When you think of summer weekends on Long Island the image that comes to your head is probably of mansions on the water’s edge in Montauk or the Hamptons. Ocean views, giant pools, trendy restaurants and tons of Manhattanites making the trip from Penn Station on Friday evenings throughout the summer season. Ready to spend the weekend lounging on their giant swan float (you know the one I'm talking about).
Why "Out East" Is Over-Rated
In the past few years, “out east” has changed in a lot of ways. Montauk used to be beloved as a laid-back fisherman’s town. Now, it’s now full of fancy restaurants, boutique fitness studios, and bars frequented by the upper echelons of society. Of course it’s as gorgeous as ever, but it’s a big to-do to spend a weekend in the Hamptons or Montauk.
First, there’s the question of where you’re going to stay. If you’re lucky, you know someone with a house. If not, you’re shelling out big bucks to rent a house for the weekend or to stay at a hotel.
Next is the torturous 3 hour journey aboard the Long Island Railroad. It’s crowded, it’s long. It’s really not an enjoyable experience (unless you're prepared with plenty of train dranks and beer-in-a-bags).
And then when you’re there? It’s no longer a place to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt with an ice cream cone in hand. It’s a place people go to be seen. It’s no longer a place to shop in stores like White’s or A Little Bit of Everything – buying tchotchkes and tie-dye tees. It’s a place to stop into boutique stores full of designer clothes. It’s no longer a place to grab pancakes at John’s in the morning. It’s a place to drop hundreds of dollars on dinner. It’s no longer a place to sit down at a dive bar with locals. It’s a place to buy drinks at Manhattan-prices at bars too crowded to move in.
I’m not saying Montauk and the Hamptons aren’t great every once in a while. I still love heading out east. But if it’s R&R that you’re looking for, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to look quite so far east.
An Alternate to The Hamptons and Montauk
Instead, look to Port Jefferson. A small town on the Long Island Sound smack dab in the middle of Long Island. A two hour train ride from Penn Station, Port Jefferson is small enough that there’s no need to worry about renting a car. Filled with small shops, affordable yet trendy restaurants, local activities and beaches – Port Jefferson is the perfect town to head to for a weekend beach getaway on Long Island.
All summer long I'll be bringing you reviews and ideas on how to spend a great weekend getaway in Port Jefferson.
For my first PJ post I'm so excited to feature Local's Cafe. A brand new addition that's sure to appeal to city-dwellers used to good coffee and Avocado Toast to start their day. Their tag line perfectly sums it up, "coffee and a bite downtown."
Local's Cafe is owned and operated by a husband-wife duo who moved to Long Island from Puerto Rico 3 years ago. I had the chance to sit down with co-owner Amarilis and learned so much about how this unique spot came to be.
FINDING THE SPACE FOR LOCAl's cafe
When the Puerto-Rican Amarilis and her Indian husband Jiten came to Long Island in 2013, it was because of his job opportunity in Manhattan. They settled in the suburbs with their two children and while sitting down by the water on a bench one evening, noticed a corner property for rent. They peeked in the window and one of them made the comment, "This would be a great coffee shop!"
They agreed that if in six months the space was still available, they would make a call. Six months later Amarilis started nudging her husband to pick up the phone. When they finally got inside to see the space, it was much larger than they had originally thought. They realized they could offer food in addition to coffee.
CREATING A casual space
Amarilis and her husband didn't have much background in the restaurant industry. Amarilis had only ever worked as a waitress. Their goal for Local's Cafe was to create a relaxed space for people like themselves - self-defined "casual eaters."
From the start, they made choices that actively went against the "fine dining" feel. Jiten in particular went against the grain by fighting for concrete sheets as walls and cement slabs for the floor - he didn't see a need for them to be polished or finished. Jiten made the tables himself - upcycled doors. The stools along the windows were created from pipes. The interior design lends itself to the relaxed, rough, fun and urban space that Amarilis and Jiten were seeking.
RECOGNIZING AN OPPORTUNITY
A friend of theirs, a chef from New York City, began developing a menu. As they sampled it and shared it with friends - they felt that it wasn't their style. It was more sophisticated than they had been aiming for.
While Amarilis and Jiten were still stuck on the menu, the Starbucks location in Port Jefferson closed down for renovations. Jiten, first and foremost caring about Local's Cafe's coffee, recognized this as the perfect opportunity to say, "Hey Port Jeff, try our coffee!"
A long time frequenter of coffee shops in NYC, coffee was to be the star of the show for Local's Cafe. Once they bought the space, they sampled many different varieties before deciding to serve coffee roasted from Caffe Vita - based out of Seattle and Brooklyn.
With Starbucks' temporary closing the perfect opportunity to open Local Cafe's doors, the duo typed up 4 food options on a sheet of paper and called it a day. Their cafe was officially open for business.
'THE food is pretty much who we are'
Since then the menu has evolved to reflect the foods that Amarilis and Jiten personally like and grew up with. The "Scramble Our Way" (Scrambled tofu, onions, tomato, cilantro on pita or wrap) is simply how the vegan Amarilis makes her breakfast.
All of the avocado on the menu is a way of representing her Puerto Rican heritage - where avocado is a huge part of the culture. (Though Amarilis said her and Jiten are constantly finding themselves stalking grocery store shelves for ripe avocados when they run out!)
The Chana Masala Sandwich (chickpeas cooked in Indian spices with a side salad) is representative of Jiten's Indian background.
Amarailis said that, "Part of having a business is you're always wondering how you could improve it. Which is a good thing, I think. We're trying to think of how we can make it better aesthetically and the food too. We're constantly thinking of what we can add to the menu. The food is pretty much who we are."
Amarilis says she's trying to get more Puerto Rican-inspired items on the menu like plantain strips as an alternative to french fries. But adding even one thing to the kitchen that requires different preparation can be a huge adjustment.
local through and through
LOCAL'S Cafe also features products from LOCAL purveyors. The rotating flavors of small batch kombucha, brewed on Long Island by a woman the couple met while getting the restaurant ready, is absolutely TO DIE FOR. By far the best kombucha I've ever tasted. And I'm somewhat of a connoisseur.
something for everyone - without the labels
What I love most about Local's Cafe is that they don't need to market themselves as "Vegetarian" or "Vegan" or "Gluten-Free" - yet people with any of those dietary restrictions will find a plethora of options. There are even gluten-free donuts which I sampled and am happy to report are delicious! (So are the thick slices of banana bread!)
Amarailis and Jiten have succeeded in creating what the walk-able town of Port Jefferson was missing - a spot that locals can go and hang out with their friends. It's not a formal sit-down restaurant and it's not a grab and go coffee stop. It's a space that encourages you to slow down, enjoy good food and good coffee while in good company.
The food is fresh and delicious - served on paper plates with plastic utensils. You can get an Instagram worthy #brunch shot without feeling like you're somewhere too fancy. You can support local products and companies, satisfy your sweet tooth AND get your caffeine kick all in one place. Did I mention their menu is perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
It doesn't get much better than that.
106 East Main street
Port jefferson New York, 11777
M-TH 8 AM - 7 PM
F 8 AM - 8 PM
S/S 9 AM - 8 PM
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