Forget the maze on the back of the menu: If you want to enjoy eating out with your kids, experts say the secret is not distraction — it’s connection. One way families can bond over a bite is to seek out a spot with something special that invites the whole family to share not just a meal, but an experience.

Following are five Long Island eateries with unique atmospheres that bring families together.

For cows, cows and more cows, try Maureen’s Kitchen

Credit: Allison Davis O'Keefe

This charming Smithtown staple is known for its hearty portions — but what will hook your kids is its astonishing collection of cow-themed décor: A giant cow head protrudes from the front of the restaurant, a battery-operated flying cow buzzes about, and hundreds and hundreds of cow figurines are on display inside.

“We have life-size plastic cows on the front lawn, which the kids go and climb on nice days. It’s fun for cool family pictures and portraits,” says co-owner Kevin Dernbach. “We have a cow-themed Harley Davidson motorcycle. . . . Basically the whole restaurant is cow-themed.” Dernbach adds that customers have contributed figurines to the cow collection over the years, as well as children’s drawings of cows that are proudly displayed around the restaurant.

THE MENU This cash-only breakfast and brunch spot serves omelets, soups, sandwiches and more, ranging in price from about $5.25 to $16.95 (excluding specials). You can even buy single pancakes for little appetites, as well as short stacks or full stacks. The restaurant can accommodate food allergies.

INFORMATION 108 Terry Rd., Smithtown, 631-360-9227,

For an enchanting time, try The Witches Brew Coffee House

Credit: Jin Lee

Velvet-covered walls, dark décor and candlelight set a scene that’s equal parts spooky and warm in this local haunt where little has changed since it opened in the 1990s. The seating here is quirky, mismatched and always in demand; indeed, customers frequently line up outside the door in hopes of scoring a tiny table or a coveted spot on a tufted couch.

That’s something families might want to keep in mind; kids are welcome at all hours, but the cafe doesn’t accept reservations. To avoid long waits with your little ones, you can call ahead to get an estimated wait time. The coffee house is open Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 1 a.m., Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to midnight, and closed on Mondays.

THE MENU The Witches Brew offers a selection of desserts for underless than $10, small plates, including vegetarian and vegan options, for underlessthan $15, and hundreds of choices of hot beverages, with an emphasis on fair-trade and organic coffees and teas. Cash only.

INFORMATION 311 Hempstead Tpke., West Hempstead, 516-489-9482,

For some animal interactions, try The Shabby Tabby Cat Cafe

Credit: Daniel Brennan

Reserve a time or walk right in with your little ones and spend an hour sipping a warm beverage, noshing on baked goodies and visiting with adorable, adoptable cats and kittens. To ensure everyone has a companionable time, there are board games, coloring books and Wi-Fi for the humans, and cat toys and climbing structures for the felines.

Some families come seeking a new furry friend to take home; others just enjoy communing with the kitties on site — especially if a permanent pet is not in the cards. If there’s an allergy in the household or a landlord with a no-pets rule, for example, “It’s a good place to bring them to get their cat fix each week,” says owner Ryan Shea.

A Kitten Kadoodle Coffee Cafe, a new spot with a similar concept that’s set to open in Selden in February, will have many kid-focused activities such as crafts and movie nights with cats, says owner Jennifer Rose Sinz, a former preschool teacher. The cafe will serve healthy and vegetarian fare such as salads, smoothies and fruit desserts.

THE MENU The Shabby Tabby Cat Cafe entrance fee of $15 for adults and $10 for kids includes a cup of coffee, tea or hot cocoa. A variety of gluten-free baked goods are for sale for $2 to $3, including nut-free and vegan options.

INFORMATION 249 West Main St., West Sayville, 516-493-9023631-750-7007,

For a little getaway, try Rumba

Credit: Rachel Hersh

Climb aboard the bus at Rumba for a cute and colorful dining adventure. After being retired from duty as a parking lot shuttle, the bus was repurposed as an additional dining area for this Caribbean-themed waterfront restaurant. “That was our first bus,” says co-owner David Hersh. “We gutted it out and had an artist paint it unique colors. It’s lit up, kind of fun, and it has its own sound system. It’s a unique experience.”

With seating for eight, the bus is the perfect size for one or two families to share a contained, stress-free meal where adventurous youngsters can have room to roam. “You’re trapped inside your own little area, so the kids can walk around a little,” Hersh says. He’s a partner in a number of Long Island restaurants; another one with family-friendly appeal is Rhum in Patchogue, which features bench-swing seating on a rooftop terrace during the warmer months.

THE MENU The island-inspired menu features seafood, salads, tacos, burgers and sandwiches. Many items are underless than $20; signature entrees run $20 to $32. The children’s menu has $7 entrees that come with a drink, fries or fruit and ice cream. Gluten-free options are indicated on the menu, and other dietary restrictions can be accommodated.

INFORMATION 43 Canoe Place Rd., Hampton Bays, 631-594-3544,

For fun and games, try The Bowery Bar & Fare

Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Step right up — everyone’s a winner here! From the moment they enter the restaurant, kids will feel as though they’re under the big top. Indeed, an actual reclaimed circus tent adorns the ceiling, and every child receives a stuffed animal upon arrival. And there are games galore: carnival classics, such roulette and ring toss, as well as board games such as Trouble and Guess Who? (which you can bring to your table),. Out back, a heated patio has oversized Connect Four and more.

That fairground aesthetic is what first caught the eye of Roselle Dublin, a Hewlett Harbor mother of four whose family has celebrated two birthdays there. “I literally was walking by it one day and peeked in the window and I saw it looked like a carnival,” Dublin says. “I have four girls, so I’m always looking for something fun.” Dublin says her children, ages 6 to 16, loved the whole experience, from the games and festive fare to a cotton candy contraption that made a great backdrop for selfies. “The kids went completely crazy over it,” Dublin says.

THE MENU There are street-fair staples such as corn dogs and kabobs, as well as more inventive options such as the Donut Burger and Fruity Pebble Pancakes. Prices range up to $28, but most items are less than $20. One free child’s meal comes with the purchase of one adult entree on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Dietary restrictions can be accommodated upon request. 

INFORMATION 300 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre; 516-493-9023,


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months