You’d think that the schlep down to the Lower East Side would be a frigid, unrewarding journey, but the 40-minute trek is worth it for the culinary wonderland there. Stationed in the vicinity of classics such as Kossar’s Bialys and Katz’s Delicatessen is Ost Café. Originally established in the East Village, Ost Café brings the flavor of modern Central Europe to the Lower East Side after an extensive three-year search for the perfect location. Owner Alex Clark serves customers with a warm hospitality that is so often missing from New York’s professional interactions.
While the exposed brick wall, wooden tables and chairs, framed chalkboard beverage menu, and oversized glass bulbs all scream generic “hipster,” Ost has personality. Most notably, it achieves a sense of spaciousness by moving seating spaces to the sides of the room, quite contrary to the small hole-in-the-wall efficiency of many New York cafés and restaurants, while a foot-long panel extends from the right wall as a counter for six bar stools, and two large tables cut from wooden butcher’s blocks offer up more space for customers. Kept spotlessly clean, but ultimately inviting, Ost is especially beautiful as sunlight streams through the three floor-length windows that make up the entrance.
Ost’s coffee is predictably delicious, selected seasonally by PT and Kitten Coffee, located in Brooklyn. The Americano ($2.75) is strong and had the right amount of bitterness to cut the richness of the croissant. Bright at the beginning and earthy at the end, every mouthful is smooth without any milk or sugar. The cortado ($3.75), not a common offering in many cafés, is a velvety version of a condensed latte—created with the same amount of espresso but with much less milk—which allows for the flavor of the coffee to perfume quality Battenkill Valley Creamery milk. The cappuccino ($4) leaves delicate foam resting on your upper lip, and the mocha ($4.50) is a rather sweet liquid dessert, in which cocoa powder perfumes the coffee, instead of the other way around—and it tasted all the better for it. Aside from coffee, Ost also offers hot chocolate, chai, and organic loose-leaf teas such as breakfast and Earl Grey, with more selections coming to the store in the near future.
When it comes to food, Ost orders as many pastries as it can keep fresh daily from local bakeries, and they certainly choose the crème de la crème. The butter croissants from Ceci Celia disappear rather quickly from the glass display case at the foot of the cashier, and upon taking a bite, it is clear why: Full-flavored, buttery, and just the right ratio of egg-washed flakiness and soft chewiness, the croissant is the perfect complement to any hot tea or espresso beverage. The ham and cheese croissant is equally delicious, with thick-cut jambon cru and gruyère adding texture and bite to the original.
Ost caters to the needs of the neighborhood with its comfortable ambience and unobtrusive musical mix of jazzy country and pop. The only drawback is that the café doesn’t have any plugs available for customers, despite the fast and complimentary Wi-Fi, so come fully charged if you want to use a laptop or phone for the duration of your stay.