Are you a Cava newbie? Judging from the line at the Long Island's first location of the fast-casual chain, you might be outnumbered.
A few days after it opened in mid-August, Cava — which landed in the new shopping center in front of Uncle Giuseppe's in Melville — had a lunchtime queue that stretched through the dining room. Based on the speed with which people ordered Mediterranean-style bowls and pita sandwiches, the fast-casual spot is familiar to those who have visited one of Cava's other 137 U.S. eateries.
Cava was founded by three Greek-American friends in Rockville, Md., in 2006, and blankets the Washington, D.C. area with quick, healthy-ish bowls of grains, greens and protein. The chain has since expanded to 14 states, with nine locations in New York City. The mélange of flavors and textures can seem zany — for instance, a lemon chicken bowl ($11.47) has 10 other ingredients besides grilled chicken, including red-pepper hummus, feta and the chain's quasi-famous pickled onions, doused with a preserved-lemon vinaigrette.
Besides a few "chef-curated" bowls and salads ($11.47 to $15.01), most of the seasonally changing menu is modular: Customers choose a base (rice, greens, black lentil) and a protein, from harissa-honey chicken to braised lamb to falafel. Toppings include cabbage slaw, avocado and pickled onions, and dips and spreads such as red-pepper hummus, "crazy" feta (infused with jalapeño) and roasted eggplant can be added as well. Each is finished off with one of eight dressings, such as lemon-herb tahini or skhug, the Middle-Eastern hot sauce.
The result is a colorful, messy-looking bowl whose flavors somehow, improbably, sync. (The same system is also applied to pitas sandwiches, which start at $10.67).
On the drinks front are juices, Maine Root sodas, flavored lemonades (think blueberry-lavender) and proprietary Cava waters. Visitors can dine on wooden benches, at window counters, or on the stone patio, which has a few umbrella-topped tables.
Earlier this summer, Gregory's Coffee opened in the space adjacent to Cava; in coming weeks, satellites of Lucharito's and TOA Asian Fusion are due to open in the same plaza.
Cava is open daily from 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 834 Walt Whitman Rd. in Melville; 631-301-3809, cava.com