Pudge Knuckles: Sept. 15, 2012
Nestled along a side street just steps from the East River in Williamsburg, Pudge Knuckles is one of the more confused coffee shops I ever encountered. Does it cater to hipsters? Dog-lovers? Young parents? Loners who write Yelp reviews about new coffee shops on their MacBook Air while listening to Foster the People Pandora? I cannot tell.
Although the address for the shop says Kent Avenue, it’s actually on the south side of N. 4th Street just after you cross Kent. Just look for the colored chalkboard touting something like “XXX-PRESSO”, “BROOKLYN EXCLUSIVE”, “FREE SAMPLE”. And while I can’t tell if any of these are related, I would have loved a FREE SAMPLE of an XXX-PRESSO made EXCLUSIVELY in BROOKLYN. But no one asked.
Alas, if you don’t see the sign, just beyond it should be a modest crowd of youngish white people wearing I-just-finished-running outfits and rubbing their mid-sized dogs like three-wish genie lamps.
Once inside, a subtly-inclining ramp leads you past the hightop seating, which offers a dismal view of some small trees in the middle of the street outside, and beyond them, a brick building that could be anything from a paint factory to a crappy hotel. They’re the only seats in the shop not around the perimeter or at the bar.
Don’t let me discourage you, though. I liked this place, even though I have yet to taste my large coffee, which costs just $2.45 after tax (What a deal!), as I write this. A “regular” is $2 + tax, and since I just moved here, I don’t even know the tax rate, so I’ll let you do the math. Regardless, $3 for some joe? (You should let them keep the change, you cheap bastard.) That’s a plus. I can’t figure out for the life of me, though, why a Cobb salad costs $12. I don’t even know what’s in a Cobb salad, but when I typed the word “Cobb,” technology autocorrected me to capitalize it, making me think maybe this particular salad is named after Ty Cobb, which would partially justify its price. But I’m guessing that’s not the reason. And I have seen many a Cobb salad elsewhere, but never bothered to order one. I certainly wasn’t going to do it at 10 a.m. on a Saturday in Williamsburg. Fear not: If it’s a house salad you want (no capitalization) you’ll need just $6. Plus tax, of course. Unless they tax coffee, but not salad, which wouldn’t make much sense to me.
(I also like the fact that, if you order coffee, you’re asked if you want room for milk, as opposed to cream, even if you say “No” and they leave room anyway, which happened to me. I forgive you, barista.)
How did I know all these prices? From the obligatory hanging-from-the-ceiling-and-covered-with-colored-chalk board that every “hip” coffee shop has these days. Also on the menu, and in the back of my mind for when the coffee starts making me twitch from drinking on an empty stomach, are the Pop Tarts. Yes, Pop Tarts! By Magpies! And if you’re not in the mood for Pop Tarts, there are countless obscure bottled drinks in the fridge, not to mention a variety of Pop Chips and many other bags of items I either haven’t heard of, and/or didn’t realize were edible in their current form.
If it’s the special you want, you might be lucky enough to stop in on a day where they’re serving FraPUDGEcinos! For $5, you can choose from four flavors, and I won’t ruin the surprise of the rest of the flavors for you. (But here’s a hint: One of them is a fruit that rhymes with Mulberry.)
There doesn’t seem to be a set uniform for the four employees, so long as you wear something with the word “PUDGE” on it with a picture of a cartoonish pudgy fist nearby. For example, the male barista, who is sporting thick-framed black glasses, is also donning a schmedium red T-shirt that says on the front: “WE ARE ALL PUDGE KNUCKLES”. Indeed, I think, before asking myself what a pudge knuckle is.
According to urban Dictionary, “pudge knuckle isn’t defined yet”. See what I mean? Confused.
More confusion: One tabletop looks like a Christmas dinner table, another is a chess/checkerboard layout, another appears to be a random simultaneous tribute to both Bob Marley and a late Native American whose name may have been “TUFF GONG”. As for my table, one half looks like the love child of a feathery Indian headdress and the NBC peacock that got shellacked to a block of oak, while the other half appears to be the Manhattan skyline at night, even if there is a half-sun next to the Empire State Building.
