One of the new restaurants to open in a recent wave of new cafés, lifestyle boutiques, and bakeries dotting this corner of the Ridgewood, the café’s departure suggests that the changing neighborhood is still tough for small businesses as they compete to fill its once abandoned industrial storefronts.
“Rent was being raised each year, [just] like everywhere in Ridgewood, ” Andrés Castelló, the restaurant’s owner, told Bushwick Daily.
The café’s landlord, the owner of an erstwhile warehouse space that has been retrofitted into a hipster strip mall in miniature, will not be out for very long. A source tells Bushwick Daily that a couple trying their hand at neo-French cuisine has already signed papers to take the space, which sits adjacent to a pricy cocktail joint and a quaint natural wine store run by one of the owners of the Bushwick pizza parlor Ops.
But if short-lived, Café Esencia offered far more than an aspiring Julia Child impression. As Castelló had put it, the food was meant to bring to mind the distantly sunny past of southern Spain, whose mythic pre-Inquisition “La Convivencia” period he was particularly attached to.
Did it? Well, I’ve never been to Spain, as the song goes. But the sourdough churros that Castelló regularly baked were among the most remarkable in the neighborhood, and possibly the city. One only hopes the Moors of Spain enjoyed such things. Warm, doughy, caked with a slight and never sickly layer of sugar, these things could handily satisfy as a meal in themselves, especially if you opted to order them on a large plate, six-feet long.
But the rest of Castelló’s short, sweet menu was not to be ignored either. Minimal Euro-style sandwiches arrived on chewy bread and were wolfed down easily on weekday afternoon lunch breaks. An effort at a dinner menu, meant to bring to mind Spain’s all-night tapas culture, was given a shot but quickly abandoned in a neighborhood which can still become as quiet as the suburbs in the evening hours. However, another late addition, a thick and sumptuous butternut squash soup, was warmly welcomed on chilly autumn mornings and could easily rival any of the more luxurious antipasti offerings in the city.
Its tightly-packed single room was lit graciously by large windows that opened to Forest Avenue’s ever-increasing traffic, an effect Castelló smartly countered with soft, tender seashell colors that evoked a seaside café frequented by vacationing book-readers. But through its thick metal door passed a wide crowd of regular denizens. Post-grad students in fluffy hoodies; families splitting a churro wheel as a treat; mothers commiserating during the school day.
It will be missed.
Top photo taken by Andrew Karpan, courtesy of Bushwick Daily.
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