French fries were on the cafe menu when the YMCA first opened, and Coke Classic could be found in the vending machine. Over time, the afterschool crowd was weaned off french fries and onto fruit smoothies. Recent removal of highly sugary drinks from the vending machine was part of a newer push.
Why the food evolution? I asked Y executive director Jill Robie as she stood in the cafe line for morning coffee. “We listened to patrons, our board, and to donors. Healthy food was the consensus,” she explained.
Part of this new push at the Y Cafe was the recent hiring of noted Island chef Albert Lattanzi, the 20-year owner of Lattanzi’s Pizzeria in Edgartown, and a major player in wild food events, both on-Island and in Europe. “We brought Albert in for personality and consistency,” explained Jill. His flair for healthy, delicious food was on display in early May during Healthy Kids Day at the YMCA. Children flocked to Lattanzi’s grain table to gobble up quinoa pizza bites and tiny carrot cakes.
When Lattanzi arrived, he began making changes to the cafe, small at first. Ordinary sandwiches in the Grab and Go case were transformed with the addition of pesto, red peppers, and whatever it took to lift them out of the ordinary. Soon a large display case arrived, to be stocked with true Lattanzi specialities: stuffed portobello mushrooms, huge meatballs laced with ricotta cheese, along with stuffed peppers and eggplant dishes. “I favor Italian cuisine,” Lattanzi explained. “It has been my main focus in both culinary creations and travel since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1979.”
Individual quiche slices are on display, with whole pies available upon request. In keeping with the Y’s new healthier eating mission, the display case’s lowest shelving — that within the eyesight of small children — is stocked with fruit and healthy drinks. Made-from-scratch soups have been added to the menu. The pre-Lattanzi commercially made soups in the cafe were tasty, but did not address individual dietary needs. Vegetarian and vegan options are now available.
Most recently a see-through pizza display case arrived, its shelves stocked each day with three different types of warm pizza, offered by the slice. About the pizza, Albert explained, “A kid won’t usually eat a plate of eggplant Parmesan if I put it in front of them. Pile the same number of veggies on pizza and they’ll be gobbled up.”
And yes, there are sweet delights. On St. Joseph’s Day, traditionally observed with pastry indulgences in the Italian American community, Lattanzi made cannolis filled with a delicate lemon creme. More recently, hazelnut cheesecake was available. While not yet daily offerings, these are treats worth waiting for.
Quinoa Pizza Bites from the Y Cafe
1½ cups cooked quinoa (leftover quinoa works fine)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup mini pepperonis (optional)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a mini muffin pan well with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and mix until fully combined.
Evenly distribute the mixture between the mini muffin cavities (you should end up with about 18 to 20) and gently press it down. Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and serve with marinara sauce.
Store leftover quinoa pizza bites in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Reheat before serving.