During an epic road trip across Canada (Alberta and British Columbia) last summer, my family discovered the joys of the breakfast lunch café. It seemed that in every tiny town in the Badlands and the Rockies there was at least one great little place serving terrific local eggs, delightful pastries, wonderful homemade soups, and killer sandwiches made fast and quick and served with a smile. They might be wellness-peacenik-granola types of places with lending libraries and homemade candles for sale, or they might be log cabins jam packed with kitschy owl sculptures and owl art, or they might be cute grandmotherly places with mix-and-match china. But they were all good and made rest stops a satisfying real food experience.
So I was delighted to discover that Flour Shoppe Café is offering that same experience right on Sunrise Highway in Rockville Centre. Just about everything is homemade (including 80 percent and soon to be 100 percent of the bread—try the sourdough!) with a rotating selection of fresh baked goods like individual crumb cakes, muffins, cheesecakes and brownies. Want something more substantial? The breakfast and combined lunch and dinner menus keep it simple, with a careful selection of items that focus on quality. Top choices include the scrambled Florentine tartine (spinach, gruyere, caramelized onions, mornay sauce, fresh herbs and rustic toast) and banana crumb pancakes (yes, there is really dulce de leche in there) for morning, while after noon Le Grande BLT (maple black pepper bacon, herbed aioli, pan de mie, bacon jam schmear with optional avocado and chicken—go for it!) vies for top spot with the Dewey (fresh turkey, avocado, bacon, cheddar, sri-rancha, tomato on sourdough). There are focaccia sandwiches, veggie and turkey burgers and poutines (French fry melts that originated in Canada, as it happens). And virtually everything is made in house.
It is an eat-in or take out establishment with a lovely high wood counter, tin ceilings, and funky murals for a retro-rustic-cozy effect. And the neighborhood has clearly adopted this as their meet-up joint. Folks from the surrounding office buildings and local teachers drop by to pick up lunch, while sit-down diners amble from table to table saying hello to friends.
Partners Samantha Caltagirone of Bethpage and Madison Kaer of Oceanside are young and enthusiastic and passionate about their mission. They met while working at this same location when it was a full-service bakery years ago. Although they went off to different colleges to study different things (Molloy College for speech therapy and SUNY Oneonta for math, respectively), they came back when they found out the business was for sale. They opened in June 2015 as a bakery, but soon decided to offer something a little different. They brought on CIA grad John Maher as executive chef and that’s when things got more fun.
“We want the quality to be exceptional for everything,” says Caltagirone who runs front of the house operations. “We keep it fresh, produce everything every day and keep it small and simple. We source locally as much as possible to be able to speak to actual humans about what is available.”
Kaer, who is in charge of baking gives an example, “We have raspberry almond loaf today, because we just got fresh local raspberries.” Those strawberries came from Pell Farms in Connecticut. Other nearby small providers include Satur Farms in Cutchogue.
They tell the story of meeting a farmer from Hudson Valley Fresh, a cooperative that supplies their dairy.
“I had no idea how watered down regular milk was until we met Will,” Caltagirone says. “I think it was his first visit to ‘The Big City.’ He was wearing new Wranglers for it.”
Kaer continues, “He poured us shots of regular milk and his milk for us to compare. Oh my God, the difference is just crazy. And you can taste the difference in everything we bake with it. Even when we make chocolate cake, it changes everything when you use a quality product.”
Maher, who is responsible for much of the evolution of the café, says they will keep looking to keep as local and as fresh as possible.
“Developing relationships with local farmers, that’s the hardest part,” he says. “We’re getting there, but it takes time. My next goal is to start growing our own produce on the roof. We are already growing herbs outside, but we could do a lot more.”
But for now, he is pleased with how things are moving along. “You have to go with what you believe in,” he says. “So many people said we couldn’t do this. But we didn’t panic and didn’t change our approach. And it is working.”
Works for me. It may not be part of an epic trans-Canadian roadtrip, but Flour Shoppe Cafe makes the right epic sandwich to pack for any epic day on the beach or on the road to the East End.