The Lobster Shift: Coppelia, always look behind the plywood

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2016-05-02 19.37.38

Coppelia hides in plain sight behind green plywood. Photo: Kenneth R. Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

All that’s good in New York is hidden behind scaffolding. This holds true for theaters, shops and eateries alike. Such is the case with Coppelia.

On 14th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, the pan-Latin diner is open twenty-four-seven and is in every way, with the slight exception of the soft-hued pastels and stylish tiling, no-nonsense. It offers Cuban diner stalwarts on plain white dishes with kitchen side towels for napkins. Order the pan con lechon ($9.95) and you get a plate with roasted pork, chicharron, picked red onion and chipotle mayo held between two slices of bread, no garnish, no salad, no fries or soup. Everything that you ordered and nothing more. An agreeable concision. On a recent Tuesday night I tried the tallarin verde ($18.95), fettuccine in a creamy basil sauce topped with cotija cheese and pisco-glazed shrimp, and it came piled on a plate, nothing more, nothing less. 

The menu is such that it offers more than can satisfy in a single venture, always begging me to come back for the sencilla burger, the breakfast served all day (dos huevos, rancheros, con bistec palomilla), or what might be the only mac ‘n’ cheese with chicharron in the city. It should be noted that you can also get diner standards, like a club sandwich or a tuna melt, as well as Cuban dishes like ropa vieja and pernil.

There’s no need for frills. Walk inside and sit at a booth or the counter. The after-hours, post-club crowd makes ample use of the phone-charging station by the single restroom (.99 cents for an unlimited charge).

The food meets the expectation of anyone seeking comfort, whether after a beer-soaked rout across town or, as for me, a late-shift completed. If I were to find fault with Coppelia, it’d be the service, which seemed abysmally distant and restrained last time I was there. Never was I approached for a second coffee, and finally when I asked for another cup, it came cold. But that’s nothing to hold against an eatery that’s been dishing out proper meals, at all hours, for almost two decades.

Being under scaffolding also does it a service to in-the-know locals. Coppelia doesn’t cater so much to the raucous college hordes I’ve noted in other Lobster Shift spots. Though Latin-American tangos murmur from surround sound, the crowd is tamed and dressed in the less showy attire of post-Broadway diners grabbing a bite after a show.

Coppelia effortlessly embodies the best of New York’s hiding-in-plain-sight secrets–efficient glamor and stable subtleties, tucked behind green plywood.

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