As I pull the big glass door open and walk into the café, it’s a little slice of Taiwan in the heart of the East Village amidst the sea of Japanese and Mediterranean establishments.
They have the best bubble tea in the East Village, but they added a pretty extensive Taiwanese street food menu to their repertoire. The space that was once BBQ Chicken has been absorbed into TKettle to make more room for customer seating. If there isn’t a spot up front, a short hop, skip, and jump down the narrow corridor opens up into a fashionable seating area with more tables. The interior reminds me of all of the typical modern tea parlors in Taiwan with bright colors, modern furniture, and simple yet cute décor.
I am waiting for Pei Yi Shih, the general manager. She is a bubbly woman, casually dressed and slim with her hair pulled back. She reminds me a lot of a favorite cousin back in Taiwan. To the customers, she is known as the always smiling and warm Peggy.
One of the reasons for the major makeover of TKettle is to buck that stereotype. When you are in Taiwan, you experience a passionate culture with a love of hanging out with friends. The tea parlors and cafes are all set up to sustain the atmosphere where you can easily spend a couple of hours chatting with friends and end up making friends with the people at the next table. This is what TKettle brings to St. Mark’s.
While you are there enjoying a bubble tea, try some of the typically Taiwanese street food. Similar to Spanish tapas where you order several of the little dishes, sit, and drink with friends, Taiwanese “small eats” are meant just for that. What makes the food so good and the atmosphere so inviting is the heart and dedication that goes into every aspect. Though no alcohol is offered at this establishment, you won’t need it to have a good time. The menu covers all of my favorites from fried basil chicken to chicken sticky rice “sausage” or garlicky fresh pickled cucumbers to tofu on a stick for the vegetarian highlights. One street food that my husband could not get enough of when we were visiting family in Taiwan was the juicy, sweet grilled sausages that were best found at a roadside stand where your only condiment is a big fat head of garlic that you had to peel yourself, not something readily available here in the States, but TKettle has it! Combination platters, aka bento boxes or bian dang, give those hungrier individuals something hot and substantial with just as much variety as the street food dishes and the nutrition of a homemade meal, and the braised egg is what makes it so exclusively Taiwanese. Every bite, every mouthful took me back to Taiwan without the 13-15 hour flight.
Those few moments of people watching definitely proved that making TKettle undoubtedly Taiwanese makes it an inviting place to be, not just because the teas are well-made just as is the food, but it’s the whole package. Next time you are in the East Village, have a seat at TKettle, and you just might make anew friend. You can order online at http://tkettle.com, and don’t worry, smartphone users – they have a mobile version, too.