NoCo Joe Reviewed: On Earthy Brews, Chalky Cheddar and Sanitized Seating

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For some coffee is merely caffeine fuel, for others it’s an art form. Critic Jason Bell, of last year’s famed food feud, investigates…

The Avocado Sandwich - by Evelyn Warner

As two employees fiddle with an iPad, unsuccessfully attempting to ring up an order, a third grinds coffee beans in slow motion, chatting with her friends. At Columbia’s outpost of Joe, getting a cup of coffee involves ceremony and much ado over much unnecessary technology. The baristas—or perhaps they are barbacks, Joe’s unfortunate title for employees “learning” about coffee—seem more concerned about wearing silly hats and affecting “cool” to worry about efficiency or precision. Nevertheless, Joe’s food ranks far above Columbia’s comparative dining options, and the coffee, as expected, is unrivaled in Morningside Heights.

Now serving pastries, breakfast standards, and more substantial lunch sandwiches, Joe offers Columbians an alternative to other on-campus spots. Try the Donut Plant donuts, imported from the Lower East Side and famous for a reason. A coconut cream donut oozes impeccable custard, part of any complete breakfast. If only Joe carried Donut Plant’s crème brulee donut, a true work of genius. Alongside the extraordinary donuts, Joe displays a selection of boring muffins. Skip those and aim for maximum caloric intake.Joe’s breakfast sandwich warrants an early morning trip from even far-away dorms. Hard-boiled egg, cheddar cheese, and peppery ham meet between chewy baguette halves. The sweet chutney makes this sandwich absolutely crave-able—ordering one begins a flirtation with addiction.

Unfortunately, an avocado sandwich that one employee describes as “delicious” falls considerably short of expectations. Mushy and topped with more of that rather chalky cheddar, the avocado drowns under too much mayo and soggy whole wheat bread.

Not surprisingly, Joe’s coffee seems barely related to other so-called “coffees” in the neighborhood. The Kenya Kiunyu is especially wonderful, infused with chocolate and dark fruit. And Joe’s Sulawesi, a clean, earthy brew, easily outstrips the Starbucks version.  Of course, Joe’s handy tasting notes may help suggest some particularly complex flavors to the less than coffee literate.

All kidding about hipsters and elitist coffee culture aside, there is an infuriating slowness that pervades Joe’s operation, a general sense of incompetence that will hopefully evaporate over time. On any given morning, some products may not be available; barbacks and their barista friends remain ignorant of prices; getting a simple cup of drip coffee takes an inordinate amount of time. Of course, when a business sells products so obviously better than its competitors’, its margin for error increases considerably. Judging from the crowds occupying its sanitized seating area, Joe’s will turn a suitably ironic profit ad infinitum.

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  1. coffee snob  

    As much as people hate to admit it, maybe because they prefer foofy lattes with lots of creams and sugars or because they are simply unaware, but Nessbaum serves Stumptown coffee which is sooo good (and also tied with Joe for best coffee in TimeOut New York)! I suggest trying a cup before claiming that only Joe's can brew coffee... or maybe Nessbaum isn't hip enough.

    • Anonymous  

      get the iced hazelnut coffee (cheaper than regular iced coffee for some reason) at nussbaum - that stuff's bubblegum

    • Snobbier Coffee Snob  

      Perhaps the type of coffee that Nussbaum uses is decent, but the way they make their coffee is absolutely inferior to Joe's. I find (and this may be my personal taste), that Nussbaum's coffee is far too hot and tastes burnt half the time. (side thought: if you were to be around Nussbaum's for coffee, why wouldn't you just go across the street for Oren's?) The obvious advantage to Joe's is that they make single cup brewed coffee, which is the freshest you can get (assuming the beans are fresh), and far superior to Nussbaum's giant deli containers of coffee which has been brewed at who knows when, kept too hot and never cleaned out to ensure freshness. Choosing Joe's over Nussbaum isn't about "hipness", although there are a lot of fake hipsters around Columbia that try to use Joe's as a vehicle for added hipness, but rather, is about a clear choice between great coffee and mediocre coffee.

      • Agreed

        I went to Nussbaum over the summer to get an iced coffee, so excited they were serving Stumptown. Because they don't put cream out I asked for a little cream and they put so much in it turned white. Kind of like Dunkin' Donuts coffee. I couldn't even taste it. And I'm sure they only grind a couple of batches a day. Even Starbucks baristas are required by the company to change out the coffee in the drip brewer every I believe 30 mins to an hour to keep it fresh.

