Goodbye Brooklyn: Eating Around Columbia, St. John

Ever northward we drift, leaving behind comfortable hangouts on the Upper West Side -- once defined as south of 96th street, but increasingly fluid.

That tiresome putdown of the entire west side as a food wasteland is slowly dying and maybe we can help.

Building on our last roundup, we headed up to Morningside Heights, with a few fallbacks toward the end.

Morningside is a historic area, home to Columbia University and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as the immense (and ever unfinished) Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which outranks, say, Notre Dame in our mind because of its annual blessing of the animals. The sainted Sugar, a beagle of considerable renown and an avid believer in Episcopalian inclusionism, once attended.

Here’s our list of places you could try.

Community Food & Juice

In a bright space with a busy open kitchen, Community has been serving reliable dishes since 2007, from breakfast and brunch to lunch and dinner. To further the name, the place has some large communal tables, which we avoided, preferring to sit alone and worry about climate change. It was hot that night.

Not sure why we ordered potato pancakes topped with horseradish sour cream, but they were crunchy and one of us was partial to the chunk of smoked sablefish, ($12).

There is a weekday special of a grass-fed beef burger and a draft brew for $16.

Community is at 2893 Broadway between 112th and 113th Streets. +1-212-665-2800.


Spread over three rooms, this rustic-looking Italian restaurant is named after the Forte-family hometown in Italy. Avoiding the joyous music in the front room, we hid out in the back with its stone walls, thinking of Thomas Cromwell.

We perked up -- it was still hot, even in this appealingly dungeon-like space -- with a “Morningside,” a refreshing mix of Hendrick’s gin, muddled cucumber, lime and mint served straight up in a martini glass ($11). A half-carafe of house Montepulciano was a steal at $10.50.

Starters include an enormous steamed artichoke ($8.95). As always, we had a caprese with good mozzarella di bufala ($9.95).

The meat eater really went for the broccoli rabe orecchiette with pepperoncino and spicy sausage (14.95). The vegetarian enjoyed the penne Pisticci with yellow and red tomato sauce along with chunks of more mozzarella ($13.95).

Warning: American Express is not accepted. On Sundays there is live jazz.

Pisticci is at 125 La Salle St. between Broadway and Claremont Ave. +1-212-932-3500.

Jin Ramen

Located beneath the elevated subway at 125th Street, the wood-paneled noodle shop is packed with Columbia students.

Ask for the tonkotzu ramen of creamy white pork bone stock ($12.00) and a rich miso ramen ($13.00) filled with scallions, sausage, pork belly and bok choy. A good starter is nankotsu kara-age, Japanese-style fried chicken marinated in soy and mirin ($7).

A glass of Coedo Beniaka, a lager brewed from sweet potatoes, revived us from the sweat-soaked wait.

Jin Ramen is at 3183 Broadway between Tiemann Place and 125th St. +1-646-559-2862.

Sezz Medi

Tepid breezes were already taunting us as we sat in front of the tall open windows when we noticed the blazing pizza oven in the back (think Dante’s “Inferno”). Some icy Trebbiano helped us get through the fried calamari and zucchini appetizers ($14.00). The pizza with anchovies was a winner ($13.00). We will return on a cooler night.

(Actually, we’re not sure we can! Looks like the place closed down right after our visit).

Sezz Medi is or was at 1260 Amsterdam Ave. near West 122nd St. +1-212-932-2901.

Max Soha

Still there, right up the block is Max Soha, a casual Italian with an outdoor wrap-around deck. Friends in the neighborhood praise the pastas ($11 - $16) and daily specials at very reasonable prices. It’s cash only.

We cooled off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and fresh berries.

Max Soha is at 1262 Amsterdam Ave. at West 123rd St. +1-212-531-2221.

Bistro Ten 18

Make sure to sit outside on the 110th Street side for a very European view over the Synod House of St. John the Divine.

Stick with starters and small plates or wait until Sunday when the all-you-can-eat mussels are $19.50. There were no complaints about the turkey burger dressed up with a slice of cheese and onions, but some of the mains seemed a bit pricey. Attentive service.

Afterwards, take a walk along Cathedral Parkway with its grand architecture and dramatic views.

Bistro Ten 18 is at 1018 Amsterdam Ave. +1-662-7600.

A Cafe

You thought your kitchen at home was tiny! Somehow in the back of this shoebox, chef Al Williams from Trinidad conjures up the most astonishing meals.

Arrive between six and eight p.m. to gorge on two courses for $25. And what starters: a truffled mousse; a savory baked Anjou pear; grilled avocado stuffed with mushrooms; and broiled escargots in a cilantro-chili butter.

Mains include a Caribbean-style smoked chicken breast with a puree of papaya and lime and a juicy duck leg confit.

We shared a perfect apple tart for $8.

Wine lovers adore A Cafe. There’s no bar, but no corkage fee either. You’re welcome along with your bottles.

A Cafe is at 973 Columbus Ave. at 108th St. +1-212-222-2033.

La Piccola Cucina

Even smaller than A Cafe, this 10-table storefront is a real find with its table linens, jazz pitched low, and a broadsheet menu. Ample selections of Italian dishes are on one side, and wines are on the reverse, by the bottle or glass. The $10 Chardonnay did not disappoint.

The al dente linguine alle vongole studded with plump fresh molluscs in a garlicky broth ($18) and the mussels were first rate. Chef Adolfo Palta specializes in chicken and veal, and the daily specials include fish.

La Piccola Cucina is at 964 Amsterdam Ave., just above 107th Street. +1-212-866-1336.


Aangan’s contemporary dining room is nicely appointed with a cascading multi-tiered chandelier. Flickering candles in wall sconces and soft Indian music contribute to the tranquil vibe, but also reminded us of climate change.

We ordered chicken samosas ($8.95), a platter of kebabs, mint chicken and chicken tikka ($15.95). The pallid breads were disappointing, unlike the main courses

Lots of passing of plates followed, filled with slow-cooked goat in a saffron and cardamom sauce ($16.95), chicken with spinach ($14.95), a superb chicken biryani ($14.95) and jumbo tandoori shrimp ($19.95).

Aangan is at 2701 Broadway between 103rd and 104th Streets. +1-212-280-4100.

Buceo 95

We relapsed one night, longing for the tapas at Buceo 95 which is within the safe old zone just south of 96th street.

By then, the heat was almost bearable and we sat at one of the tiny tables jammed along the side street enjoying a quartino of the Gruner Veltliner, chatting up passing dogs and their human companions.

The place has rarely disappointed with its varied small plates and attractive servers. We had the roasted asparagus with a citrusy aioli ($9), grilled calamari ($11), bacalao croquettes flavored with saffron ($10) and the tiny and tangy meatballs ($10).

Buceo 95 is 201 West 95th St. off Columbus Ave. +1-212-662-7010.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Daniel Billy is a Muse editor. The opinions expressed are their own.

Muse highlights include James Clash on adventure and Catherine Hickley on music.

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