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LÉLU COFFEE LOUNGE

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WORDS BY SARA MOONE

PHOTOS BY KATHRYN BRASS-PIPER

Snuggled up next to Gilligan’s Island Bar on the main drag of Siesta Key, LéLu Coffee Lounge looks and feels like a longtime island fixture. Surfboards dangle from the ceiling and local art lines the walls. Just down the way you can rent kayaks or paddleboards, in case you’re ready to tackle the great outdoors now that you’ve had your coffee (or your second Bloody Mary).

The door opens at the eye-rubbing hour of 7:30 a.m., while happy hour at the martini bar lasts until 9 p.m., so no matter when you want your buzz, at LéLu it’s always the right time. It seems an ideal island hangout like LéLu would have been standing there when the island rose out of the bay. However, just under six years ago owner Jennifer Smith was slinging shots—strictly espresso at the time— from a single-window kitchenette behind the Rhino Room. (Spoiler alert: Smith eventually flipped the former bar and turned it into the official home of LéLu.)

Smith always had a taste for coffee. Growing up in Tallahassee, she drank it at her grandparents’ breakfast table. A penchant for the earth-brown bean followed her through college studies in dietetics as she bent over class notes at her favorite café.

While she pursued a successful career selling medical supplies, one fateful visit to Sarasota changed everything. “As soon as I got to Siesta Key, I thought, ‘This is it,’” Smith says.

“When I left here just after a week of visiting, I felt like I was leaving home.” She adored the beach and the island community. Ever the coffee devotee, Smith also felt the sea breeze could use a hint of dark roast.

“I went home and I resigned,” Smith says. Six weeks later she was living in Sarasota, and after months and months of tending bar, she felt ready to share her love of coffee with the sleepy islanders. She sourced quality used equipment from the same Tallahassee coffeehouse where she once studied every day, and she stocked a fridge with bagels, cream cheese and Salsalito turkey for her sole menu item. It’s still featured on the much-expanded current menu, which features wholesome “samiches,” “smashed” omelets and all the local ingredients Smith can haul back from the Siesta Key farmers’ market.

Ask any small business owner and they’ll readily allow that eating, sleeping, and breathing your enterprise is key to keeping it afloat. So it makes more than sense when Smith admits that, yes—she is LéLu. The café has Smith’s prints all over it, from the carrot cake made from her mom’s secret recipe to Smith’s own longboard hanging on the wall. LéLu Coffee Lounge has inherited Smith’s laidback attitude, her sunny disposition, and her tenacity most of all.

Lelu Coffee Lounge: 5251 Ocean Blvd, Sarasota; 941-346-5358; lelucoffee.com


Caffeine and cocktails at LeLu

Take one coffee bar serving simply perfect espresso and coffee in any form, add an imaginative martini bar, throw in a surfboard or two and place the entire mix into a converted cottage in the heart of Siesta Village, and you have the recipe that makes LeLu Coffee Lounge a favorite among an eclectic crowd of islanders and mainlanders alike.

Owner Jennifer Holland has created a comfortable tropical atmosphere with a small bar and a seating area that is more like a living room with its mix of comfy chairs and bistro tables, with interesting wall art and surfboards hanging overhead. By the way, the art and surf boards are for sale too. You can even sign up for a surfing lesson.

There is outdoor seating as well, either out front where you can watch life pass by in Siesta Village, or out back in a quieter patio area. Anywhere you choose will entice you to relax whether enjoying a conversation with friends, meeting for breakfast or lunch, checking e-mail – yes, wireless internet is available. LeLu’s is also a good place to visit either before or after a night on the town.

When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the aroma of coffee. LeLu serves freshly brewed coffee from some of the best roasters local to Florida. You can find mostly medium to dark roasts, as well as organics and flavors. The signature flavored coffee is a 100 percent naturally flavored coconut coffee. One of the best things is that a cup of house coffee is only $1.50. There are also coffees from tropical places such as Hawaii, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico.

All coffees are available in bulk, whole bean or ground to your liking. There is a long list of espresso drinks with fun names like Monkey Mocha and Caramel Wave, or one of LeLu’s specialties, the Coco Cocobanana. Or if you would rather have a latte or cappuccino, or maybe a frappe or even a Ghirardelli hot chocolate, or tea, hot or iced, it’s all here. Choosing how you get your caffeine is half the fun.

On a hot day you may want to try an Island Colada, Mango Passion, or Succulent Strawberry smoothie, or a handmade soda created with a choice of several Monin flavors.

The food at LeLu’s is also eclectic, with some of the dishes taking on a tropical twist. For breakfast you can get Hawaiian style Spam and Eggs. This is no joke – Spam is very popular in Hawaii and the dish is true to its island heritage. A chunk of Spam is scrambled with eggs and topped with a slice of grilled pineapple ($6). Or get the Cuban bread toasted and served with a cup of Cuban coffee con leche ($4.25). Add guava paste or cream cheese for 75 cents.

Also tempting is the Costa Rican – two eggs with homemade black beans and rice served with plantains ($6.25). For the traditionalist there is the American – two eggs your way with either bacon or ham and toast ($6). Or try LeLu’s Messy Omelet. It’s three eggs tossed around with a choice of meat, cheese and veggies ($7.50). And of course you may want to select a coffee from the same origin as the dish. To complete the breakfast offerings there are a variety of pastries and breads, always freshly baked by local bakers and delivered daily.

The lunch and tapas menu is also imaginative with a selection of specialty sandwiches, homemade soup and salads. Try the bowl of Black Beans and Rice ($4.25), or a Baja Fish Taco ($5.75), or Sweet Ham and Brie with Sundried Tomato Pesto served on a fresh baked onion Kaiser roll ($9.75). Add Sweet Potato Fries for $2. The Side House Salad ($4.50) is made with Romaine and fresh dressing and the LeLu Wedge ($6.25) is iceberg lettuce served with a special secret recipe of homemade bleu cheese dressing.

Assorted desserts and pastries are available. A specialty is Mom’s Carrot Cake and yes it is actually made by Mom from another secret family recipe.

In fact, the recipes are what make LeLu Coffee Lounge unique. All of the menu items come straight from Jennifer Holland’s recipe book. They are all made with the freshest ingredients and organic when available. You can see Jennifer handpicking most of the produce from the local farmers’ markets Saturdays and Sundays.

LeLu Coffee Lounge also has a full bar specializing in after dinner (or before dinner) coffee drinks and martinis. You can try a Keoki Coffee, Mexican Coffee (tequila and Kahlua), Spanish Coffee (Tia Maria and rum), or Irish Coffee. The martini menu is extensive and includes such concoctions as a Granny Smith Appletini ($7.50), Disco Lemonade ($8.00) and a signature Strawberry Basiltini ($8.50). Or opt for a beer, a homemade Bloody Mary or one of a variety of hand picked wines and Champagnes.

And if you don’t see it on the menu, just ask. As they like to say at LeLu, “There is nothing you can dream up that we can’t make!”


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