Memorable dining experiences are hard to come by in most of suburbia, and this is especially the case in Long Island – the densely populated strip of land east of New York City. One gem that stands out from the strip malls and chains is the Witches Brew in Hempstead, New York, about 20 miles outside Manhattan.
The café, serving teas, coffee, desserts and vegetarian-only eats, opened in 1996 and has been able to maintain its popularity ever since. It isn’t surprising.
Immediately upon entering, guests are greeted with overlapping string lights, eclectic furniture and dark, spooky décor. It feels like stumbling upon a secret, despite the routine hour-long wait on most nights and weekends. Pictures don’t do it justice, though it is hard to resist trying to capture the feeling.
The chaotic menu is full of drawings, seemingly pasted-in labels naming the options and soothing or healing intentions of the different drink choices. There is an endless list of teas served in individual teapots, and the frozen cocoa and chai freeze with whipped cream are always popular.
Most of the teas are mild and delicately flavored, even those with a list of fruit, flowers and spices included in the ingredients. The chai latte is spicy and flavorful, with the option tosweeten it with table sugar.
The desserts and food options are also respectable, but the food is not really the main appeal. It is a place to go to take in the ambience, relax and have long conversations and get away from the common Long Island diners and other establishments for something with more character.
The Witches Brew has shifted from being a more underground spot for goth 90s teens toward being a trendy destination that is no stranger to a social media photo shoot.
The café doesn’t have a website or Instagram of its own, so its charms have to spread mainly by word of mouth, which it does rapidly.
The prices are reasonable as well, for the quality and unique ingredients used. A pot of tea with three teacupful servings sets you back $4, and the large, decadent brownie is $4.75.
It is also one of the few spots on the island that is entirely meat-free. There are so many dishes to choose from that it is hard to notice unless you pay attention, or if you are a vegan, in which case you would be pleasantly surprised by the variety of menu items.
The Witches Brew certainly delivers in terms of atmosphere and service. I have always felt free to take my time and enjoy the company and relaxed energy, even when the couches and tiny tables are all packed.
Going on a weekday afternoon is lovely for a calm, quiet bite to eat, while a late night trip offers a buzzing energy. Either way, the Witches Brew is a clear destination if you happen to be on the island, but is worth a trip of its own.