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Roll up to Café on Main in Colchester, and it's possible you'll see a fleet of motorcycles parked out front. Lest you presume it's just another watering hole for weary bikers, allow me to reveal its true draw.
Tater tots, to be specific, not small children (although there were plenty of them at the café on a recent Friday night). When's the last time you were invited to order a heap of crisp tater tots with your choice of three toppings? That would be "Buried Below" on the menu, Café on Main's version of nachos, as the menu notes (tortilla chips available too).
OK fine, you're only mildly wowed by the notion of tater tots "Buried Below." Well, what if I told you one of the available toppings is macaroni and cheese? That, my friends, should be a done deal, as the mac and cheese is properly ooey-gooey, and the tots never succumb to soggification beneath. Trick that dish out with black beans and tomato, and you've got all four food groups in one happy basket.
Other available toppings include jalapenos, Frank's Red Hot, chicken, bacon, chili, black olives, and sautéed onions, mushrooms, and peppers. Cheese on top of the whole tater-tot mountain is a given. One serving will stuff two people easily - luckily, leftover tots make excellent late-night snacks.
We saved room for an actual dinner-dinner and started off with a bowl of chili, which is sizeable and filling, so consider sharing it as well. It's super thick, more like a great chip dip, with hunks of green pepper throughout and nicely nuanced flavor. The chili arrives with a cup of sour cream and shredded cheese, a genius move that adds even more depth to this rich dish.
Choosing from a well-planned list of comfort-food-inspired dishes, we opted for three classics: a steamed cheese burger, an eggplant parm sammie and the meatloaf and French fry plate. (Next time I'm getting the four-cheese grilled cheese, sandwiched between three pieces of Texas toast, according to the menu). The burger and sandwich both arrived on delicious ciabatta rolls, perfectly toasted and sized for the generous portions of eggplant and hamburger. The eggplant melded perfectly into the roll's interior, with just the right amount of sauce and cheese (read: no one left the café with tomato sauce on his or her shirt). The eggplant and sauce is done fairly mildly, so zesty-Italian-garlic fans should take note.
A steamed cheeseburger is one of modern cuisine's great inventions, and COM's lived up to the standard I've come to expect. It's moist and flavorful and piled with the usual lettuce and tomato. We added mushrooms and American cheese to ours and enjoyed every last bite.
Both sandwiches also came with outstanding pasta salad, in the vinegar-based style, not retro mayo-laden stuff. It makes for a nice, light side dish with a fantastic garlic kick.
As for the meatloaf, can you really go wrong? Not really, in my book, but Café on Main ups the ante and adds gravy and pub fries to the whole package - and these fries taste like potatoes and not salty grease bombs. Always a plus. The generous portion of meatloaf itself was moist, soft-ground, and seasoned well - and, of course, gravy makes everything better.
If COM were merely a watering hole for weary bikers, it would excel in that area, too. The bar area is expansive and inviting, and Friday and Saturday evenings offer live music and trivia nights. Beyond its well-planned food menu, COM offers roughly two dozen beers on tap, and the beer fans in my circle were beyond tickled at their options. The wine list is diverse, too, with several vintages available by the glass.
A friend of mine lives across the Colchester green from COM. She's a regular at this point, and it's heartening to see the warmth with which she was greeted when she turned up with us visitors. But then again, it appears everybody becomes a pal once you step in the café, if the contented kids of all ages noshing away on tots are any indicator. Tots, beer and good company? Looks like Main Street is alive and well after all.
20 Main St., Colchester
Cuisine: Great American comfort foods, with several sandwiches available, plus salads, apps and pizza options.
Prices: Amazingly fair. Nothing costs more than $11 (that's for the Steak of the Day; Lobster Mac and Cheese comes in second-most expensive at $10).
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 to 2 a.m. Kitchen closes at 11 p.m.
Service: Warm and welcoming; on busy nights, don't be shy about flagging down your server.
Credit cards: None. Cash only. There's an ATM on the premises.
Handicap accessible: No steps at entrance, with fairly roomy interior.