I f you didn’t watch Team USA’s hard-fought extra-time World Cup match against Belgium on Tuesday, maybe you still heard the synchronized cheers and groans escaping the mouths of tense soccer fans around the city.
Spoiler alert: the US is out. But New Haven’s a cosmopolitan city. We can easily find reasons to root for any of the eight remaining teams, whose countries help make New Haven what it is—even USA-killer Belgium, which has a much larger footprint here today than it did just a couple of years ago. First there was Fryborg, the sandwich-slinging food truck specializing in Belgian-style frites and special dipping sauces, which started roving around the city in August 2012. Then there was Maison Mathis (304 Elm St, New Haven; 203-752-9779), the sparkling white coffee shop, bakery and kitchen that opened in September 2013 to serve us Belgian waffles, breads, chocolates and beers, like Chimay, Leffe and, of course, Stella Artois.
Belgium’s neighbor to the north, the Netherlands, which narrowly beat Mexico to advance last Sunday, played a formative non-role in shaping New Haven. In 1614, it was the first colonial power to find what would become the Elm City, long before the English Puritans settled it in 1638. According to mildly discrepant accounts, the name the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block gave it was either Rodenbergen or Roodeberg—“red hills” or “red hill,” referencing West Rock and/or East Rock. Had the Dutch settled the harbor resting between those geological features instead of another one seventy-five miles down the coast (New Amsterdam, a.k.a. New York City), New Haven would have a very different name and very different history to look back on.
Relics from the history of the peaceful, relaxed Central American nation Costa Rica—the big surprise among the European and South American soccer titans still in this thing—make surprising and enriching appearances in the “Art of the Ancient Americas” collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (1111 Chapel St, New Haven; 203-432-0600). Displayed next to cultural artifacts from better-known indigenous regions, there are Costa Rican jadeite pendants fashioned from 400 to 700 A.D.; tiny frogs shaped out of gold, just like the World Cup championship trophy; and a volcanic rock statue, dated between 900 and 1200 A.D., depicting a man carrying what the museum’s scholars believe was the customary trophy—a human head—given to winners of an ancient “ballgame” that, I’m guessing, didn’t merely eject or suspend players for foul play.
Something that really goes to New Haveners’ heads is coffee. We drink a lot of it, and we have a lot of choices. The Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea near Chapel and York (184 York Street; 203-789-8400) has some interesting options from the World Cup contender everyone associates with the finest beans: Colombia. Caffeinated bean options include Colombia Potosi Organic and Colombia French Roast. Among decaffeinated choices, there’s a Colombia Supremo—“clean and bright with honey notes”—and another Colombia French, said to have a “smoky and sweet aroma” and a “dark chocolate flavor.” The latter two varieties are decaffeinated in Mexico by soaking them in mountain water, which extracts the caffeine.
Towards the other end of the drinking spectrum is a bottle of garnet-red Malbec, which is a great reason to cheer for sky-blue Argentina, the standard-bearing nation of that increasingly popular varietal. The downtown location of The Wine Thief (181 Crown St; 203-772-1944) carries several options, with the Thief’s wine buyer Janine Sacco recommending the 2010 Familia Bonfanti ($20) as a “classic expression” of what an Argentinian Malbec should be—“rich on the palate” and “incredibly well-balanced” with a “velvety texture,” carrying notes of blackberry and a black pepper finish. Argentina not only gives us something to put in our bellies, it also provides us with something to put around them; over at the internationally flavored Yurway Boutique (1130 Chapel St, New Haven; 203-777-8900), you can find fashion-forward, soft-leather wrap belts ($89) from ADA, the label of Buenos Aires-based designer Ada Komorniczak. One of the co-owners of the shop, Ronen Yur, is reportedly in Brazil right now, witnessing the World Cup in person.
If Yur is lucky, he’s caught some of France’s games. The French team has scored high marks—lots of goals—in this World Cup, and Union League Cafe (1032 Chapel St, New Haven; 203-562-4299) has been doing something analogous among local, state and regional food critics since it served its first meal in 1993. Intended to “capture the conviviality and old-world charm of a Parisian brasserie,” it sees itself as slightly informal, though you may not. As of mid-June, coinciding with the start of the World Cup, there’s a new, very informal source of French food in town: Crêpes Choupette, a mobile cart with a short chalkboard menu of savory and sweet crêpes. Among the latter options is a Nutella, banana and strawberry crépe named Zidane, no doubt after the legendary French footballer Zinedine Zidane, who had sweet moves indeed.
World Cup host Brazil, among the favorites to win it all, is known for sweet moves on and off the soccer field, some of which Efraim Silva and his CT Capoeira & Dance Center (1175 State St, New Haven; 203-982-4147) have been bringing to New Haven for nearly 30 years. Capoeira, basically a congenial form of dance-fighting, is taught 6 evenings a week on mats, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the wall for self-awareness and -correction. In five separate classes each week, samba, the primary dance of Brazil’s famous Carnival celebrations, steps into the spotlight as well.
A squad that’s been in the spotlight since the beginning of the tournament is Germany, currently the top-ranked team still kicking. Past German teams have won three World Cups; one more would tie the nation with Italy for second-most all-time. Another German-centric outfit poised to move into second—as in, a second location—is G Café (1008 Main St, Branford; 203-208-0930), affiliated with the bread company Whole G, which specializes in excellent German breads. Co-owner Andrea Corazzini—who was born in Spain, grew up in Italy, went to college in America and worked in Venezuela for 20 years before moving back—says “September or October” is the expected timetable for opening the new spot, which is being prepped in a vacant storefront located right next to Pitkin Plaza and, for now, the “World Cup Village” there.
International food, drink, history, arts, people—and soccer. For the next couple of weeks, even more than usual, New Haven’s got the world at its feet.
Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Image depicts part of the crowd in Pitkin Plaza on Tuesday, July 1.