Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Return To The Places We Love: Europa Cafe In Manhattan!

The Good: Wonderful food, Healthy, Clean, Friendly people
The Bad: A little pricey.
The Basics: Great food for the soup and sandwich crowd in Manhattan, the Europa Cafe is a decent place to dine in the City!

On my recent visit to New York City with my partner, I had very few rules that I was living by. After all, I was on vacation, we were taking a leisurely trip to one of the greatest cities on Earth and it was my gift to my fiance. When it is someone's first trip to New York City, you (or more accurately, I) want it to be about satisfying them and giving them the New York City experience that feels most authentic and real to them (less any potential muggings). So my partner and I had few real plans while in the City. Being fans of art, after purchasing our rings for one another, we headed into Manhattan to the Museum Of Modern Art (reviewed here!). En route there, because we were on foot, we did some shopping (that CBS store knew just who was walking by when they stuck that NCIS merchandise in the window!) and we began to get hungry. It was then that I violated one of my few rules for traveling with a new partner, which is: Avoid places you've been with the prior partner(s)! This is a good rule that has generally served me well in life and relationships. But when I saw the Europa Cafe on the corner of Lexington and 53rd Street, I suggested we go there.

The thing is, the last time I went to New York City, my partner at the time had raved about the Europa Cafe and it was one of the true hits of our trip there. We might not have been able to find Jekyll & Hyde's, but the Europa Cafes were everywhere and they had great food. Considering that that same partner had introduced me to Panera Bread (reviewed here!), it seemed like a safe bet and it was. So, despite having been there with the prior, this restaurant was worth taking the current (and evermore!) partner to. Yes, the food is that good.


The Europa Cafe is a chain of restaurants in Manhattan. As of this writing, there are fifteen restaurants peppered around Manhattan. This trip, we went to the one at 599 Lexington, which - like many of the Europa Cafes - is on a corner, in this case the corner of Lexington and 53rd St. Right nearby was the theater that "Shrek: The Musical" is playing at and Radio City Music Hall. There are Europa Cafes on Fifth Avenue, in Times Square, two on Broadway and Madison Avenue. This is a chain that is growing because its food is healthy, delicious and (for New York City) affordable. The Europa Cafe has a rather comprehensive website with a listing of all fifteen of its locations, including cross streets, hours of operation, telephone numbers, and (for those living in or staying in the City) delivery zones!


This is essentially a fast food restaurant and as a result, patrons place their orders and wait while it is prepared. Diners are responsible for busing their own table and waiting for their food to be handed to them. As a result, the staff tends to be cashiers or cooks, though sometimes they seem to pull double duty. The staff has always been friendly while I have been there. NOTE: Lunchtime at the Europa Cafe gets VERY crowded and finding a place to sit can be a bear. If you see a seat and are with someone, grab a table and send your companion to get the food! The table (space) will not be there if you wait for it!


Do you like the food at Panera Bread? If so, you'll love the Europa Cafe! This is essentially the same niche market as Panera and given that there are no Panera Bread restaurants (I've found!) in New York City, the Europa Cafe offers those looking for yummy soup, sandwich and baked goods a healthy alternative to traditional fast food restaurants which may be faster, but are not going to be as delicious! Having had no less than three meals at the Europa Cafe, I can fully endorse their breakfast and lunch options.

For breakfast, the Europa Cafe offers various egg sandwiches and now seems to have pancakes and french toast (we did not dine at the Cafe for breakfast this trip). They have a slew of baked goods, like danish, croissants, quiche, bagels (made in house) and bread all at reasonable prices. Getting a bagel for $.85 in New York City is not a bad price. The Cafe seems to have cereal options now as well.

We went for lunch, though and that is a meal that I can eagerly endorse for dining at the Europa Cafe! Both my fiance and I had Pressata sandwiches. The Pressata is the Europa Cafe trademarked name for "panini' and what separates the Pressata from the traditional panini sandwiches is that the Europa Cafe bakes their Pressatas on flatbread. As a result, their hot Pressata sandwiches are essentially a pitabread sandwich where instead of stuffing the pita (or flatbread) with the fillings, the Pressata has the flatbread halved and the fillings stuck between the two unopened pieces of flatbread. Rather amazingly, both our Pressata sandwiches held together and did not lose "toppings" out the sides! In addition to sandwiches, there are a number of healthy, homemade soup options (which I shall no doubt try and update this review with as I go through them!).

I had the Chicken Fajita Pressata, which was essentially grilled chicken, peppers, onions and Monterey Jack cheese inside the slices of flatbread. It was grilled, served hot and was thoroughly delicious. The cheese bound the filling to the bread adequately to prevent everything from just shooting out the other end. There was a decent mix of meat, vegetables and cheese without the peppers and onions overwhelming the chicken. As well, the sauce that was on this Pressata had a little kick, but was not too spicy to be unpleasant in any way. The bread, while hot and slightly toasted was still soft enough that it had give and was not so overwhelming in the flavor department to distract from the fillings.

My partner had a Philly Cheesesteak Pressata, as I recall (we liked the irony of being in New York City eating a Philadelphia food). The beef was neatly shaved, hot and flavorful, not dried out or in any way overcooked. The onions were well-caramelized and the peppers were soft as well, but still flavorful. The provolone cheese bound the fillings in this to the flatbread much the way the monterey jack held my Pressata together. This Pressata, too, was hot and the bread was more of a binding than an obtrusive part of the meal.

To drink the Europa Cafe offers coffees, teas and bottled drinks. We cheated this trip and I had a Snapple and she had a gross-looking "Naked Juice: Green Machine" drink. Despite looking disgusting and being made primarily of vegetables, this was a delicious drink that both quenched our thirst (I kept stealing some!) and was incredibly nutritious. I have orders from my partner to pick up more if I go back to the City before moving out to Michigan!

For dessert, we could not help but partake of the fresh-made brownies at the Europa Cafe. When I hedged on what to get, my partner picked up the Kahlua Bar and I picked up the Mississippi Mud Bar. The Mississippi Mud Bar is a very chocolatey brownie with a ton of hard dark chocolate atop it. It then has a thick chocolate syrup on it and it was soft (save the chocolate atop it) and very chocolatey. It was a little pricey at $3.45, but we were doing a lot of walking that day . . . The Kahlua Bar was a little less impressive. Where the Mississippi Mud Bar was appropriately chocolate flavored, the Kahlua bar was overwhelmed by the chocolate brownie and the Kahlua flavor in the topping barely came through.


Still, for just under thirty dollars, we were filled up with a very filling lunch that was healthy, made from good ingredients and prepared fast and fairly fresh. In Manhattan, who could ask for anything more?

For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Caribou Coffee
Chipotle Grill
Dunkin' Donuts


For other restaurant reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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