Sgarlato’s Artisan Café & Grill Gets to Know Its Patrons

By Maria Scandale | Aug 14, 2019

North Beach Haven — The ideal of getting to know the customers and what they want is not much different at Sgarlato’s Artisan Café & Grille in North Beach Haven than it was when the owners had a café in the financial district in Manhattan, or at two places on Staten Island.

Steve Sgarlato is the chef and the owner with his wife, Vicky, and they both realize what they looked for when they were the vacationers here on LBI for more than 20 years. That is, “offering a good product and customer service,” Vicky said.

“We’re kind of a boutique beach café with an Italian-infused menu,” Steve described. “I want to be a unique, comfortable place to go, in a beach setting.”

Summer 2019 has been a nice start for the establishment at 1511 Long Beach Blvd. They’ll be there into October, and then again next spring.

Casual dining, signature dishes and specialty coffee is the overview. “Caring owners and wonderfully-prepared food” is the online review repeated again and again.

The counter, with its Brooklyn-baked goods in front, sets a cheery mood from the start. In partial view just behind is the chef’s grill from which emanates the aroma of fresh-made frittatas or French toast blending with the beginnings of Chicken Francaise for the evening. The rear dining area with marble-topped tables and mirrored wall is casual-contemporary.

Meeting the patrons is natural to Steve, as much as it is a way to learn what they are looking for.

“I either greet them personally when they come in, or before they leave to find out how they found us and how was the experience,” Sgarlato said. “In order for me to get the correct feel for my customers, I need to meet them; I need to know them.”

Steve Sgarlato’s parents are Sicilian/Calabrian, born in Brooklyn but later establishing their family on Staten Island. His sauces are part-family traditional, part refined by culinary school techniques.

“All the recipes are mine, all the sauces are mine,” the chef pointed out. “Everything is made to order. If you come in and you’re gluten-free or you’re vegan, I can custom the dish for you.”

The couple has been married for 37 years. Their first business was in the Manhattan financial district for about five years. Later they had the Hidden Cottage coffeehouse on Staten Island, which his parents mostly ran. The Wild Boar Inn was a smokehouse and barbecue grill by a marina, which they operated for about eight years before selling it. Steve moved to the family business, which was electronics service, and recently retired. They “stumbled onto” the North Beach Haven opportunity (formerly Café Bacio and most recently Anthony’s) this past spring when they were on LBI to book their summer rental. “One thing led to another,” and it came together.

“We’re at a good spot,” the owner characterized at the first of August. “I’d say in probably the last two weeks, we’ve turned the community into fans of our dinners, which was something that we needed to do. In order to make this a success, we need to be more than just a breakfast place.”

Artisan Café seems to be so many things for so many people.

Seafood/pasta dinners at $17.95 to $22.95 are bringing families and couples back again. That price includes a side, and the complimentary bread platter with eggplant caponata.

Meanwhile the casual feel also invites passersby to stop in and grab a smoothie or a cappuccino and crumb cake to go. They welcome moms with strollers that easily wheel up the handicap ramp. They welcome friends strolling off the beach in the pre-supper Appy Hours, toting wine coolers and hungry for Buffalo chicken-stuffed jalapeno poppers. (The restaurant is BYOB.) They also do home and beach deliveries.

If you were there in June, now you’ll find a lighter, more expanded evolution to the menu, the chef said.

“We do a seared lemon shrimp over avocado bruschetta and sauteed spinach. That is a lighter, beach kind of feeling. It is not an Italian meal; it is a unique meal.”

Italian is “Nana’s Meatballs” and Pasta Putanesca, “a tomato-based spicy olive sauce that has three different olives in it and also has capers.”

Steve Sgarlato answered the natural question before we asked it: how is operating on LBI different than New York?

“It’s been a learning experience coming down here,” Sgarlato reflected. “Like Manhattan, it’s high energy when you’re busy, and you prep for the rush.

“Unlike Manhattan, in the summer the majority of your relationships are weekly. So you cultivate the relationship. They come in for breakfast. You tell them you do dinner. They come in for a dinner or two and then you have people that are faithful friends saying wonderful things about our place on Facebook and Instagram, complete strangers that we met, but then they’re gone.”

Meanwhile, resident Islanders say they will be back more regularly in September.

On Facebook, the page is called LBI Artisan Café. The phone number is 609-342-0224.

They’re open seven days a week starting at 8 a.m., but they take a break between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., the time when many people are at the beach anyway.

While it used to be that “the Island” meant Staten Island as the regular base, “now I have two Islands,” Steve said with a smile. “So hearing Long Beach Island as ‘the Island” was very easy to go into my vocabulary.”

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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