Greek-Inspired Kefi Streetside Cafe Seeks to Define Downtown’s B-City
SRQ Review | February 2022
In new restaurants
Every now and then a new restaurant comes along that manages to find the right attributes in the nuanced calculus that determines success: location, timing, concept and price. These rare occasions produce something special, something that defines and grows organically from a particular context. As downtown Bradenton continues to forge its identity as a more affordable, younger and more laid-back neighbor to its more recognized sister city south of University Parkway, the budding foodie can look to Kefi Streetside Café as the embodiment of Bradenton’s aspirations.
The Greek Cafe and Coffee Shop operates out of what was once a bank teller window on West 6th Avenue in downtown Bradenton. Opened, owned and operated by partners Jason Simpson and Eleni Sokos, the 30-something represents the new wave of young entrepreneurs rising in a city whose history has entered an exciting new chapter. Sokos also owns a marketing business while Simpson comes from a successful career selling drinks, and the two have come together to create a cafe that celebrates Sokos’ Greek roots and provides the bustling downtown crowd with something bright and healthy thing for breakfast and lunch.
For its coffee program, Kefi adopted offerings from Buddy Brew, a Tampa-based third-wave roaster that provided barista training for Kefi’s crew. That means Greek coffee’s caffeine game lives up to aficionado’s standards. A honey-glazed oatmeal latte quickly became a big seller when the cafe opened in December. Oat milk reduces the weight of most lattes and helps make them a refreshing vehicle for a smooth pour of espresso. A matcha latte has a classic taste, with the slightly herbal and bitter powder requiring occasional stirring to swirl it around in the cup, but that’s not to say Kefi is avoiding experimenting with other drinks. A Seasonal Caramel Apple Cold Brew Latte combines two seemingly dissonant flavors – apple and coffee – in a stylish seasonal alternative to the guilty pleasure of Pumpkin Spice Latte (which Kefi always has on the menu).
Baked breakfast treats are courtesy of Sweets Bake House, with whom Sokos and Simpson have collaborated on some specialty items. From this collaboration was born a tsai oatmeal cookie (“tsai” means “chai” in Greek). The piece of butter is refreshing and spiced up with chai spices, perfect for dipping in a hot cup of tea. Another standout pastry is the Blueberry Lemon Goat Cheese Muffin. Whether or not the product description needs a comma between all those delicious modifiers is beside the point – this muffin achieves a richness that few muffins do. The goat cheese in particular is a nice (and Greek) touch that adds creaminess and a touch of salt.
An assortment of avocado toast options are suitable for breakfast and lunch. The “basic” option comes with mashed avocado spread on pieces of multigrain toast, then topped with sliced cucumber marinated in olive oil and spices. A microgreen topping adds to the vibrant, wholesome appeal of the toast. The “fancy like” toast gets the full Greek treatment, especially the Peloponnese. The Sokos family originated from the Kalamata region on the peninsula, where the same olive also comes from. The “fantasy” includes diced kalamata olives to accompany sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, a sprinkle of oregano and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Dirty, Tart and vegetal, the exciting flavor profile is held together by the creamy mashed avocado base, while the cheese helps make this a respectably hearty lunch.
In the absence of a fully ventilated kitchen, Sokos and Simpson had to get creative with the delicious Greek salad on the menu that comes topped with chicken. Rather than deal with the permits and construction nightmare of drilling a massive hole in the old structure, Kefi uses the vacuum method. But using carefully regulated hot water to cook vacuum-sealed food also has the added benefit of almost never overcooking its contents – food can only cook at water temperature. When ready, the chicken is tossed in a light lemon and herb sauce before resting on a bed of greens. A generous pour of the accompanying extra virgin olive oil is advised.
As delicious as all food is, its greatest strength is accessibility. Kefi never tries to portray itself as a chef-led company eager to wow the culinary adventure seekers. Rather, it’s a community café designed to gather together, to enjoy a quick, healthy and fresh bite of local treats. An outgrowth of the friendly bustle of downtown Bradenton, the word Kefi itself could very well describe the town. Although no direct translation exists, “kefi” describes a feeling of joy at being alive.Kefi Streetside Cafe Walk-in Window, 1201 6th Ave W, Bradenton, 941-896-2282, kefistreetsidecafe.com, @kefistreetsidecafe