As many New Paltz Times readers already know, you don’t have to be a vegan to be crazy about Lagusta’s Luscious handcrafted vegan chocolates, with their famously fanciful flavor combinations. The quirky confectionary recently launched a satellite shop in the East Village, saving many a Manhattanite a long trek in quest of the sort of New Age sweets previously available only in New Paltz. And now proprietor Lagusta Yearwood has opened a coffee shop on Church Street that takes her inventive approach to food to the next level.
Opening its doors on May 15, the new establishment is called the Lagusta’s Luscious Commissary, and its specialty is brewed beverages: “single-origin coffees” and “foraged and rare teas,” as Yearwood puts it. She acknowledges that she has a lot of competition already, but doesn’t see the plethora of coffee shops in New Paltz as a real problem: “I’m a coffeehouse person. I love all the coffeehouses in town. I frequent them all.”
Her partner in the new business, Jacob Feinberg-Pyne, is an espresso connoisseur who “wanted to expand the coffee origins” available in the village, she says. The Commissary’s featured line of coffee beans is Stumptown, roasted in Brooklyn — all organic and fair trade, natch. They grind fresh batches of beans every 90 minutes, according to Yearwood, and “to order” if you opt for a “pourover,” brewed in a handsome brass-and-glass single-serve holder.
Then there are the teas. Many of the herbal teas are locally foraged or grown at CSAs; most of the actual tea is imported by the San Francisco-based Samovar Tea company. There are familiar flavors like Earl Grey, plus many exotic types that you may never have heard of, unless you’re a serious tea-fancier: baked Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong, flat, pan-roasted Dragon Well green tea, fermented and aged pu-erh tea from Yunnan, the tiny half-opened buds of bai mu dan or White Peony tea.
As at Lagusta’s Luscious, everything served at the Commissary is vegan. You can buy yogurt made from fermented coconut milk, a totally non-dairy cheese plate, even vegan deviled eggs. So if you take milk or cream in your coffee or tea, you’ll need to specify your preference among five different types of nut milk — all made there — or soy milk. This correspondent sampled an iced “latte” made from the Hairbender espresso blend whose complex flavor really popped when mixed with almond milk, and paired wonderfully with a chocolate mint cookie with a brownielike texture that may have spoiled me for Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies permanently. Nut milks may seem a bit of a leap of faith for folks who usually use dairy products in coffee, but so far, says Yearwood, “No one’s stormed out in a rage.”
As appropriate for the sister business of a high-end chocolatier, luxurious hot and cold chocolate beverages are also on the menu, along with frozen slushies made from fresh local fruits. Non-dairy ice cream, in gourmet flavors like ginger chocolate and spiced pecan, are made by Adrienne Szamotula, who now co-manages the original chocolate shop with Yearwood. Maresa Volante, co-owner of the Manhattan outlet, supplies the Commissary with her baked creations, including vegan French macarons. And of course, you can buy Lagusta’s Luscious chocolates there.
Open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Commissary is becoming a popular lunch destination, according to Yearwood. “Small plates” include fresh-baked bialys, plenty of unusual salads — a delicious Chioggia beet and roasted almond salad was on offer last Saturday — and interesting vegetable soups, including a regularly offered “socialist sliding-scale soup special” with a suggested price of $5, less if you’re strapped and starving. A miso-based “breakfast soup” is elegantly presented with tamari and a tiny dish of five-spice shichimi garnish on the side.
The Commissary space at 11 Church Street has been renovated, the pressed-tin ceiling left intact but the walls repainted in cheery shades of pale peach and aqua, the floor resurfaced with reclaimed oak planks. Tables and benches are spare, simple and modern, except for one antique school desk that is loaded with markers and papers to serve as an “activity station” for kids, Yearwood says. Electrical outlets along the walls have been upgraded with USB ports for laptops or recharging cell phones. It’s a friendly, welcoming space to hang out while you enjoy some healthful refreshments, and there’s even a “zine library” if you’re lacking something to read while you sip.
Worth a visit in itself is Yearwood’s brainwave, the Mitzvah Wall, where you can literally “pay it forward” by purchasing a treat for someone in advance and hanging a notice specifying who qualifies to claim it. In a few cases a particular person or family was named, but most of the slips of paper hanging on the wall this past weekend said things like “a macaron for a Mommy of a screaming toddler” or “one Nitro Coffee for a graduate student in debt” or “free chocolate for a US Marine with ID.” “They’re like little novels,” Yearwood says happily.
It’s clear that the Commissary is intended to be more than just another coffee shop in a town that has lots of them; it’s meant to be a community resource that pushes the envelope of what it means to be a local entrepreneur. “New Paltz is such a town of weirdos and creative people,” says Lagusta Yearwood. “So we have a license to be a little weird!”
For more on Lagusta’s Luscious Commissary, including the latest specials, visit www.facebook.com/llcommissary.