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Executive Chef of Warren 77 Opens Sunset Park Cafe and Restaurant

By Alan Neuhauser | February 5, 2013 9:22am

SUNSET PARK — The executive chef of TriBeCa's Warren 77 pub — owned by ex New York Ranger Sean Avery — has opened a gourmet cafe and restaurant in the heart of Sunset Park, serving pastries, sandwiches, coffee and wines in a sunlit storefront featuring exposed brick walls and hand-crafted wooden tables.

"We're trying to bring a little East Village style to the neighborhood," said Jose Luis Hernandez, 37, chef and co-owner of Cafe Zona Sur on Fourth Avenue at 43rd Street.

The cafe, which opened Jan. 11, features La Colombe Coffee, breads and pastries from Park Slope's Colson Bakery, and a wide selection of eggs, sandwiches, soups and salads not soon found in Sunset Park.

"We just felt something was really missing in the area — some place we don't have to go to park Slope for, we don't have go to Red Hook for," Hernandez's wife and co-owner, Maria Medina, said.

Zona Sur, open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends, is slated to debut a dinner menu (and stay open later) next month. Hernandez and Medina will serve seafood, steak, and several Latin American selections, such as parrillada, an Argentinean mixed-grill dish, and the couple plans to open the restaurant's backyard in the spring.

"We want to represent all the different Latin American cultures that have come here and the food influence, and how it's changed the way we eat," Medina, 38, said. "We want it to be casual, but we also want it to showcase our experience with food."

Hernandez and Medina met three years ago at Morandi, restaurateur Keith McNally's Zagat-rated trattoria in Greenwich Village. Hernandez was a line cook, Medina a waitress, and the pair soon became friends, then a couple. Residents of Sunset Park, they married last August and share a 10-month-old daughter.

"It's been a crazy year," Medina said.

Their cafe, although unique to Sunset Park, faces a challenge in its location. Next door, rusting scaffold rings a former police precinct station house, abandoned since 1970. Now owned by the Brooklyn Chinese American Association, records show, residents have long complained that the building is a blight and magnet for crime.

"That scaffold is eating us up alive," Medina said. "It's an eyesore, and it hinders our storefront. We tried our best to make it more noticeable… It attracts a lot of garbage — because it's dark, people feel they can dump their garbage there. It's not fair to the community."

Nevertheless, Median and Hernandez remain optimistic. Word-of-mouth, they said, has already attracted diners by the dozens.

"We're going to be going full-swing," Hernandez said. "This is my dream come true."