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.