1711 New York Ave., Huntington Station
AMBIENCE: Laid-back cafe with Latino pop playing on flat-screen TVs
SERVICE: Comforting and friendly.
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tight for wheelchairs.
As an insatiable fan of all things meat, to me the picada at Caffé Ole seems reasonable, listed unceremoniously on the bottom of the menu as a typical Colombian dish of ribs, chorizo, beef and blood sausage.
Sensing a novice, co-owner Olga Espinosa makes sure I know what I’m ordering. In Colombia, the picada, which simply translates to “chopped” in Spanish, is a party platter meant for sharing.
I say, “yes,” and out comes the kind of extravaganza that wins you accolades on football Sunday, a mountain of salty morsels of (mostly fried) meat: bone-in pork riblets, coins of crispy sausage, jerky-like shavings of grilled beef, and nuggets of chicharron — pork belly pieces that have been cooked in their own fat until the outside develops a cracker-like crust that gives way to a tender fat-filled center. Go easy. Sweats are likely, and there’s plenty of pork, beef and chicken on the way.
The picada highlights a meat-centric menu at this 3-month-old Huntington Station restaurant from Espinosa and husband Oscar Castiblanco, a culinary school-trained chef who came to the United States in August looking for a place to showcase classic Colombian fare inflected with the French techniques he learned back home.
On a stretch of Route 110 that’s home to a large Latino community, they came across La Colombiana, a Colombian restaurant in a one-time accountant’s office (a weathered income tax sign is still bolted to the side of the building) and an owner who was looking to retire from the business.
They renamed it Caffé Ole (La Colombiana is still on the sign outside) while keeping the rustic décor in the tiny, 14-seat bakery and restaurant largely the same. Alcohol is bring your own, but don’t fret if you arrive empty-handed. Capital Beer Distributors, a few doors down, stocks a more than serviceable beer selection that includes local brews.
On slow nights, Castiblanco is there by himself, waiting tables, cooking and bagging takeout roasted chicken for walk-in orders. Language can be a hurdle, though Espinosa and Castiblanco are quick to develop a rapport to get you there.
Just about whatever path you take, you’ll see Castiblanco’s culinary training on display from breakfast through dinner.
He has spent most of his career as a baker and you’ll want a pastry or two from the bakery counter while you wait — a flaky cheese-and-guava-filled empanada or the pan de yuca, a puffy baton made of yuca flour and cheese (a mix of feta, mozzarella and soft queso blanco in place of traditional queso costeno, which he has been unable to find) that is similar to a cheese straw.
Start with the tostones, which are served with a chunky lime-laced guacamole. You’ll want to try the arepas (corn cakes), which are thinner here to be friendly to the mostly Central American crowd, who want something more foldable like a tortilla. The arepas arrive with deep grill marks and come paired with cheese, spicy chorizo that is pan-fried until the skin has a snap to it, or a jigsawlike piece of chicharron that’s rubbed in cumin, black pepper, salt and baking soda, a Colombian technique used to tenderize and dehydrate the meat before it goes in the deep fryer.
Castiblanco took a liking to making soups in college, so here there is a different one on the menu every day. On Tuesdays, the herb-filled sopa de castillo combines yuca-thickened chicken broth with a slow-cooked bone-in short rib, corn and plantains. On Thursday, the same house-made broth sheds the thickener for sancocho tipico, a schmaltzy chicken-and-rib soup.
Chickens spin in the roaster throughout the day for pollo a la brasa, which comes in whole-, half- or quarter-size orders. Castiblanco’s flavor-packed birds are bathed for two days in a black beer, mustard, vinegar and spice marinade before being roasted for two and a half hours, and come paired with addictive crackly red potatoes that are first boiled, left to dry and then fried to order.
Most of the entrees are served as platters with rice and beans, and many are topped with hard fried eggs, and paired with a side salad that quickly gets pushed to the side of the table as more food arrives.
Skip more straightforward dishes such as a grilled steak or the pork loin, which were both overcooked to point of being leathery, for the bandeja tipica. Like the picada, this platter celebrates Colombian meats including chorizo, chicharron and beef. On this plate, however, they come in large pieces, which means the knife work falls to you.