Paloma Coffee and Bakery (772 Manhattan Ave.) recently opened a new flagship location on the bustling corner of Manhattan and Meserole. Owner Reuben Villagomez has a vision for the coffeeshop and bakery, working alongside Chef Alexander Zecena to expand the culinary offerings that compliment Paloma’s espresso.
Greenpointers spoke with Chef Zecena, a Williamsburg resident, about new menu items to expect at Paloma and the path that led him there.
Greenpointers: How did you become the Executive Chef at Paloma?
Chef Alexander Zecena: I met Reuben during the pandemic, a few months after he opened Paloma. I had just moved back to New York and saw an ad Reuben published, saying he needed someone to work early in the morning. The timing worked for me, so I met him and we instantly hit it off.
We started by expanding the menu at the original location, adding simple breakfast items like the olive oil cake and babka. One thing led to another and we exploded. We then became partners.
Greenpointers: The olive oil cake is mouthwatering. Is it your most popular pastry?
Zecena: Most of the pastries are popular. In fact, they almost always sell out by 10 or 11 a.m. I’ve made many pastries that surprise me with their popularity. I didn’t think our version of Hot Pockets that I make with artichokes, olives, and potatoes, would be successful, but they are. Plus, the sweet potato galettes, made with cheddar and an egg on top, sell out everyday.
Greenpointers: Rumor has it, the menu will expand further to include sandwiches and lunch options.
Zecena: That’s right. In the next few weeks, we will develop a lunch program. Customers can expect the menu to change completely starting in May, in line with the arrival of summer produce.
We are going to have sandwiches on really good bread from local bakeries like She Wolf. In addition to sandwiches, we will add salads and sides.
We’ve also been thinking about a chocolate program to pay homage to the candy store the location once was.
Greenpointers: What sets Paloma apart from other coffeeshops and bakeries?
Zecena: We do simple things, but the way we execute them separates us from other places. Some coffee shops have great coffee and some bakeries have great pastries, but we have both.
At the end of the day, we want to feed and support the neighborhood. We want to be ingrained into the community.
Greenpointers: Speaking of the community, what is your favorite restaurant in the North Brooklyn neighborhood?
Zecena: I don’t discriminate and go wherever good food is. One of my favorite restaurants in Williamsburg is the Llama Inn. I also think Missy Robbins can do no wrong when it comes to pasta, so I love Misi and Lilia. But, my favorite, above all, is Win Son.
Greenpointers: Have you always wanted to be a chef?
Zecena: When I was in college at Syracuse, I worked in kitchens to work my way through school. Then, I went to Stanford Law School. While at Stanford, I started working at Chez Panisse, one of the best restaurants out there, and I loved it. I decided that was the path I wanted to take, so I completely switched gears, much to the dismay of my parents.
I worked under great chefs like Thomas Keller. They took me under their wing and showed me what pastries can do. Pastries start with butter, flour, and sugar and can be turned into all different kinds of things. If you want to make a cake, you don’t buy it like a steak, you start with raw ingredients and shape and mold it into what you want. That is what I love about making pastries.
Greenpointers: What is your favorite pastry to make?
Zecena: The next one! I get bored easily.