November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

from the archives of Robin Hirsch, Minister of Culture, we present an ongoing historical pre-blog

It’s noon.  José-Luis calls down to the office and says, “There’s an old friend at the bar who wants to surprise you.”  I come up.  At the bar is an old man, bald, with a fringe of white hair.  He’s on a cane.  I haven’t a clue.  As he limps towards me, his face hoves more clearly into view. “Hello, Robin,” he smiles.  “Gary!”

More than fifty years ago, we had been members of the same Jewish youth group in London.  It was called the Phoenix and the name was carefully chosen.  It was the youth group of a congregation founded just before the war by German Jews who had fled Hitler.  It was the hope of the founders after the war, after the Holocaust, that out of the ashes a new generation might rise to carry their wan flame into the future.

Gary’s parents had emigrated to America when he was fourteen, so his membership in the Phoenix was brief.  But he had played Shylock in our production of the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, so when he left it was a palpable loss.  He had real talent even then.  Years later he trained as an actor at the Yale School of Drama.  He returned to England to play in Cyrano at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park the same summer that I came to America.  We passed in mid Atlantic, he on the SS United States going east, I on the Queen Elizabeth going west.

He had a successful career in England—at the RSC, at the National, in the West End.  A couple of times he came to New York to star on Broadway—with Alan Howard in Good, with Jim Dale in Joe Egg.  He even stayed with us during one of those runs.  I had seen him several times since.

But his appearance today is a jolt.

He has on his arm an attractive middle aged woman.  “This is Helen,” he says.

“Gary, what are you doing here?  Are you in a play?  And what’s wrong with your leg?”

“No, we’re in New York because we both had time off.  We came down to the Village because I wanted to show Helen the café.  What luck that you’re here.”

“And your leg?”

“I just had an operation.  It’s not as serious as it looks.”

Helen, it turned out, was a TV producer.  They had met when she was producing a show for David Frost.  Gary had become quite famous in a TV series called The Vicar of Dibley and Helen wanted him to come on the Frost show as a guest.  He turned her down.

“He’s quite shy, you know,” Helen said.  “In contrast to me.”

“She has a knack,” Gary said, “of going into a room anywhere in the world—Sydney, for example—and saying, I have to sit over there, next to that person, and as often as not there turns out to be a connection.  You’re a little like that, aren’t you?”

I explained that I had to meet my wife and that we were going to be out of town till Sunday, but I’d love to have them for dinner if they were free on Sunday evening.

Accordingly that Sunday night we sit down outside at O6, the farthest table to the right as you look out of the café.  We eat, we laugh, Gary and I reminisce.  Helen seems interested in everything, our shared youth, the shadow of our dark history, the café.  She comes downstairs to listen to a little jazz; Gary can’t make it because of his knee.

Dinner progresses at a leisurely pace.  Conversation is easy and fluid.  It’s one of those clear autumn nights, still warm enough for the doors to be open.  Every table outside is filled.  The usual complement of people passes by and says hello.

Suddenly at 10:30 there is a huge hullabaloo at the end of the street.  A firetruck is trying to make the turn, but it’s very tight.  Sirens are screaming, people are shouting, a car that is blocking traffic is moved.  Two firetrucks pull up outside the café and dozens of firemen in helmets and bulging uniforms jump out, brandishing pickaxes.  I am immediately terrified that they are going to smash our glass doors and lay waste to the café.  I jump up to find the captain.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the cabaret,” I say to the startled customers and run up to the lead truck.  “Excuse me, what’s going on?  Is it our building?”  The sense of urgency seems to have abated.   I turn round and look at the truck head on.  It’s my turn to be taken aback.  “Gary, Helen, come here.”

Painted on the front of the truck in immaculate gold letters is its name: “The Phoenix: Risen from Ashes.”

The next day I get an e-mail from my sister in London saying the Phoenix is having a reunion in two weeks.  Is there any way I can make it?

I had been the chairman for three years, from the age of fourteen to the age of seventeen.  It was at the Phoenix that I first learned the importance of community, a lesson which I took with me into the theatre and eventually the café.

How could I not go?

It was heartwarming, intense, deeply moving.

There were people I still knew, people I vaguely remembered, people I hadn’t seen or thought about in fifty years.

But they all had one thing in common.  Every single one of them looked as old as Gary.

October 2010


The Changes of Fall

October 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Chef/Partner Dan Latham shares his thoughts on the seasonal shifts outside and on our menu.

