Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Rockaway for Brazilian food by the beach.
Brazilians seem to know a thing or three about having fun in the sun, and they're no slouches in the eating department either, so it's not a huge surprise that Beach Bistro 96, which just opened in Rockaway, totally nails the beachfront cafe vibe.
Your hosts Carlos Varella and Andressa Junquiera are super friendly, bouncy and amusing. The small space—it's where Anna Bow was last summer (RIP breakfast burritos), and Veggie Island before that—is bright and breezy, with fresh blocks of bright orange paint on the plank-wood exterior adding to the feeling that something new has arrived in town.
Beach Bistro 96 is not a pop-up though, or a summertime fling (though admittedly there is a lot to crush on here), and Junquiera says they're committed to creating a full-time, year-round gathering place, where friends, locals, and beachgoers can get a good meal in a welcoming setting. The music is a chill Brazilian party mix, the dining experience as loose as possible without falling apart.
The restaurant is also called Terra Brasilis by the way, though it's Beach Bistro 96 "on social" and the internet, so.
Varella is the chef here, and he left a life of surfing in Brazil and modeling in Mexico to make us top-notch versions of casual Brazilian classics. The menu is short but varied enough to give you multiple reasons to stop in as you go about your beach day.
Get a couple of Varella's excellent, empanada-like Pasteis—the meat one is stuffed with heavily-seasoned ground beef, the cheese version is gooey with mozzarella and just enough tomato to make it juicy—to munch on as you walk a block to the ocean, or for the train ride home. A small sack of Pão de Queijo, the gooey cheese bread that's pretty much a must-order wherever it's sold, but is especially good here, will also make you very happy. The Coxinha, which is basically fried chicken salad, was too oniony for my taste.
If you're here in the morning the coconutty Beijinho Tapioca makes a fantastic sweet breakfast. It's structured like a crepe, but the tapioca in the "shell" means it's wonderfully chewy and, to my mind, a more satisfying dish than the French favorite. There's a Cheese and Spinach Tapioca too, which I'm eager to try next time.
Beach Bistro 96 also has a couple of full-meal options. The Picanha was solid, the deeply rich, almost liver-like cut of beef (it's apparently hugely popular in Brazil, but rarely butchered like this here) all tender and fatty and covered in caramelized onions. None of the promised mashed potatoes were available on this day, sadly, but my burgeoning beach body probably appreciated the quinoa and green salad substitution.
If it's a Wednesday or Saturday, no question you have to get the Feijoada, a stew of pork and beef (two kinds of chorizo, some short rib, some other fatty pieces) and black beans in a thick, complex broth that you spoon over piles of white rice and farofa, a tangle of oily, garlicky kale on the side. So elemental, so delicious. One of my favorite things I've eaten this year.
And for dessert, get whatever's up front by the register, especially if it's Brigaderios, the Brazilian chocolate milk caramel which here they serve in a way that has apparently become the trendy way back home, like pudding in little cups, rather than rolled into balls. For an extra sugar buzz, wash everything down with a cold Guarana soda.
Rockaway already has several superb beach spots (Tacoway Beach, Rippers), but Beach Bistro 96 deserves to be added high up on your list. Great food, great atmosphere, and, right now at least, no line.
Beach Bistro 96 (aka Terra Brasilis) is located at 95-19 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, at the corner of Beach 96th Street. Exact hours are sill being firmed up, but they want to serve breakfast, lunch, and supper. CASH ONLY. (718-474-6000; Beach Bistro 96)