Few dishes demonstrate Brazil’s diversity better than the batata suíça — the signature dish at Jersey City’s Cafe Batata. Co-owners Vinicius Reali Parana and Yuna Seong give us their take on Brazilian cuisine and what it’s in store for their Brazilian cafe in Jersey City.
Cafe Batata has become a neighborhood favorite in less than a year’s time. What has it been like to open a cafe in the Village? Do you live in the area?
Vinicius: We’ve lived in different parts of Jersey City, but most recently we moved near Journal Square. Jersey City has always been home and we were excited to see how the city was changing to a family-friendly place to live. There is a beautiful balance of history and modernity in this city and the people are amazing!
We love the energy and passion they have for supporting local businesses. A lot of our new customers get to know us through our neighbors and we cannot be more thankful for having such great support from the community.
There is a beautiful balance of history and modernity in this city and the people are amazing!
Is Cafe Batata your first cafe?
Vinicius: This is my first cafe in the U.S., but my brothers back in Brazil own a restaurant. I am from Curitiba, a city in the south of Brazil, and I moved to the U.S. a few years ago and I’ve been planning to open a cafe for a while.
What is a batata suíça and why did you decide to focus on this dish?
Vinicius: Batata suíça is inspired by a traditional Swiss dish called the Rösti, which is a potato pancake made with coarsely grated and pan-fried potatoes. The Swiss would normally eat just the potato, but batata suíças in Brazil take the Swiss Rösti and give it a twist with a variety of Brazil-inspired fillings.
I often cooked batata suíças for Yuna when we were dating. We would also invite friends and family over and cook for them. We experimented a lot with different kinds of stuffing every time. We thought it would be a great idea to implement this into our menu as our specialty dish — hence the name Cafe Batata.
How is it made?
Vinicius: With a potato layer in the pan, the stuffing is added on top and then covered by another layer of potato. This dish isn’t widely known in all parts of Brazil. It’s more common in the south.
Batata plainly means potato in Portuguese. I first thought it was ridiculous to name a cafe “potato” as Yuna suggested, but she thought the name Batata is very easy and fun to say and would stick with the customers because it’s simple and cute!
Brazil is renown for its coffee. Where in Brazil do you get your coffee beans from?
Vinicius: Our coffee beans (for both espresso and brewed coffee) are all organic and fair-trade certified. The distributor we buy the coffee from imports and roasts coffee beans from a coffee farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The farm, Nossa Senhora de Fatima, is owned by a couple and they are extremely conscious about environmental protection. They’re invested in replanting native trees and reforestation and they use organic compost fertilizers to feed their own coffee trees. We loved the philosophy they had and more importantly, the coffee tastes amazing! It’s supposed to be medium-roast, but it has a dark-roast quality with a deep, toasty, and chocolaty flavor.
We’re looking forward to adding more variety. Also, we’d like to expand our sweets and pastry options.
How popular are desserts in Brazil and what type of sweets do you offer at Cafe Batata?
Vinicius: Brazil is huge in desserts! Brazilian desserts use a lot of nuts, milk derivatives, and fruits. The sweets we offer at Cafe Batata are largely two kinds: mousse and truffles. The truffles we have mostly contain condensed milk and although they may look tiny, they’re very rich! We have two different kinds of mousse: chocolate and passion fruit.
Also for truffle-type sweets, we have brigadeiro (chocolate truffle), dois amores (milk and chocolate truffle), beijinho (milk and coconut), and cajuzinho (chocolate and nuts). We also have an egg-coconut custard called quindim. It looks like jello on the top but has a more of a sticky consistency, and it is very flavorful. You can taste both egg and coconut together!
What’s on the horizon for Cafe Batata? Any new menu additions?
Vinicius: We’re looking forward to adding more variety to the [batata suíça] fillings. Also, we’d like to expand our sweets and breakfast-type pastry options so that customers can come in for a quick muffin or croissant. We also would like to consider adding fresh made smoothies in the near future. In the winter, we’ll be having a selection of soup, too.
Cafe Batata | 382 Second Street (btwn Monmouth & Brunswick)