where and wherefore

breakfast of champions

[ egg and cheese with avocado by andie ]

like all new yorkers who truly love their city, we often talk about leaving. there’s just so much to want that isn’t available here; not if you plan to spend your days drawing, anyway. There are things we’d like to have around: open spaces, big old dogs, swimmable waterways, pickable apples, proper mexican food, porch swings, the sea.

these conversations begin dreamily but inevitably stray into the realm of practicality. there’s no shortage of places, after all, that boast the above specifications, and very few of them would we even consider inhabiting. we’re not about to move to the suburbs, or a red state, or south of the mason/dixon line. chicago is too cold; boston, too fratty; and portland, almond croissantway too friendly. i don’t ever want to have to own a car again, so good public transportation is mandatory; this obviously rules out baltimore, philly, and the entire bay area. seattle’s too dreary, boulder has no work, bar harbor’s too remote, austin’s in texas. asbury park will soon be in the governership of chris christie.

[ almond croissant by tomcat ]

you can see, dear reader, how such dialogues frequently culminate in resignation: it would seem we’re stuck here.

sometimes we resolve at least to move neighborhoods. don’t get me wrong, i love greenpoint to an unjustifiable extent; the only trouble is, it’s actually unjustifiable. the buildings are shoddy and tackily sided, the air is documented to be even more toxic than the city’s as a whole, and on rainy days, the waste treatment plant disperses its particular fragrance down the side-streets and boulevards straight through to the east river. all of which had a certain bohemian charm when i first moved here, five years ago, for a rent-stabilized pittance (relatively speaking). now, paying almost one-and-a-half-times as much for about a third of the space, i can’t help but suspect i’m being had. iced chai but my simultaneous aversions to physical jeopardy and yuppies, which guided me to greenpoint in the first place, continue to disqualify most of the rest of this town.

[ iced chai latte by ryan ]

there are, of course, those rare occasions on which some locale manages to survive our gauntlet of criteria. we begin to smile at the mere possibility of freedom and autonomy; maybe we won’t have to stay in brooklyn forever, after all. we look at one another. “well, why don’t we go then?” one of us will say, and the other will offer the inevitable response: “because they don’t have a champion.”

champion coffee is a java-scented, bowling alley-shaped cavern tucked into the vinyl facades that line the northern end of manhattan avenue. its charms, in keeping with the aesthetic m.o. of the neighborhood as a whole, may not be immediately apparent: the walls are bleakly painted and generally bare, the music is always too loud and periodically terrible, and it’s unlikely you’ll get from the door to the coffee counter (a distance of two small tables) without encountering or at least observing someone kinda nuts. visitors to the neighborhood (a demographic which, in the last couple years, has begun actually to exist) could not be faulted for peeking in and walking by (and most of us are not comfortable enough in our hipsterism to admit we consider this one of the cafe’s merits).

but in my little solar system, champion is the sun*, the beacon of hereness around which the rest of us spiral. during the warm months, its back garden, sunny and charming in its uncoordinated appointment, is an office-away-from-home for much of the neighborhood’s disproportionate population of freelancers. in january, the promise of a steaming chai latte is one of the few stimuli that can motivate me to leave my apartment. on weekend mornings, it is the site of innumerable brunch dates, both planned and serendipitous.

greenpoint’s coffee drinkers (of which i am not one) insist more or less unanimously that the borough’s best caffeine fix is to be found herein. i can speak for their small but exquisite selection of teas and uniformly delicious food. a number of their breakfasts border on downright transcendent, a feat all the more impressive for champion’s conspicuous lack of a kitchen; baked eggsthe baked eggs earn their modifier in a toaster oven above the counter, and the ricotta-stuffed french toast is prepared in a sandwich press. their prices are, for north brooklyn, anachronistically reasonable.

[ baked eggs with pesto and goat cheese by amanda ]

the baristas know us and, as often as not, what our orders will be, and the ones who haven’t yet discovered that i respond to “granola boy” greet me by name. they’re people i’m happy to see. (i know this is their job; i’m just saying they’re good at it.) and perhaps most winningly, they’re located an easy sunday morning stumble away.

some keep the sabbath going to church; some keep it sleeping in. we take our day of rest with a stroll down to the mccarren greenmarket for blue potatoes and unusual apples and a hug from emily. the return ramble may include a stop into word to pick up the local gossip from christine and see what’s gone to paperback, or sometimes one of the boutiques to play dress-up as people who can afford their product. the morning culminates, of course, in a big bowl of taletha’s granola (“a holdover,” she smiles, “from my hippie days”) topped with yogurt and whatever’s in season, and a steaming ramekin of baked eggs with pesto and goat cheese. these places, marketplaces, for better or worse, are the cathedrals of my community, where it is corralled and fostered and reminded of its own value. it may not be much, but it’s ours, and so we figure we may as well sign the lease for another year.

granola bowl

[ * for those looking to extend this metaphor, you should probably figure that coach and boots‘ flat is the earth, given that it’s the only place i go independently capable of sustaining life. my apartment is more like saturn, which is to say useless but way cool, and girlcate and midnight are its moons and rings, wandering around it and making my world lovely. chris and jodi‘s place, exciting but hard to get to, would have to be mars. mandy is a meteorite whose comings and goings we attempt to predict and go out of our ways not to miss. and all of us tumble about just one of the unknowable number of solar systems within the galaxy of north brooklyn. ]

scribbles

  1. Boots says:

    all so true!

  2. josh says:

    Okay, after this post I am ready to eat (or at least drink).
    The mean people all live out in Gresham. Wanna get beaten up while waiting for the train? Go to Gresham!

    • boy blue says:

      you clearly missed the part about my aversion to physical jeopardy. we brooklanders boast a unique mix of unfriendliness and harmlessness that you just can’t find anywhere else.

  3. Boots says:

    Kenan, you should really edit this down and post on Yelp. and maybe google too. the world needs your review.

scrawls

  1. […] the champion sketches accompanied our rather exhaustive discussion of the cafe’s deceptive splendors a few months back. one of them grew up to become the fine, […]

  2. […] we survived the muck and arrived back at the apartment, armed with baking supplies and treats from Champion, ready for some snow day baking […]

  3. […] I was happy enough with the results that I was able to muster up the courage to bring it to Champion to give our favorite baristas a taste. And they liked it! Like, enough to ask me if I wanted to […]

  4. […] writes or even just talks about the neighborhood, he gets it exactly right like no one else I know. He wrote about it last summer and it was one of my favorite things I’ve read on the Internet, precisely because (as we […]

scribble