Cafe of the Week: last week I had the privilege of stopping through the city of Johnstown. Like many American cities off the coasts, reliant on steel, coal, manufacturing, or associated industries, it has seen it’s share of struggle. I’ve found it’s in these places that hopeful people and places shine the brightest.
The Lazarus Cafe, a middle eastern style cafe, is one of the many bright spots in the city. Derrick Johnson, hailing from West Philadelphia, often finds himself running a one man show making wraps, brewing coffee, busing tables, and making time to talk to the customer’s—tell them about his dreams, and ask them about theirs.
Derrick convinced to supplement my espresso with an unfermented Lebanese malt beer, Laziza—which, if you haven’t tried, is probably the best non alcoholic beer I’ve ever had which also isn’t sayin much as I tend to swerve non alcoholic beer as hard as non caffeinated coffee but I SWEAR IT WAS GOOD. •
On the wall hung an Ethiopian style ikon of my patron saint, St George, alongside a signed photo of Anthony Bourdain, one of my obligatory travel and cooking inspirations. Derrick and I talked about urban decline, trying to make the best of bad situations, and fostering an appreciation for food in young people. •
But the food. It was great, and unexpected in Johnstown which, to my knowledge, only got so far as Greece in its Mediterranean cuisine choices last time I’d check, though I am not an authority. And the house sauce was . It’s always inspiring to break bread with someone that believes in anything as much as Derrick seems to, but when that thing is bread, the most primal, hungry part of me rejoices. The city, for many, is an end—a place to escape from—but for Derrick it’s a fresh start. And I don’t know if this food is gonna raise the dead, but I’m glad we, the living, have Derrick and the rest of the crew at the Lazarus Cafe