Smith Canteen coffee shop has done much to beautify its spot on Smith Street, at First Place
Photo by Joshua Kristal
The first thing anyone would notice about Smith Canteen is its serene beauty. The café, opened by the owners of Seersucker restaurant a few doors down, showcases its century-old roots to great effect.
Once home to a pharmacy, the original space has been left largely intact by owners Robert Newton and Kerry Diamond. Two walls of pharmacy-style wooden shelving with inset mirrors, a tin ceiling, and a floor patterned in tiny inlaid tiles evoke brownstone Brooklyn in all its turn-of-the-century glory.
More modern is the La Marzocco espresso machine topping a pale green-blue wrap-around counter and producing all manner of espresso drinks. The coffee is Durham, N.C.’s Counter Culture, and the iced version is particularly strong and refreshing.
I most enjoyed Smith Canteen for a grab-and-go breakfast. Save the croissants, all the morning goodies–from the homemade Pop-Tart style pastries to strawberry-rhubarb muffin to tiny coffee cakes–are baked in-house and a sweet way to start the morning, whether you’re on the way to the subway, dropping the kids off at school or just headed to Carroll Park across the street.
Lunchtime dishes have their highpoints, though, even if the counter service can be disorganized. The Long Island duck confit ($9), revealed to me as the most popular lunch dish by our cashier, has good reason for its popularity.
The sandwich made me sad I’d never had a duck banh mi before. Though it tasted very little like the traditional sandwich, that lovely gamey duck flavor turned out to be a fabulous counterpart to pickled carrots and cilantro—who knew?
If you’re going to sit and stay (there’s about 14 seats), try a soup. The chilled carrot soup ($5/$7) with pickled shitake mushrooms used the vinegar-y bite of the mushrooms to great effect. I went so far as to cut the mushrooms into smaller pieces to make sure I had one for every spoonful of the very refreshing soup.
Though there was nothing wrong with the roasted turkey breast with bacon and sage mayo on the “everything” croissant ($9) that I sampled, it felt uninspired and overpriced next to the much superior banh mi and carrot soup.
Smith Canteen is playing up its closeness to the Sunday Carroll Gardens Greenmarket on Carroll Street. On the day I went, the “from the Greenmarket” selection was a roasted beet sandwich with salsa verde, Dancing Ewe Pecorino and marinated onion ($9), a nice nod to both seasonality and vegetarians.
One note: With its proximity to Carroll Park and P.S. 58, there can be a good deal of children moving in and out, and that has the potential to shatter some of the serenity (I say this as a parent), especially if you choose to sit inside and soak up some of that freshly scrubbed, 100-year-old ambience.
343 Smith Street
7 a.m. to 7 p.m., sandwiches from 11 a.m.
Currently cash only