Van Gogh's Ear Cafe


By Dane Feldman

Photo by Dane Feldman.

Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe is located on Stuyvesant Ave in Union, New Jersey. Word on the street is that Van Gogh’s in an 18+ venue, but their site doesn’t mention this. However, I have been to Van Gogh’s many times over the years and have seen no patrons younger than college students.

The food
The cafe boasts a lunch and dinner menu, a list of lunch specials, a late night menu, and a drinks and desserts menu. Since I started spending time at Van Gogh’s in college, I have done a fair job trying many of the items on the menus for lunch, dinner, and dessert.

Let’s begin with the lunch and dinner menu: some of the best items on this menu are the Garlicky Spinach Dip (served with tortilla chips and topped with cheddar jack cheese and fresh tomato), the Black and Bleu personal pizza (mozzarella, house made marinara sauce, steak, caramelized onions, crumbled bleu cheese, and roasted potatoes), and the Turkey, Brie, and Apple Sandwich (sliced turkey, brie, baked apples, baby greens, and honey mustard on a baguette). The lunch specials menu offers additional sandwiches and salads as well as the option to combine two or three items, like a soup, salad, and sliders.

The late night menu offers a small selection of some of the other menu items for a discounted price.

As for the drinks and desserts menu, Van Gogh’s makes desserts like panna cotta, peanut butter chocolate mousse pie, and cheesecake.

During my most recent trip, I went for the drinks and desserts menu: I had the Tollhouse Cookie Tart, a warm cookie dough shell with fudge filling served with a side of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. I’m not big on ice cream or whipped cream, but the cookie tart itself is too good to pass up. My favorite of their desserts used to be the Banana Bash Pie, but I suppose it wasn’t a hit with other patrons as it has since been taken off the menu.

The drinks
Van Gogh’s serves up a wide variety of specialty coffee, Italian soda, premium lattes, flavored steamed milk, and frozen drinks. You can find milkshakes, frozen chai tea lattes, pots of tea, iced tea, lemonade, soft drinks, and even specialty drinks like the Banana Mudslide (a latte with banana, chocolate, and whipped cream) or The Other Ear (double cappuccino, chocolate, mint, almond, and whipped cream). My favorites are the Iced Chocolatina (double cappuccino, chocolate, and whipped cream on ice) and the sugar-free Vanilla Milk Steamer (steamed milk, sugar-free vanilla flavor, and whipped cream).

Van Gogh’s is also a BYO establishment, so there’s no reason not to bring wine along.

The service/ambience
Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe is the kind of place you go to knowing you’ve got a few hours to spare. Of course, this isn’t because the service is slow (it’s actually quite attentive most of the time), but because the ambience is so perfectly mellow. People are bustling in and out, but the lighting is always fairly dim and the majority of the chairs and couches are so comfortable you could sink right in.

The cafe will charge you a cover on Sundays during 8pm-11pm thanks to a bustling live jazz and blues scene. If you’re looking to catch some live music in an intimate setting like Van Gogh’s, go on Tuesdays. The first Tuesday of the month is open mic night from 8pm-9pm, but all other Tuesdays is singer/songwriter night from 8pm-10pm with no cover. If you’d rather avoid the music scene but still want to go on those nights, you can sit outside during the warmer seasons without paying cover.

Van Gogh’s has that funky Brooklyn cafe feel to it; the chairs and tables don’t match, the staff is tattooed and clad in ironic t-shirts, but the pretension factor isn’t there as the patrons range in age from early 20s to mid-70s (although the latter is few and far between). You can go alone and do work or you can bring friends and spend hours drinking tea.