You no longer have to wait for the Corpus Christi Carnival, Port Chester Day, next year’s Rye Brook Carnival, or an Italian feast in New York City to savor pizza fritta or zeppole. Any time you get the craving, you can now head down to 321 North Main St. in Port Chester and get your fix of these Italian delicacies which are usually dusted with powdered sugar.
About two years ago, Marc Tessitore and Robert Squeri, who met seven years ago when they were both living at The Landmark building across the street, came up with the vision that is today zeppoleme, the new Italian coffee shop that opened last week.
Located in the space that was for more than two decades Caffe del Monte (an Italian coffee shop) and next door to nessa, the successful Italian enotecca Tessitore opened with his father, Peter, in February 2007, zeppoleme complements as well as shares a lovely and ever-evolving courtyard with its sister restaurant. Gardening is Peter Tessitore’s passion, so he makes the outdoor eating space more lush and appealing every year.
“The idea was right in front of us,” said Squeri, 52, who still lives at The Landmark and has his own creative agency for brand development. “We wanted to bring a coffee shop back into the community.”
Tessitore, too, has a sense of design and style the 41-year-old has implemented at nessa. He and his wife Vanessa, for whom nessa is named, have moved to North Stamford to raise their family.
Zeppoleme is meant to be a comfortable, relaxing neighborhood coffee shop/luncheonette that conjures up memories of your Italian grandmother’s house or an Italian feast. “Oh, yeah, those are the things Joe’s [Italian] grandmother used to make,” said my daughter referring to her boyfriend’s grandma when I told her about zeppoleme.
While the Port Chester location is their first, Tessitore and Squeri have a vision to open similar neighborhood coffee shops in other communities over time. “We don’t want to be like anybody,” said Squeri. “Our inspiration is to be unique.”
Nessa was serving zeppole as a dessert and “everyone had a story to tell” about them, said Squeri, which led to the idea of zeppoleme: “Tell us your story.” And thus this unique coffee shop serving the Italian doughnuts and delicious fresh-brewed coffee took shape over the past two years.
After about six months of renovations, zeppoleme offi-cially opened last Friday, June 7, although my husband and I first visited the day before and there was a soft opening last Monday. The owners had hoped to open in time for A Taste of Port Chester on June 1 but weren’t quite ready.
Squeri kept repeating the term “healthy indulgence” as a concept he and his partner would like to get across with their new venture. So while zeppole, which are deep fried in olive oil, are the indulgence, other things on the menu are healthy. These include salads, optional health booster powder additives for the frozen whipped frappes (coffee, chocolate, vanilla or green tea at $6) and gluten free super-food cereals ($4) made with cold or steamed milk.
Let’s first focus on the zeppole for which this new Italian coffee shop is named. You can literally make a meal of them because not
only does this new eating spot prepare the traditional zeppole your grandmother might make or have made, it also offers three savory varieties: bacon, chive and provolone; veggie; and sundried tomato, basil and fontina. They are all shaped into balls you can easily consume in two bites. My husband and I ordered three of each ($4 for 3), the minimum order. While they were all tasty, my favorite was the bacon, chive and provolone because of its crunchiness. The tomato, basil and fontina was equally savory while the veggie variety, slightly less cooked than the others, tasted somewhat sweet.
For our lunch, we paired these savory morsels with a delicious chopped salad ($7.50), also shared, which was served
in a square metal pan lined with thin wax paper decorated with z’s inside a circle, the zeppoleme logo. Prepared just the way I like it, not overly chopped, the salad consisted of romaine, provolone, red onion, chick peas, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg tossed in a lovely red wine vinaigrette.
An espresso ($3) and a handcrafted mandarin soda ($3), the latter made to order by combining syrup and selzer, accompanied our meal. The soda was refreshing and less sweet than traditional bottled or canned soda. Other available flavors at the moment include watermelon, ginger, French vanilla, mojito and espresso.
This perfectly satisfying meal cost $27.38.
The dessert zeppole come in two varieties: the classic which are square or rectangle shaped and the lighter, airier, ball-shaped modern ricotta zeppole. The dough for the latter is created by folding in ricotta cheese for a lighter texture. Both are sprinkled with powdered or granulated sugar. While each is excellent, I prefer the traditional variety. No matter which you choose, the price is the same, 3 for $2.95 including one dipping sauce, 6 for $5.50 including two sauces and a dozen with three sauces for $10. So, besides the sugar, you can dip these little gems in vanilla cream, caramel, buttercream, espresso, biscoff (the texture of peanut butter but the taste of a sugar wafer), hazelnut nutella or lemon glaze sauces. The lemon is nice, but I’m told the buttercream and nutella have been vying for the most popular slot. The dipping sauces will change regularly.
The doughnuts, of course, go perfectly with coffee, and zeppoleme is serving exclusively one of six blends of artisanal Stumptown coffee. Based in Portland, Ore., Stumptown gets its beans from Ethiopia and around the world which are regionally roasted in Brooklyn in small batches and Fed Ex’d to Port Chester so the coffee they produce can be served the next day. The company is all about quality and integrity, said Squeri.
