A multitasking champ, Ideal Cheese & Wine Cafe functions as an early-morning coffee shop, an artisanal cheese purveyor and a full-service cafe. If that weren't enough, its takeout arm, Ideal Wings & Pommes Frites, offers food-on-the-fly from a storefront around the corner.
It's the art-filled cafe, though, that's been drawing a crowd eager to unwind over a glass of wine and, with it, some interesting small plates -- most involving cheese.
At lunch one recent afternoon, chef Matthew Kornfeld impresses with zucchini "spaghetti," shredded squash tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, pine nuts, basil, a scoop of house-made ricotta on top. Airy-light yet richly satisfying. But an otherwise commendable sandwich melt of Comté (French cow's milk cheese), ham, caramelized onion and Dijon mustard is undermined by over-sweet brioche. A side benefit: very good baked kale chips.
An evening visit starts with a "tomato-mozzarella trio," mini panini (again, bread that's too sweet) featuring pale, cold, bland tomatoes and an espresso cup of sweet tomato soup. Port-marinated figs, promised on the menu, are missing from the mix, but later supplied.
Kornfeld shows what he's capable of with three bodacious macaroni and cheese croquettes, crunchy crust overlaying lush mac and three cheeses -- Gouda, jalapeño havarti and Cheddar. In marked contrast are stuffed mozzarella meatballs, which are harshly, stridently garlicky. But then, there's first rate al dente house-made capellini with a vibrant, balanced tomato sauce.
Wings, available with any number of sauces, like the very good pomegranate- teriyaki, are crisp meaty standouts. But a trio of sliders, topped with aged Grafton Cheddar, grilled red onion, mayo and ketchup, are woefully overcooked. Stealing the show: excellent hand-cut fries, bronze, sweet and nutty. Who needs dipping sauces?
Little ricotta cheesecake squares layered with Belgian chocolate work well with espresso brewed with beans from Georgio's Coffee Roasters in Farmingdale. A properly artisanal finale.