Verb Cafe (107 Nassau Ave) reopened in Greenpoint last month, a year and a half after the beloved Williamsburg location in the Girdle Factory closed in the summer of 2014 — replaced by, of all things, an artisanal soap shop.
Owner Cisco Rodriguez is committed to keeping the vibe of the old Verb while bringing in new ideas, inspired by both his personal vision and the feedback he gets from regulars in the new neighborhood.
When I walked into Verb Cafe to meet Cisco Rodriguez, the first thing he did was offer me a bowl of quinoa. He’s experimenting with bringing the ingredient to the menu, complete with accompaniments like avocado, grilled onion, hummus, and tomato. The second, third, and fourth things he did were greet each customer who walked in either by name or by noting a previous experience at the café.
“How’d your fella like his bagel the other day?”
“Let me make sure I get your Cholula!”
The relaxed atmosphere of Verb reminded me of a co-op run by college students, complete with whiteboards with the menu penned in expo marker and pizza bagels — albeit with a much more organized business and staff, helmed by Rodriguez.
The menu is classic but eclectic cafe fare, ranging from “The Quintessential Bagel” with cream cheese, tomato, cucumber, and onion, to “Veggie Thai Bagel” with tofu, sprouts, peanut butter, onions, cucumbers, Cholula and olive oil.
For those with something sweeter in mind there’s the “Tom Hardy,” with peanut butter, jam, bananas, cinnamon, and honey, as well as an enticing case of pastries.
The drink menu sticks to Verb’s old mission of offering a simple, good cup of coffee, while also branching into popular newer offerings like Matcha Lattes and offering coconut-almond milk.
Verb offers everything from drip coffee to cold brew to Chai and Spanish lattes, and Rodriguez was careful to ask each customer for their specific preferences in their drinks, which can be rare in the age of the distracted barista.
The cappuccino Rodriguez crafted for me was perfectly poured in a ceramic brown mug complete with a latte flower, showcasing that it’s possible to know your espresso without getting pretentious about it’s small batch producer.
“The menu has been embraced by the customers, which is good, because it gives us that pressure to keep the quality high,” Rodriguez told me over our quinoa bowls. He spoke of plans to bring in an old school pancake skillet, and riffed on several different ideas for how he could implement a pancake line in the cafe. “We aren’t adding too much to the old menu, but we do want to add what people ask for. People really wanted eggs; okay, we’ll try to bring in eggs. I want to use all-purpose ingredients.”
“I was starting out with a nice cup of coffee, simple foods, but the people of Greenpoint really want something substantial, so we’re looking to bring that.”
We agreed that portion sizes can be a gamble when you’re out to eat – you never know if you’re going to be getting a bagel the size of a coaster – and Rodriguez was clear that he wants people to be leaving Verb satisfied instead of already considering where they’re going to get their next meal.
Of the new Greenpoint location, Rodriguez happily stated, “We knew it was home right away, because so many of our former customers are living in the neighborhood and have come in already – it has the same old personality. It’s definitely a different start – you couldn’t find $300 antlers next door when we started at the old location,” he joked.
When I asked Rodriguez about his plans to get involved in the neighborhood, he spoke about how the Verb of the past made its own community.
“Verb was its own little ecosystem. You’d go in in a bunny suit and feel comfortable.”
It’s clear that he wants to bring that mentality to the Greenpoint location, offering a place where everyone can feel welcome and talk to each other, make new connections and grow to recognize new faces.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Verb Cafe is the art on the walls. Large black and white portraits cover one wall, while pillows with animated designs line the crates on the opposite side of the room. Rodriguez plans on expanding the role of art in the cafe, turning the large window into a rotating gallery.
“People are already asking to buy the photographs, and I kinda wish I could just be like – no! I get attached to things.”
The new iteration of Verb cafe has been open a month, but Rodriguez says it feels like it’s been longer, because customers have been so friendly.
“I really like Greenpoint and look forward to being here for a really long time, growing with the neighborhood, and I’m open to suggestions. I want people to come and talk to me face to face, rather than a suggestion box or Yelp or anything like that. And in the future, I want it to be more than a café — if somebody wants to do a play, or jam in here, I want it to be a place they can do that.”