Ijplein Italian coffee paradise â€“ Al Ponte
By Alessandro Raschellà
Silvia Salani’s dream had always been to open up a chilinghito on a beach, no matter which and to provide a good deal of drinks, food and smiles to her passer-by customers; all rigorously from a little window on the bar. You may argue that her little kiosk-bar ‘Al Ponte’ on the IJplein is not exactly surrounded by coral sands and warm blue waters or that Amsterdam Noord commuters are not quite much like the relaxed happy folks you meet on holidays. Still she knows well what little treasure she was endowed with when the city council appointed her as the winner of the farm out.
‘Al Ponte’ lies in a stunning position on the Ij river and when you take the ferry from Centraal direction Ijplein is the very first thing you meet. The place was built some time back, but has wasted most of its time waiting for some entrepreneur who could foresee its potentials.
On the opening day, last spring, the whole plein enjoyed the fact that finally they had a social magnet to stick to, during the windy minutes which separates them from the city centre and Silvia recalls with gratitude the kindness and encouragement received by her new neighbours.
This joy should be embraced by most Amsterdammers, especially the ones who are fond of the precious Arabica black mix known as coffee.
Silvia manages to serve the best cappuccinos and coffees in town and this is not an exaggeration. Being Italian I often suffered the fact of gathering with friends in front of a watery mixture of milk and coffee and only kaffee verkeerd would rarely rescue me from my anguish. In a lot of occasions with a Dutch friend who lived in Italy, we tried to answer this dilemma: it is understandable that not ALL the cafès in town serve good cappuccino and good espresso, but we marvelled at the fact that NO cafè managed to have them right! Pesonally I had since given up trying. Until a friend told a friend and a friend told me about Silvia and her kiosk: what a revelation! This is how good places come across and she is managing with no advertisement whatsoever to have people coming because the ones who tried her delicacies felt they had to promote the place.
Silvia came to Amsterdam some 12 years ago and before discovering the openness of the skyline in Noord she has always lived in the more claustrophobic centre hopping from one job to another, but always sticking to her goal. When you have the chance to talk to her, and most of her customers do have that, she will overwhelms you with her deep enthusiasm for what she is doing, all of which you can then appreciate in her products. She explained to me the difference between a real espresso and the espresso you can find anywhere, from Bombay to Santiago and that resides in the coffee beans; most cafès nowadays buy beans with a loose texture, having a lot of water passing through it and therefore resulting in a higher percentage of water in the espresso itself. The real one has beans with a much more compact structure which is then able to absorb the water in excess.
I appreciate all this speculation may just be an abstraction for most for you, but just give it a try and it will all materialize in an unforgettable plasir of your senses as most of them will be involved in it. First you touch the cup and give warm relief to your hands while your nose will inhale the full aroma and finally enhance your papillary with the intermingling fusion of first quality Dutch milk and Italian coffee.
The whole variety of coffees and real warm chocolate (not a chocomelk surrogate that you would get in most of Amsterdam’s cafès) is best enjoyed with her home-made ciambellone cakes which come in the lemon and choko/orange twists. Yet again this is not the only home made in house speciality! If you’re in for a “quicky” maybe soup with bread can be your treat and the menu varies every week depending on what Silvia finds promising at the vegetable market. Something more filling can be rund gehakt balletjes met parmigiano kaas in tomaten saus, but my favourite is surely pizza al taglio. The latter being an Italian version of pizza-to-go which southern Italians privilege, but still not so known abroad where big junk food joints try to adjust the taste (and the price) to unexperienced customers.
Still Silvia modestly dribbles my compliments and brings the topic of our conversation once more to the incredible location with which Al Ponte enjoys: I don’t dare to write (and ok, I’m just doing it anyways) to come over here in the morning when the sun comes up from the Concertgebouw, but this is one of Amsterdam’s great sunset points. You could almost write an atlas of contemporary architecture from here: the sun goes on to the Stedelijk, the new Conservatorium, the new Central Bibliotek and ends up his daily journey on the Ij between what will become the new Filmuseum and the developments going on the central side of the old harbour. As my eyes are keen to discover all that and Silvia brews one more cappuccino cup for me and one for a customer she laughs at the fact of seeing all this humanity moving in seeming still motion: only on my first sip I understand she refers to people on boats, trains, planes, bicycles and cars which are all spotted at the same time.. Amsterdam is such a bustling town! Surely some alertness provided by caffeine in order to go with the flow won’t harm.
Al Ponte is open Tue – Fri 8.00 – 19.00. Sat – Sun 10.00 – 18.00