A 10-minute, straight shot from Sandy Hook down Ocean Avenue will bring you to Brighton Avenue in the West End section of Long Branch, and a few corners later to Jesse’s Cafe.
We had trouble pinpointing our impression of this eatery–it is vegetarian, but also not, since it offers chicken and fish dishes among the fancified tofu, beans and tempeh. The outside looks really plain, but when you enter it is warm and homey. It is also, for lack of a better word, loose. By loose we mean, a little rough around the edges. Works by presumably local artists were displayed on the walls, but each was hung crooked, without fail. The lighting was dim even in daylight. And the restaurant at our off-hour of arrival was manned by a single woman (Jesse perhaps, we were too shy to ask). There was a small associated lag time in the arrival of our food, but honestly it wasn’t like the ambiguous wait at a chain restaurant. This truly felt like we were in the kitchen of a long-lost aunt, or someone else’s mom, and we could see her–alone–actually preparing our dishes in the very exposed kitchen. It left us in a state of anticipation instead of agitation.
And the tiny wait was worthwhile, for our orders were uniformly delicious: pureed root vegetable soup; health sub with hummus and veggies; fakin-bacon/lettuce/tomato/sprouts/avocado sandwich on whole grain bread; vegan meatball sub with mozzarella, mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers. Several people came in to buy whole pies that looked divine. Our sweet endnote was a vegan chocolate chip cookie and iced pomegranate zinger tea.
The prices were average, neither a bargain nor too expensive, and Jesse only takes cash or checks, no credit. We felt relieved to see an employee show up to help “Jesse” prior to the dinner hour. Would definitely go back again to try more of the tons of things on the menu that piqued our interest.
Random sidenotes: If you are ever in the market for canned lentils, they are almost impossible to find. We were thrilled to find the Goya brand at a Brazilian market across the street from Jesse’s.
Our last image, however, will be of the sign next to our parking spot. Not the giant spectacles of Fitzgerald’s Dr. T.J. Eckleberg, but the large tooth of Dr. Gokberk. What a name.