Food & Drink

Mother-Daughter Team at Tatiana's Cafe Offers Caribbean Cuisine

Tatiana's Cafe, 74 First St., South Orange, offers Caribbean, Guyanese and American Soul food. (Photo: Joanna Toole)
The counter at Tatiana's Cafe features tempting sweets for a snack or the perfect end to a meal. (Photo: Joanna Toole)

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ— “We bring great flavor to your table.”

That’s the motto at Tatiana’s Café, 74 First St., which serves the latest in Caribbean, Guyanese and American Soul food.

The café is run as a two-man, or rather, two-woman show. Tatiana Wong takes on the roles of owner, delivery person, hostess and waitress, while her mother, Deborah Nickles, mans the kitchen, cooking all of the dishes – and homemade pastries. 

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Tatiana’s Café opened on July 31 and specializes in traditional Caribbean recipes along with some homemade specials from Nickles. It also has a large selection of vegetarian dishes on the menu.

Wong said she came up with the name Tatiana’s Café because Tatiana was the nickname given to her by her friends back in modeling school.

“At the time, everyone said I looked just like Tatiana Ali because I had the center-part and long straight hair,” Wong said. “The nickname stuck and then became the name of my café, because it’s Tatiana’s Café.” 

The café opens daily at 11 a.m. and offers late-night dining or takeout every night. On Mondays, it is open until 10 p.m., and it remains open Tuesday through Saturday until 11 p.m. Sunday’s hours are 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Tatiana’s café offers 10 percent discounts to senior citizens and Seton Hall students.

Wong said that she serves larger portions than other Caribbean restaurants and is always willing to let anyone sample any of the food from the steam table before ordering.

Wong said she is looking to attract a younger crowd and will be hosting some nighttime events for entertainment. She said in the past they have had an open-mic night with a DJ, and she plans to have karaoke in the near future. 

The decor of the café consists of a few simple paintings hanging on the walls, with square tables arranged through the room. Wong said she bid on the items at an auction where another restaurant was going out of business and selling all of its furniture.

“I didn’t want it to be too much because then people get intimidated,” Wong said about her café’s décor. “In other places where they have so many decorations with their flag and everything from their culture, people don’t recognize it and then don’t want to try the food.”

Wong said that when people think of Caribbean food, they think everything is going to be spicy, which is not true for Tatiana’s Café. “In case people want to share their food with their kids, we don’t make the food spicy,” Wong said. The café does provide its own homemade hot sauce, however, that people can add to their meals if they are looking for that heat.

Wong said that for someone coming to try her food for the first time, she would suggest the oxtails; however, the brown-stew chicken is the most popular.

“I want people to come in and be able to order what they want,” Wong said. “If someone says they want spaghetti and meatballs, that’s what I’ll make them, because that’s what my own kids want sometimes, too.”

The menu offers a wide variety of different cuisine, including several chicken dishes, a large selection of fish or seafood meals, and choices of beef, goat or pork.

For customers craving a snack or something sweet, there is a large assortment of pastries and snacks, including one called ‘Sock-It-To-Me Cake.’  

Wong said in addition to dining in or take-out, she provides local deliveries if her mother is able to stay in the café.

“Our food is fresh,” Wong said. “We try to cook just enough food to last the day.”

The café also provides catering for all occasions, Wong said. People can order pans or trays of different food for their private parties.

Wong said she worked in 2003 at an eatery owned by her sister, who was pregnant at the time, and boyfriend, both of whose schedules prohibited them from working. She would open at 8 a.m. and close the place at 10 p.m., just her and the chef.

“I got the itch because I did everything there from cleaning to prepping to flipping burgers,” Wong said. “I learned how to multitask and knew one day I would have my own café.”

For more information about Tatiana’s Café, stop in at 74 First St., South Orange, NJ 07079 or call 973-762-2220.

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