by Alexanda Bullen Coutts
Hailing from Espirito Santo, Brazil, Valerio and Sonia Distefano have lived on Martha’s Vineyard for 17 years. Before opening their first, buffet-style restaurant on the Vineyard Haven Harbor, Bite on The Go, Valerio was a grocery manager at Cronig’s Market, and Sonia worked in the meat department. They decided they were ready for a change.
“When I left Cronig’s I was kind of lost about what to do next,” Valerio said, perched on a handmade wooden stool at the counter of Sweet Bites, the new Vineyard Haven bakery and café, just across State Road from the Post Office. “I’ve been in the food business for my whole life. I thought, why not try something a little different?”
“A little different” turned out to make all the difference in the world – Sonia and Valerio have thrived as business owners since 2012, offering popular, Brazilian-style lunch and dinner take-out options at Bite on the Go, and now, sweets, coffee and sandwiches at its sister café, Sweet Bites.
Cheerful and warm are words that could be used to describe both the décor at Sweet Bites, which opened in the fall of 2016, and its owners. Soft pink walls and custom wooden countertops have transformed the former Beetlebung Café into an inviting space, conveniently located to cater to the in-town lunch crowd as well as hungry pre-and-post boat traffic.
Serving breakfast, lunch and baked goods, the café specializes in Brazilian-style confections and standard American treats. Scones and muffins occupy one side of the glass display case; pao de queijo and sfirra, a savory potato puff pastry filled with chicken or ham and cheese, are layered on the other.
Familiar cakes and pastries – tiramisu, fruit tarts and banana bread – are stacked in the cooler, in addition to more exotic offerings, like tres leches cake and passion fruit mousse. “We use a lot of coconut and condensed milk in the recipes, which sets a Brazilian tone,” Valerio said.
Flan, a caramel-coated custard popular in Brazil, Mexico and Spain, is a top seller at Sweet Bites, Sonia said. But by far the most beloved of Brazilian-inspired treats is the selection of brigadeiros, small fudgy truffles coated in a variety of toppings, including chocolate sprinkles, coconut, pistachio and leite ninho, or powdered milk. These one-bite wonders have a creamy center and can be purchased at $1.50 a pop (but the more you buy, the cheaper they are!). For those with more than a sweet tooth, Sweet Bites also serves breakfast and lunch. Egg and homemade sausage sandwiches are prepared on your choice of bagel, croissant or brioche bread. The lunch menu, created by Valerio’s daughter-in-law, features unique offerings like the “Ocean Breeze” – smoked salmon, goat cheese and cucumber with yogurt dressing – and the “South Beach” – prosciutto, g spread and asiago cheese.
For something new in the beverage department, try the cashew juice – a dry, sweet juice pressed from the fruit of the cashew tree, popular in Northern Brazil – or passion fruit juice, both available in self-serve style. Coffee and espresso drinks are on offer, and on the morning we met, Valerio was headed to the mainland to pick up the Island’s first nitro cold brew coffee machine. “It’s like beer on tap, only coffee,” Valerio said.
With both restaurants open morning until night, the Distefanos and their staff keep busy year-round. They are proud to share traditional Brazilian fare in their adopted Island neighborhood, which has been eager to welcome them from the start. “The Brazilian community was very excited. They’ve been waiting for a place like this,” Sonia said. “And American customers are adventurous. They like to try new things.”