“Everything in our coffee shop is what we’re about in our DNA,” Squeri stressed, “-authentic and transparent, recipe-driven, accessible and price conscious. We want people to have a relaxing, wonderful time.”
I drank an entire iced cappuccino, which was delicious, and took a sip of my husband’s latte, which was lukewarm on the first try and still not piping hot on the second, but I haven’t savored an entire cup of hot coffee with zeppole yet to get the full effect.
Not surprisingly, there were still some service bugs to be worked out the first week which led to the less than ideal temperature of the latte. However, with the extensive training of the employees (one told me he knew nothing about coffee before he started but now felt like an expert), led by general manager Colin Bemis, I’m sure everything will be running smoothly in no time.
More substantial than the zeppole, a selection of Panini figure prominently on the menu for breakfast, lunch or dinner. On our first visit, my husband and I shared one steak and egg, caramelized onion, provolone, garlic aioli and frisée Panini ($8), which seemed to be lacking at least the frisée but was still tasty, and one spicy eggplant, pepperoncino and goat cheese ($7) sandwich. The latter was exceptional with just the right zip. These delightfully crunchy sandwiches are made on bread purchased just down Main Street at The Kneaded Bread bakery and are served in the same square metal pans lined with wax paper as the for $7 or soup and any two savory zeppole for $6. If you buy 12 box lunches, you get a dozen sweet zeppole free. Lastly, an office might want to order a Big
salads. Cut in half, they are the perfect size for an ample but not overwhelming meal. With an iced cappuccino ($4.50) and a large latte ($4.50), our bill came to $26.13.
Examples of other Panini on the menu include a BLT with house made aioli ($6.50) and braised beef short rib, broccoli rabe and sharp provolone ($8).
Besides the chopped salad previously mentioned, a mixed green salad and kale Caesar salad (both $6.50) are currently listed on the menu.
From my vantage point, the prices at zeppoleme are not inexpensive. However, you can save some dough with the Z-Me Box Lunch (served in a cardboard box) from 11 a. m. to 2 p. m. where you get any Panini and a mixed green salad for $12, one savory zeppole and a salad Box Coffee and a dozen zeppole for an Afternoon Z Me Up which will cost $30.
A chalkboard lists specials, currently just the soup of the day-broccoli cheddar-but in the future could include Panini and salads not on the menu. No other foods are expected to be served.
The exact recipe for the lemonade, made with hand-pressed lemons, was arrived at last Saturday- producing a delightfully tart and yet still sweet concoction ($3.50 for a large glass)- and the iced tea blend was in the making as of press time. The two can also be combined for an Arnold Palmer ($3.50).
Within a month’s time, zeppoleme will begin serving four premium wines dispensed from metal canisters or “on tap” rather than from bottles.
The concept is fairly new, but with the scarcity of cork, in 10 years’ time it will be the norm, said Squeri. The canisters keep the wine at the perfect temperature. So as not to compete with nessa, zeppoleme will be serving California, French and Spanish red and white wines rather than any Italian varieties. “We wanted to have a different point of view-a little special and a little unique,” said the co-owner.
Zeppoleme is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and “we want to be equally inviting morning and night,” said Squeri. I haven’t been there yet at night, but he said it is similar to nessa which is characterized by its many glowing candles, so I imagine it as a romantic place to hang out and chat.
During the day, light streams through the floor to ceiling windows of the coffee shop which can even open onto the street.
The colorful blue and white front is attractive with zeppoleme emblazoned across the top in black and green letters. The green “me” portion of the word was intentional: to match the greenery and umbrellas in the garden.
Zeppoleme seats 30 indoors and another 45 on the shared patio. With the addition of the coffee shop, the fence that separated the patio from the building next door has been removed and eight round high tables for two with wicker stools have been perched on a gray deck adjacent to zeppoleme as a kind of dedicated seating area for the coffee shop. Not that you can’t sit at any of the other tables outside.
Inside heavy square and tall round wood tables and a wooden counter along the front window are set with silver metal chairs with wooden seats that match the floor.
The striking grayish, brownish Brazilian quartz counter is a place to order as well as to sit as there are six stools that you can pull up to it. “We wanted it to be warm and inviting,” said Squeri. Silver fixtures hang over the counter and smaller track lights provide additional illumination as needed.
Large posters behind the counter display the full menu while a big bowl of ripe tomatoes and a tall vase of yellow daisies give color to this bright, modern-looking space.
I’ve already seen people using their laptops at zeppoleme, which is welcomed, and there is wifi, but for now you have to ask for the password to log in.
Hours are 6 a. m. to 10 p. m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a. m. to 11 p. m. Friday and Saturday and 8 a. m. to 10 p. m. Sunday. Parking is on the street at meters which will soon (once the signage goes up) be enforced until 9 p. m. instead of the present 6 p. m.
“The reaction in a few days has been amazing,” said Squeri, not deterred by an abrupt closing by the Building Department Tuesday because of a miscommunication about a required re-inspection.