so, i have no idea what albanian coffee is supposed to taste like. fusilli a while back asked for "to go" coffee recommendations in the bronx--which this is not--and i made a mental note to post here about my one albanian coffee experience. so here it is.
i was living in the arthur avenue area in the early fall, and didn't have a television, which normally suits me fine. however, on september 11, wnyc only held me for about an hour. i needed some visuals, and fast. so i packed a little backpack and thought i'd head to one of the sports bars near fordham. i got as far as the first television, which happened to be at an albanian cafe/restaurant, the ristorante shqiptare. i sort of stood outside the restaurant, which had open glass doors, and craned my neck in to see the television. you have to understand that, a) i'm not albanian, b) i'd passed by it twice a day for four months and never heard anyone in there speaking english, c)i'm a woman, and d) i'd never seen a woman in there who wasn't the waitress. and most of the tables are filled with young to middle-aged albanian gentlemen, the modern analogs of the italian men i imagine populated the cafe fronts on arthur ave decades ago. lots of smoke and talk and alcohol and coffee. i had joked throughout the summer that i was going to "integrate" the ristorante shqiptare, but i always chickened out.
anyway, i stood there at the door for about fifteen minutes, both confused and mesmerized by what i saw on the television. there were about six guys in there, and soon they invited me in. i sat at the bar, next to the espresso machine. i watched the waitress make a bunch of coffees, and despite the fact that she only asked once if i wanted anything, i soon felt like i should be earning my keep. i ordered a coffee. i did like the albanian men did and poured a bunch of sugar in the demitasse. then i drank the coffee, and man, it was good. mind you, i'm not an espresso drinker and i imagine that with enough sugar any of it is drinkable. but still, its promise of incipient caffeination reminded me of my days in berkeley, drinking ultra-caffeinated drinks at my favorite student cafe, and waiting for brilliance to come upon me. so yeah, nostalgia's at play here.
about 25 minutes later, when the caffeine really started kicking in, i came out of the fog, and started thinking of all the people who i hadn't managed to track down over the course of the day, and thought i should leave. got out my backpack and sure enough, i'd forgotten to pack a wallet. so i sat back down and wondered what the heck i was going to do. how embarrassing, to go into somebody's kinda exclusive cafe and then not have the $ to pay for a single cup of espresso. serendipitously, one of the older, decent-seeming guys who'd been talking to me a bit, offered to buy me a drink. i declined the alcohol, but he persisted and eventually it dawned on me (the brilliance slower in coming than the caffeine) that i should probably have him pay for my coffee, seeing as i couldn't. he just nodded at the waitress, and then insisted he buy me a juice also, which (in part due to my dehydrated state) i let him do, with thanks. there was nothing pushy or uncomfortable about the guys, and they pretty much left me to my thoughts. i was so grateful on that day for that little cup of coffee and those men who helped me avoid feeling that much worse on such a strange, terrible day. in fact, they made me feel better in a kind of indescribable yet, i'm certain, totally universal way. it was a small moment of comfort and connection that i will always treasure.
so, the chowhound part of this story is to tell any of you who make it out to arthur ave for your italian goods or your albanian bureks to maybe stop in at this place and try the espresso. let me know if it's any good & what it's "really" supposed to taste like. don't worry, it won't change my story.