I haven’t even left the place and I am already texting friends to plan my next visit. I’m not the only one. Just two weeks after opening on the strip in Babylon Village, NoaMar Markets, a Spanish deli meets tapas bar meets specialty food market, already has regulars like me, determined to eat their way through the summer menu before it changes in the fall.
NoaMar, opened in July by Frances and Heri Beiro, is a slice of Galicia in Babylon. I am learning about its roots from co-owner Frances Beiro, over a few small plates on a steamy summer day. The place is full of ladies who lunch discussing politics, bearded Spaniards having a cerveza before they get on the ferry to Fire Island, couples reminiscing about their last visit to Spain, and moms with kids grabbing something to eat for the beach. With the low wooden tables, the high tops made from wine barrels, the Spanish tiles that line the counter, the jamón serrano and the shelves full of olive oils, wines, olives and piquillo peppers from Spain, I am doing my own reminiscing about a recent trip to Valencia.
I am also having a hard time focusing on Frances’ story, because…well, pulpo a la gallega. Octopus is one of my favorite things and when it is grilled, seasoned with pimentón, and piled on potatoes like this, I need a moment. Then come the croquetas de bacalao, (codfish croquettes) the spinach Catalán-style with raisins, roasted garbanzos and hazelnuts and… “Uh, sorry, what were you saying, Frances?”
This food is true and good and very distracting, but this is what I managed to learn, in between bites and digressions into Almodovar films, Penelope Cruz, soccer, and 80s music from Spain (Mocedades and Hombres G, anyone?)
Frances, daughter of Galicians who moved to Richmond Hill in the 70s, and Heri, who came at the age of 17 to join his father in the construction business, met in the Spanish-Portuguese stronghold of Newark back in the late 90s. Married in 2000, they moved to Babylon Village 16 years ago with their growing family, which now includes four children, aged 3 to 17. He continued in construction and she worked in a private bank, but underneath, they had a desire to try something different.
“Heri always loved to cook,” says Frances. “We have a huge extended family—they have all moved out here too—and he always cooked for everyone.” So when their daughter was born (she’s now 7) he went to the Culinary Academy of Long Island, doing his externship at Noah’s in Greenport. Super Storm Sandy slowed his plans for opening something on his own and kept him in construction, but in the meantime, Frances made her own move, starting her MBA at Hofstra University.
“I went on Saturdays for 18 months straight,” she says (did I mention that she is the fulltime working mother of four!?!). “For my capstone (final) project, I had to pick a business to create. I wanted to pick something that was real to me, so I chose a Spanish market, because it was what we had always talked about. I started doing research, looking at places, we started designing menus and then this location came available. We started saying ‘Can we actually do this? Can this be done?’ and it all started becoming real.”
The couple took the plunge and in a matter of seven months, NoaMar Markets opened its doors. They credit Babylon Village and the Chamber of Commerce for going beyond just granting permits. “We got supreme support from the village,” Frances says. “They gave so much advice. They really want the village to thrive and that comes through.”
The location had been a bodega before, so they were able to use some of the existing equipment, but Heri’s construction background made it all come together; he did the tile work, made the built-in shelves, the tables and tore off the panels to reveal the warm brick underneath, among other things.
The result is a welcoming place full of light and color and a family feel. The two older boys, Noah and Marcus, for whom the restaurant is named—NoaMar is a play on the Galician word for “on the sea”—work with their dad in the kitchen. Family members who spent the summer in Spain filter in amidst hugs and kisses. A diverse crowd of local people also comes in amidst more hugs and kisses. Customers peruse the shelves, pick up loaves of the fresh crusty bread, purchase the same seafood that is used in the NoMar kitchen, order sliced ham to go, sit down for salads (best tuna ever), small plates or bigger meals. Even picky eaters will find kid-friendly patatas bravas (potatoes) with the spice toned down if necessary, skewered chicken and sliced steak to keep them happy. There is wine (in store only) and beer (to drink with your tapas or to go).
“We’re not fancy here,” says Frances. “We are rustic. We want kids in here, families; people should feel comfortable.”
Don’t worry about fancy. You don’t need fancy. You need more octopus.
NoaMar Markets is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., but the kitchen is closed for hot food from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is also open Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but call first as the place is so new the hours may be tweaked.