By JIM WILLIS
Whipped Bites is busy. The dessert café and creperie on the corner of Broad and Monmouth streets in Red Bank has been in a near-constant state of transformation since this summer, when Nick Napoletano and his girlfriend Erica Lieberman took over the lease on the space from chef Marc Fontaine, who had been making crepes in the location.
When the couple first took over the space, it was a hodgepodge collection of tables and chairs, with empty refrigerator cases and a small sign in the window that read “crepes.” Despite the less-than-inviting space, the Nutella crepes were enough to keep PieHole coming back again. And again. Though frankly, we’d eat Nutella crepes while crouching over a cardboard box in a shipping container and still ask for seconds.
But over the past few months, the couple has revamped the café into a comfortable, welcoming space that invites you to take a seat and leisurely enjoy a coffee with your crepe or dessert.
Napoletano says the café is doing a brisk breakfast business, especially for Sunday brunch when it offers specials like Grand Marnier French Toast or Champagne-infused Belgian Waffles, and draws a steady after dinner crowd on Friday and Saturday nights.
Now, after sweetening up the space and honing the dessert side of the business, Napoletano is in the process of revamping the savory spectrum of the cafe’s menu. PieHole caught up with him as he was finalizing the new menu.
Napoletano says that while the menu has been geared towards dessert items like gelato, pastries, crepes and coffee, the cafe has always had savory crepes on the menu, they just weren’t the focus.
“Now we’re switching gears just a little bit to focus on them a bit more,” says Napoletano adding that it will give customers more options for a lunch or dinner crepe.
He says part of the problem has been the dizzying array of menu options for savory crepes – with additions like bacon or lox or proscuitto and mozzarella – was just too complicated.
“People got a bit overwhelmed putting all the options together with the crepes, so I’m doing a new menu now that will have some suggestions on it but still allow you to customize your lunch or dinner crepe,” he said.
Napoletano was just putting the finishing touches on the menu when he offered PieHole a sneak preview. When it goes into effect “sometime this month,” according to Napoletano, the revamped menu will feature about a dozen savory crepe suggestions such as ham, brie and raspberry jam or the braised short rib with mushroom and blue cheese crepe.
As the menu is changing, so too has the staff. Fontaine, who had stayed on for several months after Lieberman and Napoletano took over the lease, has moved on.
“Marc is a great chef,” says Napoletano. “Cooking is his great passion and he’s moved on to pursue that passion.”
Desserts will continue to be a focus for the cafe though. Napoletano says being a sit-down dessert cafe is part of what’s made the business so successful. “That’s what’s been working for us,” he says. “Offering something that no one else has. That, and staying opened late and opening early.”
“This is a walking town,” he says. “A lot of people are out to eat and they could eat dessert where they had dinner but –even myself I’m like this– if I go to dinner somewhere and I know that there’s a nice dessert place around the corner, I’m going to take that walk.”
While Whipped Bites may be among the few places to walk to for dessert after dinner in town, it’s one of an increasing number of shops offering sweets and baked goods — from the newly opened Antoinette Boulangerie to the colony of cupcake stores. But even the recently opened Carlo’s Bakery isn’t perceived by Napoletano as a threat.
“The Cake Boss came into town and it didn’t effect us,” he said. “We have people sitting here with his bags on the table eating our crepes and drinking coffee because—again, we’re just different. They went to [Carlo’s Bakery] to buy their cake or three dozen cannoli. I have those items but they’re here for you to sit down and enjoy with a cappuccino.”
“I don’t look at [The Cake Boss] as competition. If anything,” says Napoletano, “he’s helping me.”