Fall.  Summer departs and the season of real food arrives–the braising of meats till tender, the roasting of winter squash, the pressing of apples into cider. Now comes the beautiful color of change, a time to slow down and reflect, and the chance to let go and create.

Outside there is a snap in the air.  In the kitchen, too, we are falling into Fall.  From up the river we bring in Hudson Valley Duck which we roast,  gently turning the breast into Magret which we serve with a warm Pear Sauce and Mashed Sweet Potatoes laced with Goat Cheese. A new found connection in my quest for local, this upstate duck farm reminds me of the duck I knew growing up.  Beautiful crisp skin, a deep red rose color, the meat bursting with juicy flavors.

Raised in the Finger Lakes, this is the season I love.  Raking the turning maple leaves into huge piles to jump into. The smell of autumn left on my jacket.  In the vineyards the grape harvest in colors from deep purple to mossy green.   The vegetable garden is nipped by frost, the yellow orange butternut squash and deep acorn squash stand out ready to be picked.   In this spirit at the Café we slowly roast Butternut Squash to infuse our Mushroom Risotto drizzled with Truffle Oil and Shaved Parmesan.

My daughter loves the cool weather.  Me too!  It is the time I can bring out the slow cooked Belgian Beef Carbonade, Lamb Shanks tender to the bone, Duck Confit cooked in its own fat,  and Short Ribs slowly braised in a Fall Vegetable Gravy spiked with local Six Points Beer and resting on Parsley Mashed Potatoes.  A thin moist layer of fat between the meat, yum!

Fall… apples fall, pears fall, time for ciders, pies, crisps, cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and cream.  At the start of school every year we would travel along Keuka Lake to the Apple Barn to pick our Macs, Empires, and Cortland.  We sampled the orchard to find the perfect sweet, crisp, sour bite.  Then hot cider.  So… The Berkshire Pork Loin with caramelized apple and a cider reduction, perfumed with smokiness from the grill.   And to finish, our Pastry Chef has been making a Pumpkin Bourbon Ice Cream with a chocolate stirrer.

Come join us–take a trip to Cornelia Street to see the changes of Fall.



October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment


from the archives of Robin Hirsch, Minister of Culture, we present an ongoing historical pre-blog

One early evening in July, our lovely host (I can’t quite remember which one, but all our hosts are lovely) called down to the office and said, “There’s a woman at O1 (O stands for outside, and O1 is the first table on the left if you’re facing out from the bar room) who says she was here seventeen years ago and she would like to speak to you.  I am a sucker for these kinds of moments, so of course I came up.  At O1 were three people—a mother, a father, and what I assumed was a daughter.  I introduced myself and the mother asked me how long I had been here.  I said that this month we were celebrating our 24th birthday and that I had been here since the day we were born—indeed from the moment of conception.  I detected an accent.

“Where are you from?”

“From Germany.”

“I taught in Germany a hundred years ago.”

“Oh, really, where?”

“In the Ruhr, at the Ruhr Universität Bochum, in the first year it opened, 1965.  I understand it’s quite big now.”

“Oh, my sympathies.  Yes, it is huge now.  But it is no more beautiful.  May I present my husband?’

“How do you do?”

“And my daughter.”

“How do you do?”

“She is about to go to university.  But in Heidelberg, I am glad to say, not in Bochum.”

“And what brings you here?”

“Well, to America, we come on holiday.  But to your café we come for a quite specific reason.”


“I was here at this table seventeen years ago.  I was alone.  My husband stayed home with our son, who was a baby.  It was a beautiful day.  I remember it very clearly.  I was pregnant and I sat here at this table and it was such a perfect day and the light was just right—this time of early evening—and I was very content.  And I said to myself, I will always remember this moment, on this street, at this café, at this table.  And I said to myself also, if this is a girl I will call her Cornelia.”

And she extended her hand and said, “May I present you my daughter, Cornelia?”

So, of course, we opened a bottle of champagne and we took photos of the family, and of the four of us, and of the café from the outside, and of the famous table at which, seventeen years before, this beautiful young woman had acquired her name.

