Times Beacon Record Newspapers

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

By Lorraine Taylor

It seems appropriate that the initials of Port Jefferson's Tiger Lily Café are TLC - that's exactly what it gets from its owners, the close-knit Cucinello family. While apprenticing with local chefs early in her career, Lisa Cucinello harbored the dream of owning her own eatery. About 18 months ago, that dream came true, when she teamed up with her mother, Joanne Cucinello, who has years of experience in catering and professional baking. The Tiger Lily Café specializes in vegetarian food - not the vegetarian fare of the '70s, which was often bland, said Lisa, but creative, nutritious gourmet meals.

"Cooking is a form of art," she stressed, adding that the café allows her to combine her passions: cooking, music, and art. There are scheduled Java Nights throughout the year. For a minimal cover charge, patrons enjoy live music by local musicians. Tiger Lily's owners also display and sell the works of local artists. Book signings, poetry readings, and astrology readings are in the works.

This charming alternative eatery is truly a family business. Lisa's dad comes in every morning to help with set-up and breakfast. Her cousin, Patty, designed the distinctive logo. Another cousin, John, is creating a Web site. Lisa couldn't be happier - or more proud. "My mother is a wonderful business partner. It's amazing to watch her work - she's twice my age and works just as hard. Her energy level is incredible."

The café's decor is decidedly unique. Many patrons remark that it has a California feel. Piece by piece, carefully chosen artwork and antiques are added. A colorful mural on the back wall was painted by a local artist. There are books, magazines, and comfy chairs. The rough-hewn planked floors add warmth. "This space is like nowhere else on LI," said Lisa. The goal - having patrons feel comfortable and relaxed, free to linger over a cup of cappuccino or espresso - is fully realized in the atmosphere lovingly created by this mother-daughter team.

And the word is spreading: The café has received favorable mentions in Newsday, LI Voice, and Energy Times. It attracts people from all over the Island in all age groups. "We're getting a tremendous amount of positive feedback on both the food and the atmosphere," said Joanne, who added that the friendly, hardworking staff shares the credit. Also, prices are moderate. Lunch for two averages $15. There are $5.99 lunch specials every day.

Popular sandwiches include Eggplant Babaganouj Sandwiches, the Provencale and the Roma (with fresh mozzarella, tomato, greens, and basil pesto mayonnaise). There are many wraps, plus favorites such as vegetarian lasagna. Homemade soups include chicken couscous and carrot ginger soup. For non-vegetarians, there are meals using lean meats and poultry. Lisa's sister Christine makes sushi and creative ethnic dishes, while chef Bartolo specializes in salads and grilled entrées. Organic juices and fruit smoothies are popular. Desserts include homemade cheesecake, tartes, tortes, pecan bars, and carrot cake, plus baked goods from Aldo's of Greenport.

The location is another asset, said Lisa. "East Main is so historic. There's such pride on the part of all the business owners. We couldn't have a better location. And I think we've brought new life to the area."

The Tiger Lily Café, at 156 E. Main St., Port Jefferson, is open 9 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday and 9 am to 5 pm on Sunday. Call (631) 476-7080.