El Rey is a very new coffee shop that just opened in the Lower East Side by Nicholas Morgenstern of a very good East Village restaurant, Goat Town. If you have not realized this, the Lower East Side doesn’t have many options for very good coffee compared to other parts of Manhattan. El Rey is a caffeine life saver for the area. They exclusively use Counter Culture coffee beans and make espresso shots off a gleaming Strada machine (makes a wonderful cappuccino and every coffee geek’s dream if he/she has the counter space) and there’s pour over coffee. The most novel thing on their coffee menu – they brew their own iced Vietnamese coffee (large $4.75) and it’s on tap.
I adore Vietnamese coffee because of it’s dark, potent coffee brew that meets the cloyingly sweet condensed milk and manages to meet a happy zen. El Rey manages to make a very good version of this caffeinated beverage. The brew is a combination of Rustico and Toscano beans that is syrupy like a traditional Vietnamese coffee. When the barista pours their condensed milk syrup (a blend of sweet condensed milk and whole milk), it’s a beautiful sight and delightful to sip on a slightly humid morning we had.
Besides the serious coffee El Rey brews, they do make incredible pastries in-house that are not your standard lineup of coffeehouse staples. Most of these baked goods have some kind of unusual twist, whether it would be a savory twist to the standard cookie or pastry or inherently Asian touches like ginger and buckwheat.
Eating by their bright open windows at the bar, we had the shared the sour plum and ginger danish ($3), salt and black pepper pignoli shortbread (or sandy, as they call it) and chocolate chip ($2.50 each cookie), and a coconut honey cake ($3.50).
The danish was the best breakfast pastry I’ve eaten in the longest time. Super flaky and the jammy tart plum center was superbly balanced with the spicy, slightly sweet ginger. The cookies were delicious, especially the savory leaning, salt & pepper pignoli (pine nut) shortbread cookie. I would eat that cookie by the dozen. It’s crumbly, buttery, sweet, salty and slightly spicy all at the same time. The pignolis tie up the flavors neatly. The moist coconut honey cake would be the safest of the bunch of the baked goods we had. It’s straight forward sweet but the honey made it a bit more complex and the coconut made a bit more interesting.
In all, if you’re in the Lower East Side or live in that area, El Rey is a great spot to have a little pick-me-up any time of the day. They do have seltzer on tap and make their seasonal soda (they make their soda syrup and blend it with it with the seltzer). There’s also beer on tap as well in case you need more than caffeine to make you happy.
To view more photos of this visit, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE for my photo set):
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