        Joe is awesome. The baristas are a little slow but for the most part nice, unlike many other servers around Morningside Heights, who all act like it's a privilege that they're giving you your order. (I never did understand that New York attitude). They even put out little sandwich samples yesterday!

    • arparp  

      Yeah, Stumptown *coffee* is very good, but Nussbaum ruins it. Joe coffee is rebranded Ecco, which is definitely on par with Stumptown.

  2. I have been to Joe  

    a few times this week and would hardly call the staff incompetent. That's just rude, and Bwog shouldn't support such unjustified bashing. The cafe constantly has a line and I'm impressed that the staff can keep up with demand as well as they can.

    My one complain: cheap milk! You can have the best espresso in the world, but put it in a latte with factory-farmed milk and it means nothing.

    Also, those "silly" hats are due to a Health Department requirement for baristas to have their hair covered.

  3. SirThomasBrowne

    Seriously though, how is the coffee at Cafe212 SO bad? One would almost have to take purposeful action to make coffee taste so awful.

  4. Anonymous  

    get off your high horse

  5. Anonymous  

    get on my high horse

  6. Anonymous  

    I would know Jason's prose a mile away. Seriously. He has a very distinct (and interesting) voice.

    But as always, I must say shame, shame, shame! You've betrayed your beloved Spec again for Bwog!

  7. jason bell  

    is such a tool

  8. spot on  

    this review is spot on about how I found the service at Joe's...slow and unprofessional. But their coffee really is amazing

  9. Anonymous

    I don't know about you, but I prefer my custard peccable.

  10. ...  

    it seems to me that the proprietors of joe are pretty damn clear about their goals and intentions. they brew coffee one cup at a time and specialize in latte art. any reasonable person would consider that efficiency is probably not what they're shooting for and to measure them along that dimension is about as ridiculous as decrying the narrowness of the artisanal cheese selection carried by a new super wal-mart.

  11. Eh  

    they have pre-brewed, if you're in a rush. You don't have to wait around for the single-cup brew. Yeah, it does take a while, but, honestly, I think they're just understaffed. I waited in line behind 15-ish people at the Columbia branch...I don't think I've ever seen a line of more than 6 anywhere else, even at their Grand Central outpost. Bring reading, catch up on emails, whatever. Totally worth the time...can't wait for springtime for 4 shot large iced lattes.

  12. Anonymous

    My review. The coffee is great. I like the atmosphere. Let's put joes in charge of all the blue java's and 212.
    They had a pitiful donut selection at 9am. I wonder if they sold out or if they just didn't have many to begin with.

  13. Anonymous  

    Do they accept cards yet?

  14. beer?

    Didn't I read somewhere that this place would have beer and wine soon? Wasn't that somewhere in the pages of Bwog?

    Is this happening?

  15. what's wrong with "barback"?  

    "barbacks, Joe’s unfortunate title for employees 'learning' about coffee"

    Perhaps Jason has only eaten in restaurants, not worked in one, but "barback" is a decades-old job title for the busboys of the bar trade: the hard-working and insufficiently-tipped guys who bring ice, clean glasses, and back-up booze so that the bartenders can concentrate on the customers.

    It sounds like what Joe has are trainees, not barbacks--unless they truly are doing the heavy lifting--which makes the title incorrect, but hardly "unfortunate." But, since barbacks often do work their way up to bartender, it may not even be incorrect.

  16. Anonymous  

    Definitely too slow...but I got the avocado sandwich on a baguette (which did not get as soggy as the whole-wheat bread) and loved it.

  17. Anonymous  

    When are they going to get dining dollars or flex?

  18. AllHotandBotheredbyJoe's  

    I'd love to bareback one of those hot "barbacks." They need more seating, that's my only complaint, otherwise everything is good. Specially those hotties making my latte - they put the "cap" in "cappuccino."

  19. I'm curious

    how does Joe's compared to Oren's, black coffee-wise?

    • In my opinion

      SO much better. I've never actually been a big Oren's fan anyway. Joe brews their drip coffee by the cup with the pourover method which, while perhaps pretentious and/or slow, I think really does make a better cup of coffee. Their roasts also seem better. The sulawesi I tried was amazing.

      P.S. For those who don't want to shell out $3-$3.50 for a cup of coffee and have some time/space: go out and buy a french press and/or ceramic pourover and brew your own. They're both pretty cheap and simple to use.

  20. Th best coffee

    is at SAMAD'S (underneath The Heights)!!! They have barrels of their stuff right in the store for you to oogle at!

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