Green Pear Café 93 Grand Street, Hoboken NJ (201) 659-0940
Photos: Roanne Monte/L’Arietta.com
It could be said that cafés vary across a wide spectrum: from ones that possess the kind of soulless vapidity that lingers long after one leaves the place, to hidden gems that gratify with a slight ode to the culture’s Habermasian beginnings.
“To me, it’s about the human connection,” Isabella expressed, as I sat inside the Green Pear Café intoxicated by the delectable aroma of Lavazza coffee-infused air; an interruption—albeit pleasant, to the waft of fragrant herbs on my way in.
To me, it’s about the human connection.
‘Connection’ may, arguably, be one of the most commonly used words in our lexicon. We ‘connect’—mostly digitally, because it is the normative behavior that is the product of our technology-driven world. But as I began my conversation with Isabella—her soft blue eyes and sincere smile disarming the staunchest of skeptics—it dawned on me that Isabella’s idea of connection may be entirely different than mine, because it is, dare I say it: human.
Indeed, the human connection that Green Pear’s owner and visionary speaks of, is apparent in the magically transformed surrounds of a former doctor’s office. Tasteful yet relaxed, the outdoor seating area is reminiscent of a quiet Parisian neighborhood haunt. Inside, along with Neapolitan drip coffee makers, silver teapots, vintage glass fruit bowls, and decorative repurposed wood, a white upright spinet piano is ensconced in a corner while a wiry pot rack hangs overhead. In keeping with this nuanced quaintness is the sustainably sourced all-white painted seating juxtaposed with minimalist pendant lighting. It is analogous to walking into a warmhearted aunt’s home whose kitchen is a cross between a Cape Cod and a modern European one, only better. More importantly, it is as if one’s palate is being cleared to make way for the flavors on offer.
Isabella Mederi. If the name conjures up the familiar sounds of a Hungarian-born lauded opera singer, it would not be a mistake, because it is she. The award-winning soprano once performed adorned with such pricey gems by a renowned jewelry house that security details waited in the wings till the show finished.
Certainly, with recognition for performing the lead roles in Tosca and La Traviata in the U.S. and Europe, it would be easy to assume that Isabella’s demeanor would be of a prima donna. While in the truest sense of the term, she may be one of a few who have actually earned the title, there is, in fact, not an ounce of diva-like traits about her. Soft-spoken, she describes her daily activities in the café—from making fresh almond milk to catching up with regulars—as “nurturing.” Further, that “when [the customers] are happy, [she is] happy, because [she] sees the café as a community.” The community ‘feel’ is not lost on the observer as both regulars and newbies alike flock the café during lunch hour. Without a doubt, this may be due to the wholesomeness quality of the food that is contrary to the assembly line-like eateries common in urban settings. As well, it may likely be the price point, as she states, “I don’t like walking away from a place feeling like I paid too much, so I don’t want my customers to feel that way.” Such is on display as reasonably priced retail products—Cipriani dry pasta, artisanal olive oil and balsamic vinegars, and other well-curated items—line the walls. Whatever the reason may be, there is one thing that the modest but charismatic Isabella unequivocally knows how to do—that is, draw a crowd.
The café’s simple, health, and culturally-fused fare is a reflection of Isabella, who trained at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute with a “curiosity” for good food and travel. There is smoked salmon with dill sour cream on tandoori naan, suckling pig or lechon on paratha bread, mango lassi, and a layered breakfast bowl of fresh fruit, yoghurt, and granola that looks similar to a trifle (a British dessert), among others. Most if not all menu items are prepared onsite from scratch, which allows diners to substitute ingredients according to their nutritional needs. Whether omnivore, vegetarian, vegan or paleo, the menu’s underlying theme is comfort. True to the form of a seasoned performer, Isabella’s sole focus is on the needs of her audience, “When I first opened, few people knew what paratha was. Now, they all request it.”
Photos: Nevean Khalil
As known in the food business, preparing menu items from scratch can be a labor-intensive, often-avoided process. “I have never seen anyone who can multitask like my wife,” adds Isabella’s Italian-born husband, Alfredo, whose pit stop is the café after work. The café is largely a family affair, with daughter Claudia and son Leon helping out on weekends. Of the work, Isabella—who works with an assistant during the week—does not seem fazed, “I prefer it that way, because vegetables start to oxidize the minute you cut them.”
The unmistakable zeal for simple and whole foods does not stop at the detail-oriented nature of Isabella’s food preparation, however. Produce and other fresh ingredients come from either the local farmers’ market or her urban organic garden, all of which depend on what is seasonally available. In addition to growing organic tomatoes and cucumbers, she further hopes to raise chickens one day.
If being a proponent of the slow food movement were not enough, Isabella is likewise an active participant in local community meetings, where she galvanizes efforts to plant more trees among other environmentally inclined activities. Her enthusiasm for serving the community is evident, her eyes lighting up when she explains, “Every little bit counts. I am just glad that I can get people to come [to the meetings].”
Equally, she expresses gratitude to her local community when asked about the success of Green Pear, “I am of course thankful to family and friends, but I am also thankful to the neighborhood.”
As our conversation came to an end, I thought of the quiet yet indefatigable force before me. Isabella Mederi’s story—of a lauded opera singer, wife, mother, business owner, and activist—is one worth telling, because its inspirational rhetoric of vision, transformation, and subsequent success, is decidedly American.