Good food is no stranger to Queens, but there are still not as many places in the Sunnyside/Woodside area as one might hope that capture the true spirit of a cafe. The idea of a cafe, beyond its coffee, is to offer a space somewhat less serious than the sit-down restaurant in the development of its menu, but far more inviting than a pure take-out joint in atmosphere. A cafe is, ideally, a place where you can sit, read, work, or ponder, and run into people you know--or at the very least recognize--every now and again. It is, at its best, a community hub with very good snacks and sturdy mugs. This is something that New York generally needs more of, and it is something that this neighborhood benefits from with the presence of Aubergine Cafe.
A family-owned cafe, Aubergine Cafe has a uniquely personal feel, from its design to its menu to its choice of music. The wooden tables, brick walls, and relatively high ceilings create a bistro-like air of coziness without the intense claustrophobia of similar concepts in Manhattan. It does get crowded here, however, so if you're averse to sitting within spitting distance of other humans it's best to avoid peak brunch hours on the weekends.
The scope of beverages at Aubergine is impressive for a cafe of this size, from standard brews to a fairly creative range of seasonal lattes, wines, beers, and even sangria for the summer months. They make a great hot chocolate, satisfyingly sweet without going overboard on richness, and like all other drinks there it’s available with regular, almond, or soy milk.
Aside from the substantial and tasty selection of pastries, breakfast options are sparse, so if you come for brunch you may find more to choose from on the lunch portion of the menu. That said, the homemade waffle, served with a choice of syrup, fresh fruit, or fruit and vanilla ice cream (at increasing price points), is perfectly prepared, if not bursting with flavor. The lunch offerings are far more impressive, with a great range of sandwiches and paninis served with fresh side salads. The Tuna Panini goes above and beyond the tired, awkwardly cooked tuna melt that are common in many establishments. It is challenging to achieve the perfect balance between toasted bread, tuna salad whose temperature and texture is not deeply upsetting, and completely melted cheese. Aubergine manages, however, upping the ante by throwing in goat cheese, olive spread and mixed greens and putting them together on very good focaccia.
The meat-averse can find solace and flavor in creations such as the Stray Vegetarian Sandwich (with hummus, avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts and lettuce on honey wheat), the Portabello Mushroom Quesadilla, Vegetarian Chili, a Roasted Vegetable Panini, and a range of salads.
Aubergine’s cash-only policy is slightly irritating, but the cafe has enough redeeming qualities to make up for it. By eschewing the temptation to drastically shake up the standard cafe concept and gently elevating the traditional experience with a fresh and thoughtful menu, this community favorite is doing what every cafe should do: being good, welcoming, and reliable.
Aubergine Cafe is located at 49-22 Skillman Avenue in Woodside, NY.