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Cafe SJ7 in St. James adds Indian brunch

A dosa waffle with eggs, curry-spiced potatoes and

A dosa waffle with eggs, curry-spiced potatoes and coconut chutney at Cafe SJ7 in St. James. Credit: Newsday/Corin Hirsch

Crisp, puffy and diaphanous, dosas are one of the world's great foods. These South Indian crepes, made with fermented lentil and rice batter, can be stuffed with almost anything and easily evoke the satisfaction of eating carbs with none of the gluten.

They can also be transformed into superlative waffles, as they are at Cafe SJ7 in St. James. "The batter rises really well. It has this light airy crispiness," said chef Apaar Verma, who has been serving dosa waffles as a special inside the eight-month-old cafe. Verma arranges the chunky wedges like fallen dominoes, spoons curry-spiced home fries around them (for a sort of deconstructed dosa), then finishes the whole thing off with coconut chutney and two sunny-side-up eggs.

It's one of the Indian-inflected brunch and lunch plates Verma has introduced in the cafe, which he joined in the fall. "I've always loved breakfast. You can do anything you want with it, and be creative and rustic at the same time," said Verma, who grew up on Long Island and has cooked at various spots across the U.S. and world. (In 2017, he founded a Commack restaurant alongside his father, also a chef).

Cafe SJ7 has had a long road to travel: In February 2019, owners Heather and Mike Riddle leased a former pizzeria on Lake Avenue — it had long been Heather Riddle's dream to open an eatery in her hometown, said her husband — and the renovation took much longer than anticipated. When the Riddles were finally ready to open, COVID-19 arrived, Riddle said; after they finally opened on Mother's Day, 2020, construction began along Lake Avenue that rendered the cafe and other businesses challenging to reach.

The Riddles have five children, all of whom work at the business, lending the number "7" to the restaurant's name. The modern farmhouse look, including wooden booths and a front counter lined with corrugated metal and more weathered wood, was created entirely by the couple. "She's more of a designer and I'm more of a hammer-and-nail guy," said Riddle, who did most of the renovation himself and has since segued to taking orders and running food, as he was on a recent morning. (Heather Riddle has a day job as a pediatric nurse practitioner).

Verma joined Cafe SJ7 in October, and added global sweep to the menu. Breakfast and brunch plates ($10 to $16) run the gamut from omelets and eggs Benedict to breakfast tacos, s'mores pancakes and egg-topped breakfast bowls, including one with Indian spices, spicy home fries and pickled onions. During lunch and dinner, burgers, sandwiches (think Monte Cristo) and salads ($6 to $16) share the bill with specials such as a Tandoori fried chicken sandwich ($16).

The drinks front is robust, running from coffee and espresso made with Variety Coffee beans to chai lattes, frappés, peppermint mocha and gingerbread-spiced lattes. The cafe will soon have its liquor license, said Riddle, so that mimosas and Bloody Maries can flow.

As Verma experiments and the Riddles learn more about their clientele, "the menu is constantly changing to accommodate suggestions from our customers," said Riddle. The past year has had its challenges, he said, "but we're doing OK. We'll hang in there."

Cafe SJ7, 263 Lake Ave., St. James, open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, 631-250-9331. cafesj7.com

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