It’s the second quarter of 2021, and with the pandemic ostensibly on its way out, it’s high time to hit up all the restaurants you've been missing during the age of social distancing. But if you’re (understandably) not ready to hop back into the shoulder-to-shoulder bar scene just yet, a coffee date might be just the vehicle to ride back into the wild world of in-person dining.
For your sipping pleasure, here’s what’s happening at three new Nassau County cafes that opened in the past several months.
Owner Jennifer Bae began renovations for a new cafe adjacent her Sage Test Prep tutoring business in 2019. But when the work wrapped up, it was April 2020, and Long Island’s restaurants were more or less closed for business. So no need to rush, "I wasn’t expecting any customers," Bae said.
Her spacious, light-filled cafe finally opened in October, and after a slow start, things are fast picking up. "I have seven baristas now," Bae said, "because it’s growing really quickly."
Those baristas craft warm espresso beverages with beans from Brooklyn’s Spare Moment Coffee Roasters, along with icy toffee- or green tea frappés, and "refreshers" flavored with hibiscus or pineapple and lychee.
To eat, there’s croissants stuffed with applewood bacon and melted Swiss, fried-eggplant focaccia sandwiches with pesto, mozzarella and marinara, and avocado toasts, with or without smoked salmon.
Baked goods arrive daily from the metro-area Balthazar Bakery, and for summer, Bae has added bingsu, a silken shaved-ice treat from her Korean homeland. Milky ice is infused with flavors such as mango or matcha and topped with fresh fruit, macarons and other decadent sweets.
More info: 15 Jericho Turnpike, Jericho; 917-882-7011
Heavenly Coffee, Merrick
If cold coffee’s your jam, Heavenly Coffee might just be your new go-to caffeination station. With more than 50 varieties of custom-roasted iced coffee on offer, this new Merrick squeeze is betting on a robust local market for flavored brews. "The flavors are roasted in," said co-owner Joe Vitale. "There’s no sugar, no syrups."
Vitale owns the cafe with his brother, John Vitale, and their mom, Gina Vitale. The Merrick road spot, which opened in February, is the Vitale family’s second — the team opened Heavenly Coffee’s original location in East Rockaway in 2019.
And while the menu’s edible items are limited to grab-and-go snacks such as hunky gourmet cookies from Long Island’s Cultured Cookie Co., the shop’s rococo iced "specialty lattes" — drizzled with flavored syrup, crowned with a froth of house-whipped cream, and sprinkled Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, crushed Chipwich or Dunkaroos — can almost count as a meal.
More info: 2330 Merrick Rd, Merrick, 516-758-3074. heavenlycoffeeny.com
Soul Brew, Bellmore
The tye-dye-forward coffeehouse that invites visitors to "feed your soul," officially hung a shingle in Bellmore in late March.
The Grand Avenue spot replaces longtime community hub the Bellmore Bean, which shuttered in March, 2020 amid the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s the third location for owners Kristin Walsh, Dean Lambros, Jeffery Petrocelli and Nicole Petrocelli, who opened their debut coffeehouse in St. James in 2016 and added a Huntington location in 2019.
While Soul Brew’s owners weren’t planning on expanding, Walsh said the Bellmore location "just felt like fate. We just walked in and were like, ‘Wow, this place is super cool.’ We wanted to rescue it and keep it the same, just with our brand. There is really nothing else like that on the South Shore."
The new cafe serves organic, fair-trade coffee — drip, cold brew and espresso, from Brooklyn’s Stone Street Coffee Co., — along with juicy "refreshers," cereal- and cookie-lattes, and specialty teas.
Breakfast items are available daily until the kitchen closes at 3 p.m., and include waffle sandwiches layered with lavender syrup and mascarpone, breakfast burritos and avocado toasts. Lunchtime sandwiches include a chipotle grilled cheese with avocado, and a chicken-cheddar-bacon wrap dubbed "the Ramblin Man."
As for live entertainment — a Bellmore Bean constant — Walsh said she plans to bring back open mic events in the next month or so, once her staff is event-ready.
With pandemic mask mandates (hopefully!) a thing of the past, Walsh said she’s looking forward to getting folks together for some good, clean fun. "Everyone is so happy," she said, describing unmasked guests smiling and visiting at one of her cafes earlier this week. "People need to see each others faces again."
More info: 2718 Grand Ave, Bellmore, 516-804-4624. soulbrew.coffee