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November 03, 2015

A first look at Sabrina's Cafe in Collingswood

Philly brunch staple heads to Jersey

Restaurants Food
Carroll - Sabrina's Cafe Collingswood Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Sabrina's Cafe Collingswood will be located in the F.W. Woolworth building at 712 Haddon Avenue.

Fourteen years after the opening of the original Sabrina's Cafe at 910 Christian St., husband-and-wife owners Robert and Raquel are taking their winning brunch and dinner formula over the bridge to Collingswood, Camden County.

Robert De Abreu, 47, told PhillyVoice the duo had been approached to bring their restaurant to Collingswood years ago, around the time they opened their Callowhill neighborhood location. Timing, though, kept them away -- that is, until the 714 Haddon Ave. space in downtown Collingswood sprung up for rent in June, previously occupied by a market. Because many of their current customers live in New Jersey and many others have since fled the city to start a family there, he said, the timing felt right.

At 5,000 square feet, the Collingswood Sabrina's, currently eyeing a Nov. 16 opening, will be bigger -- with more "walking space," he said -- than any other Sabrina's location. It seats about 90 people with a combination of high-top tables and a long dark blue bench that rests along the wall, cushioned with black-and-white pillows and a nook underneath for bag storage. There will also be a singles counter, outdoor seating on a back patio and a waiting area off to the side of the dining area, dressed up with vintage sofas and chairs where coffee will be served to those waiting. 

Walls, meanwhile, will be adorned with white-framed maps of New Jersey towns like Audubon and Westmont, while a photo of the original Italian Market Sabrina's location will remind diners of the cafe's Philadelphia roots.

“It'll have more of a Southern charm," Raquel De Abreu, 46, told PhillyVoice. "Clean lines, Southern charm, quirky -- still kitschy, and you’ll feel like you’re in a Sabrina’s, with a little bit of everything from all the Sabrina’s ..."

"But nothing real trendy," she added. "We don’t ever go real trendy – we stick to who we are. Sabrina's, warm.”

While the location's bringing some minor changes in terms of aesthetic and general vibe, don't expect too much to change with the food.

"The menu will be the same," Robert clarified. "I had success with the other [locations], so we'll keep it the same. But the dinners will be a little different: I expect a good dinner crowd compared to the other restaurants, so we are trying to expand our dinner a little more."

In addition to breakfast and lunch, to be served between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Sabrina's in Collingswood will serve dinner from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 5-9 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays. They're initially keeping dinner offerings in line with the Wynnewood location's menu but plan to flesh it out after the first six months. Exclusive to the Collingswood cafe, they'll be planning limited-time daily specials -- citing Mondays, for example, as a potential prolonged "Turkey Day," offering hot turkey with stuffing and gravy.

The interior of Sabrina's Cafe in Collingswood. Hanging between the bars -- "meat hooks," Raquel De Abreu called them -- will be four-by-six chalkboards containing menu specials. The high-top tables, she added, were chosen because they fit together "like a puzzle" for large parties. (Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice)

Yahkoub Diakhite, who most recently cooked at the cafe's Wynnewood location, will be the full-time chef. Though, new menu additions continue to be incorporated by Executive Chef Lance Silverman, who's been with the restaurant from the beginning.

"We're going to keep our comfort food with a twist," Raquel said. "Stuffed meatloaf, chicken and biscuits, fish and chips -- fun [food] at the right price point, with something for everyone."

The two expect the demand to be high on the Haddon Avenue strip because of its high volume of Italian restaurants, as opposed to the comfort selections they offer. As with their other locations, meats will be sourced from Ashley Foods and Esposito's, and produce from Produce Junction and Anastasio's. The cafe will serve La Colombe coffee, with a cold brew sourced from Revolution House Coffee Roasters just down the street. Alcohol is BYO.

Robert: There's more pressure now than there was before. Now, you have the name, and everyone knows who you are. Now the hard part is, 'Let's maintain it.' Because the expectations are high ...

After more than a decade of opening restaurants (this is their fifth), Robert noted the pressure to succeed never really goes away. This, even after years of proving themselves as a Philadelphia go-to -- nay, a gold standard -- for brunch.

"There's more pressure now than there was before," he said. "Now, you have the name, and everyone knows who you are. Now the hard part is, 'Let's maintain it.' Because the expectations are high. 'Let's go to Sabrina's -- I heard it's great.' Well, everyone can have a bad day now and then."

Still, Raquel chalks up their success to humility -- that and putting in face time as owners.

"We run it like a boutique," she said. "No matter how big we get. And that’s why we are where we are. And we have good people who work for us and they respect us at the end of the day because we did get our hands dirty."

"We don't show up in suits."

Those new to Sabrina's Cafe, she added, should look to the menu's Stuffed Challah French Toast, Mel's Chicken Cutlet, the Ultimate Caesar and the cafe's all-white turkey burger as good starting points. And, of course, the restaurant's specials, which they'll start offering six weeks after opening.

A Cherry Hill resident and native, Raquel looks forward to finding their place in the neighborhood. She's hoping to draw a regular set of customers and build on the communal feel they've already established in city neighborhoods.

"This should be like your home away from home," she said, musing what she wants the cafe to be. "It’s casual, it’s welcoming, we have what you need in the kitchen and we’ll be there for you. This is a neighborhood. Don’t think of us as a restaurant, think of us as your kitchen."

"That’s what it should be.”