Some people think I must keep up with the latest food trends and restaurant openings in New York City because I work at a a food website. To that, I say, for the most part, not really—I'd rather watch this video of a baby alpaca falling asleep on a continuous loop (a truly inspiring combination of music and film, that is). I'm not saying I don't care about anything that's new—I care if it's awesome—but I'm more interested in places that have stayed in business for years upon years/decades without the help of any Internet buzz.
Like Classic Coffee Shop. This cozy, sandwich-centric lunch counter on Hester Street has been open for 37 years. It's a 10-minute walk from my office. And I only ate there for the first time three months ago. I fail.
Lately I've been eating tuna melts every chance I get, and Classic Coffee Shop's ($5.50) is my favorite so far. Instead of the mountainous open-face sandwiches I'm more accustomed to, this place keeps it simple: a closed sandwich made with well buttered slices of rye griddled to an even dark brown, two slices of melted cheese, and a reasonable amount of creamy tuna salad. You've got crisp, gooey, and creamy in every bite—no fork and knife required and no excess tuna splodging out the back.
Or if you're not into tuna, go with a good ol' gooey grilled cheese sandwich ($4).
Whatever sandwich you choose, wash it down with an egg cream ($2), one of Classic Coffee Shop's specialties. Don't take the name of this classic New York drink literally; it doesn't contain any egg, nor is it all that creamy. It's made by mixing together chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer—think frothy, slightly carbonated chocolate milk.
If the sandwiches and egg creams aren't enough to make you fall in love with this place, then maybe the decor will do it for ya—a mix of retro ads, family photos, magazine covers, and more, displayed in a sort of neatly jumbled way.
As for their coffee...I don't drink coffee, so I can't tell you how it is.
Classic Coffee Shop
56 Hester St (near Ludlow St), New York, NY 10002 (map)
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8 am-4 pm; Sat-Sun, closed
What About All Those Other Tuna Melts?
Because I'd hate to feel like all my other cheese-topped tuna salad eating was for nothing, here's a quick rundown of all the other tuna melts I've eaten so far this year. Keep in mind that I'm not a tuna melt expert by any means—it just happens that I've eaten more tuna melts this year than all previous years combined. And if a restaurant doesn't make a great tuna melt, that doesn't mean they don't have other good dishes.
Landmark Dinner: I guess it tasted fine, but I wouldn't eat it again. The tuna salad-to-bread ratio was a bit wimpy on the tuna salad side. Then again, the tuna salad was kind of bland and not all that tuna-heavy, so maybe I wouldn't have wanted more of it anyway. 158 Grand Street, New York, NY 10013 (map); 212-334-0040; landmarkdinernyc.com
Mansion Restaurant: These open-face sandwiches were massive—this dish could feed two people. I particularly liked the tuna salad. Nicely toasted bread and lots of gooey cheese = win. I ate the whole thing and felt absolutely disgusting after, but I'd do it again. 1634 York Avenue, New York, NY 10028 (map); 212-535-8888; mansionrestaurantnewyork.com
Everest Diner: This tuna melt was possibly more massive than the one at Mansion, but it wasn't nearly as good. I didn't like the tuna salad as much, and although there was a buttload of cheese of cheese, it didn't meld as well with the tuna. 22 Chatham Square, New York, NY 10038 (map); 212-406-3653
Coppelia: This tuna melt could've been so good...if not for the horrible bread. The bread just killed it. Instead of your good ol' standard rye, they used what tasted like smashed potato rolls. It looks like they were given some sort of half-hearted grilling, but there was no toasty crispness to speak of. The bread was soft and compressed-bread-gummy all the way. I liked the tuna salad and cheese, but I couldn't stop thinking about that stupid bread. 207 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 (map); 212-858-5001; ybandco.com
Scharf and Zoyer: A fun variation on a tuna melt topped with crushed potato chips and Swiss on an "everything" croissant. It could've used more potato chip action, but otherwise, good stuff. facebook.com/ScharfandZoyer
Joe Junior: Joe Junior may be great for burgers, but their tuna melts need some work. It's the first time I've ever eaten a tuna melt that tasted less like a tuna melt, more like a tuna salad with cheese. The synergy was lacking. I'd definitely go back to Joe Junior for burgers, though. 167 3rd Ave, New York, NY (map); 212-473-5150
La Bonbonniere: Not bad, but the bread could use some buttering and more toasting, and the sandwich could use a bit less filling. 28 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10014 (map); 212-741-9266