The south wall is covered in what appears to be a painting of a giant pair of deer antlers, not far from a woodenish star hanging by the bathroom. The adjacent east wall -– behind me –- is lined with black-and-white photographs on sale for $300 each. (Suddenly that Cobb salad sounds like a bargain.) The western wall is mostly blank except for a vent, a map of no place I ever remember studying in geography, and shelves holding hundreds of cups –- paper and plastic –- and lids. The north wall is a blend of rustic-looking concrete and the aforementioned windows, which go from floor to almost-ceiling.
Above the bar is a decent-sized, flatscreen television. When I first sat down, it was off. Minutes later, Comedy Central was playing an Eddie Murphy movie I didn’t recognize. I think I saw Paul Reiser, too. And the closed captioning flashed “BEVERLY HILLS” at one point, then [AXEL LAUGHS], and while I have no idea who Axel is, I’m thinking this could be Beverly Hills Cop. It wasn’t on long enough for me to find out, though, because suddenly the local news was on. Two channels and the off position within a 15-minute span?? More confusion!
Since arriving, I already heard a Rihanna song ("Where have you been all my life?!) and another semi-random rap track, so I’m guessing they like hip hop, which reminds me of The Queens Kickshaw, and further confuses my interpretation of Pudge Knuckles’s target customer base. And if that wasn’t enough, the girl who walked in with “LOVE PINK” sweatpants really threw me for a loop. So apparently they cater to high schoolers, too. Or maybe aspiring high schoolers who are actually unemployed college dropouts. Who apparently attract men who look twice their age and don’t own a razor, because that’s how I would describe the man who came in 10 minutes later and sat next to her.
But wait, there’s more! Mr. Schmedium, who seems like a perfectly nice guy and a solid employee, recently greeted another early-30s gentleman who was wearing –- wait for it –- Timberland boots, dark, but horizontally-striped shorts, a nondescript short-sleeve button-up and a camouflage hat with those plastic notches in the back. I couldn’t tell if he was hiking, homeless, or a hunter. (Maybe the ginormous deer antlers threw him off. Hard to blame him.) Later, a young woman would walk in wearing camo pants, so I’m thinking they should cater to the hunting demographic and embrace whatever spoils come with it. Unless I missed the part of fashion week (I missed all of fashion week) where faded camo is suddenly “in”.
So I got a strawberry pop tart (lowercase, since this definitely isn’t the kind you get in the store), and like I just said in the parenthetical, this definitely isn’t the kind you get in the store. They’re square-shaped, thicker, and there’s a peanut butter and jelly flavor. (I opted for strawberry instead, also bypassing triple blueberry, or 3X blueberry, or whatever it was called.)
"Can I get it warmed up?" I asked.
"Yes!" the barista smiled.
Then, another barista, this one quite good-looking, came to the register.
"You’re sitting down, right?" she asked as I paid ($3.27).
"I’ll bring it out to you."
When it arrived on the folded wax paper and round ceramic plate, I ate the pop tart like you would (read: should) any pop tart. That is, nibbling off the edges until you’re left with the glorious center of a frosted, sugar-filled pastry. (Is there any other way to eat a pop tart? No. These aren’t Reese’s Cups for goodness sake.) As thick as my pop tart appeared, though, I was disappointed in the lack of filling. I enjoyed the pop tart, but it wasn’t big or tasty enough to justify the price.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the free WiFi, which I accessed thanks to Mr. Schmedium, who has some cool-looking tattoos on both arms and the back of his neck. The password is KNUCKLEHEADS, but really I think they’re being too harsh on themselves. In fact, for all the confusion (Intentional? A diversion tactic? Ignorance?), this is actually quite a nice place. I recommend it not only for the rich people watching, the quality coffee and the cool sign outside the bathroom (“F**K SLEEP”), but also for the friendly staff, the casual work environment, and the fact that they’re not afraid to play Rihanna over local news whilst serving Pop Tarts in shirts only small children should wear, while dogs get their bellies rubbed by blissful owners just steps outside the door.
Oh, and the fact that I left my belongings –- iPad and computer included -– unattended twice without anything going missing. You can trust this place, I think –- for good food and drink, good people and an enjoyable stop near the East River. And if you find out what a Pudge Knuckle is, please let me know, because I’m confused.