Stories about the Cafe you’d like to share? Comment, call, or contact us via corneliawebpr@gmail.com

Chef Dan & The Edible Garden

July 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last Monday, while the rest of us were fleeing the 100F+ heat at the beach and the movies, Cornelia Chef Dan Latham was out at the New York Botanical Garden to participate in their season-long Edible Garden series. Amidst many and varied Bronx-bound species, Dan performed a live-action cooking demo in a sweet semi-covered kitchen, showcasing three recipes based around edible plants. His dishes: Summer Corn Risotto with Tomato Basil Coulis and Cornelia Black & Blue Berry Squares. More pix and his full recipes after the juuuump!

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Happy Birthday Cornelia Street Cafe

July 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sunday marked an illustrious 33rd birthday, celebrated all afternoon with the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band. If you’d been wandering through Cornelia Street around 3 in the afternoon Sunday, you would’ve seen something like this…

More sights after the jump…

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Valentine’s Day

February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Whether ensnared or single, seeking or contently solo, Cornelia Street Cafe invites you to spend Valentine’s Day basking in our collective love. The kitchen has prepared a special menu brimming with delicious and stands ready to accommodate you from 6pm to 11pm. Meanwhile our downstairs offerings are no less notable.

At 6pm, Lisa Faith Phillips appears with pianist Ellen Mandel to bring you the inimitable How To Be A Bad Girl: Mistress Edition. Charismatic comedian and former stripper, Phillips brings her new show to Cornelia Street Downstairs following a sold-out tour of her popular parody musical 7 ½ Habits of Highly Successful Mistresses in Dublin, Ireland, New York and at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington D.C.. She has subsequently been sued for trademark infringement by the FranklinCovey Corporation, owners of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People trademark. Now she’s back, accompanied by the gifted Mistress Ethel on piano. Lisa gives the “411 on romance, love and security in this entertaining off-the-wall performance” (Time-Out New York). Updating with the latest current events and highlighting the 7 1/2 secrets with a riding crop, maracas and witty original songs, such as “How To Be A Bad Girl” and “The Fellatio Tango”, this hilarious seminar “is fun for wives, for husbands, for everybody” (Pagina 12). Drawing on her colorful experiences, working as a stripper to pay her way through graduate school at the London School of Economics, and her background in stand-up comedy and music, Lisa Faith Phillips weaves topical humor and songs into a clever, thought-provoking and ultimately touching show. Part comedy, part cabaret, part one-woman theater piece, it all adds up to an evening of sophisticated, fun entertainment.

Then at 8pm and 10pm, we are joined by the Jo Lawry & Fred Hersch Duo. Pianist and composer Fred Hersch has been called a “one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation” by Downbeat and has earned a place among the foremost jazz artists in the world today. From the late 70’s onward as a sideman to jazz legends including Joe Henderson, Art Farmer and Stan Getz, he has solidified a reputation as a versatile master of jazz piano, as well as a relentlessly probing composer and conceptualist. Australian vocalist Jo Lawry at once tests the limits of technical facility and explores the furthest reaches of musical expression. Her debut album “I Want to Be Happy” earned 4.5 stars in Downbeat Magazine, and recently made the publication’s “Best CDs of the 2000s” list.Jo’s involvement with Fred Hersch began with the development of his quartet, the Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra, also featuring Richie Barshay (drums) and Ralph Alessi (trumpet). Wall Street Journal named the band’s debut album, “Live At Jazz Standard” (Sunnyside) among 2009’s best new releases. For this unique duo performance at Cornelia Street, Fred and Jo will perform repertoire from the Pocket Orchestra book, as well as exploring some jazz standards and their own originals.

Cover is $15 + $15 food/drink minimum.Our Special Valentine’s Day Dinner $55 upstairs/$65 downstairs including show

UPDATE: Check out the article from the Times Magazine about Fred Hersch here.

Waitangi Day

February 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

As they say on Wikipedia, Waitangi Day commemorates “a significant day” in the history of the people of New Zealand.  Waitangi Day, which is a national holiday in NZ, commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, in 1841. While Waitangi Day is celebrated throughout New Zealand and elsewhere in the UK, substantial controversy pervades as to whether or not the anniversary ought be viewed positively, as it officially designated New Zealand’s indigenous Māori as subjects of Great Britain. Annually there appear manifestations of the well-established Māori Protest Movement, who view Waitangi Day as an occassion to recognize their longstanding subjugation at the hands of the British.

Cornelia Street Cafe commemorates Waitangi Day with a full menu of New Zealand offerings, including an amazing-sounding lamb roast and a dessert that marries meringue, kiwifruit, passionfruit, and strawberries. You can check out the full menu here.

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