to find out.
I went on the website, which made me even more suspicious. No copy. No proud “About us” and “our Italian roots” and no “Our team” or “Our story.” There was simply a link to their instagram and a list of 11 Matto locations in NYC, from 8th St. to 143rd St. How had I never ever seen this place? I had to Google the meaning of “Matto,” which is Italian for “Crazy,” and the logo on their bags and cups, which I saw on their insta, looks like a Tarot card. To my knowledge there is The Fool, but not The Crazy One. Is the name a sly jab at New Yorkers who are crazy for paying $3.00 for espresso when it’s only €1 in Italy? Certainly, one could say Matto’s is a crazy way to do business in New York City on avenues where big name businesses are shuttered every day because of the colossal rents. Were there gangs or the mob behind the proliferation of this seeming Job Lot of espresso joints we wondered?
The Website did say, “Contact Us,” so I fired off an email enquiring how is it that they sell everything from lattes and profiteroles to California veggie burgers and cheescake in a cup for $2.00. I haven’t heard back yet, but I went on a quick quality control reconnaissance mission. There is a Matto on Columbus Avenue just below 86th. It’s a sliver of store with no place to sit and not even a counter on which to perch your elbow. Strike one. I asked for an interesting looking slice of “feta lasagne” in which feta was interleaved with phyllo dough. They warmed it up for me and handed it to me in a paper bag. It was hot, impossible to eat. The counter woman saw me struggling and offered a few more bags to use as a plate, but the whole thing was inedible: bland, glutinous. Strike two. Undaunted, and because everything is $2.00,* I tossed the offensive lasagne in their trash bin and bought a wedge of banana walnut cake. The cake was tasty, if a little dry, and I liked my foamy latte in its paper cup. A hit at last. I took note of the ceramic espresso and macchiato cups behind the gleaming espresso machine, and thought of my husband, the Chef. He often likes to refuel with espresso on his long urban hikes but disdains places that give him espresso in a paper cup. They probably don’t have Matto outposts in the seamier sides of the outer boroughs, which he prefers, but if he’s cutting a path through Manhattan it wouldn’t be crazy to pop into a Matto for a cheap espresso and a wedge of coffee cake! Come to think of it, the medieval man in the Matto logo, striding against an urban backdrop with a bindle slung over his back, that could be my husband. Only a “Matto” guy like him would walk ten or 14 miles across the city on sub zero days.
*If you’re paying by card, there is a $4.00 minimum so if you really only want to spend $2.00 at a Matto, bring cash.