>> I O Caffe | Eat the World NYC

13 June 2019

I O Caffe


As Ridgewood continues to change and newcomers with earbuds shuffle down the subway stairs at Forest Avenue to quickly walk home, I O Caffe continues to be the place it has always been for the last 25 years or so. With its dark, barred windows and solid door that offer no glimpses inside even at night, it takes somewhat of a leap of faith to swing open the heavy portal and step inside. The right folks might bring the jukebox screeching to a halt just like in the movies, but since I am Serbian-passing the intensity level of stares were simply at harmless intruder level.

But all that evaporates away pretty quickly just like it does in most longtime corner bars that only get a few outsiders. After all, the door is always open, I O Caffe just keeps to itself. And if this leap had not been made, a really nice plate of ćevapi and the friendly welcome would never have been found. As a group of men smokes and plays dominos in the back, grab one of the ten or so seats at the bar and settle in.

As with most Balkan bars here in the city, it opens early and has an espresso machine, making sure your morning and evening vices can all be taken care of in the same place. While the East Village has an actual Serbian place called Kafana, this is what an establishment with the description of a "coffee house" usually feels like back home. When asked about the clientele, the very friendly barman on this day tells me:

"People from all over the Balkans come here. Here they get along, over there they don't."

The meal above was procured at 17:00 on a Monday and required him to kick the whole operation into gear back in their tiny open kitchen. At a similar time on a weekday before this, the woman running the place said that food usually starts around 19:00. Still unclear of the rules, it should be noted that showing up at least close to dinner time or later should land you better chances of eating.

There is no menu, but plates of ćevapi (above) are the main offering. When salad and fries were mentioned they were not turned down, as it was the goal of the meal to try as much as they were cooking. $25 ended up being the total for 10 perfectly grilled pieces of meat over crisp fries, some bread, and an excellent and large šopska, a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, red peppers, and a healthy sprinkling of Bulgarian goat cheese.

While most of the tables are empty during a weekday afternoon, the bar must be fun and spirited on a full evening. Five TVs over the bar play Serbian karaoke via YouTube but would be excellent for a particularly thrilling non-American football match. And while they do not carry the Serbian lager Jelen, there are enough beers and spirits here to make most non-hipster folks happy.

Even though they don't carry it, ask for a Jelen anyways when you arrive and you'll get an earful of Serbian and the immediate endearment of the barman.

I O Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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