Finding a quaint European-style café in the East Village or Cobble hill is a piece of cake. Sitting down for good espresso, a light salad or simple sandwich in Bed-Stuy, however, hasn’t been an easy task until now.
Nestled on the blossoming corner of Classon and Greene avenues is nero doro, a relaxing, simple and fresh Italian café owned by Italian transplant Carolina Barbagallo. the airy space hums with soft jazz (and, recently, the buzz of the vuvuzela during the World Cup matches) and beckons the weary traveler to take a seat in one of the cozy chairs or pastry-laden coffee bar. There you find Barbagallo at the helm, serving combos of salads, paninis and le piadine, a soft flat bread from the Emilia Romagna region in Italy. As of yet, the café does not serve wine and beer, though since its opening in February, the management has promised booze is on the way. There is also the nasty habit of closing every day at 7:30, which makes dinner out of the question. This, too, the restaurant has promised will change any week now.
While a glass of wine in the sunlight would be nice, as it stands, the café has managed to become the perfect place to spend an afternoon writing, reading or snacking in quiet conversation. Usually supervised by the laid-back Barbagallo, the staff at nero doro refreshingly don’t bother you with endless check-ins or ever pressure you to leave. This European-style service is nice for working on a novel or having a heart-to-heart, but sometimes the staff tends to be so laissez-faire you have to beg to get noticed.
A recent venture to the café proved successful in the food realm, but failed on the service side. after taking a seat at one of the hearty wooden tables inside—the eatery can seat about 20—I waited 10 minutes for someone to bring me water before I walked up to the counter and asked for it. Back at my table, I waited again to have my order taken, and finally just asked the young woman manning the counter if I could order. If the café had been busy I might have understood, but aside from mine, only three other tables were occupied. Even though the waitress appeared new, both the owner and another employee were there and choose to chat rather then help her.
But once my al crudo piadine ($12) arrived, I was lulled by the warm, buttery bread stuffed with thin, rich slices of prosciutto di Parma, arugula and bel paese, a mild, semi-soft Italian cheese. The piadine alla mortadella ($7.50) also impressed me with its simple marriage of light slices of porky mortadella and fontina cheese. All the sandwiches come with a simple pile of greens laced with sea salt and are served warm.
Another trip to the café proved much better service-wise. As I took residence at one of the outdoor tables, I was quickly rewarded with a chilled bottle of water and a smiling waiter. I ordered the la sicilia di Carmen ($9.50), a summery salad made with hunks of fresh fennel, sweet chunks of orange peeled and deseeded, salty black olives and a light drizzle of olive oil. It proved perfect for a hot, sticky day, and the simple ingredients played off each other well. From the panini list, I tried the il nerodoro ($8.50), an odd combination of grilled eggplant, crisp green apples, fresh basil and mint and tingling bursts of capers. Again the melody of salty, sweet and savory came together in perfect harmony, and even having just eaten a whole salad, I quickly devoured my panini.
Despite the inconsistent service, the food remains the main reason to visit Nero Doro. Also, on a block that, until the past few years, stood desolate of entertainment or eateries, this newbie is a welcome addition to the sparse eating options—a Cuban joint, Vietnamese sandwich shop and Senegalese restaurant—that also grace the area. Hopefully, it will open up for dinner and drinks soon, since a quiet night in Italy is just what the neighborhood ordered.
>> Nero Doro
395 Classon Ave. (at Greene St.), Brooklyn, 718-484-8822.