Maria’s Seaside Café: A seasonal spot with exceptional food
This summer marks 25 years since Maria’s Seaside Café opened its doors on Atlantic Avenue along Misquamicut Beach, but the milestone doesn’t take into account that Superstorm Sandy obliterated the place in late October 2012.
The café wouldn’t be rebuilt and reopened until the summer of 2016, but the hardship apparently only made the food that much better. There’s good eating to be had at the Bellone family’s seasonal restaurant on the Rhode Island shoreline.
We have been twice this summer, and the food has been exceptionally good. Our only quibble would be the service on our second visit there. We went on a Monday night, without a reservation, and that was a mistake. We ended up at the bar, and despite what appeared to be ample waitstaff, we felt ignored. We got drinks and appetizers, but it took forever for our dinners to arrive. No one seemed to care, and there was no explanation, and irritatingly, folks who arrived after us were served. We called our server over and asked, and she went to check, but it was still awhile, and that was frustrating.
But let’s focus on the positive. The Maria’s menu draws on the owners’ Sicilian heritage and includes specialties like the house-made Cheese Ravioli ($22), Pappardelle Barolo ($30), the Eggplant Timballe ($10), and the Pollo Limone ($22).
The eggplant appetizer is irresistible. It’s baked eggplant with plum tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, parmigiana Reggiano, and fresh basil. Friends who went talked about the dish so much afterwards that we had no choice but to order it, and we agreed it merited a big thumbs up.
The pappardelle dish is filet mignon strips, portobello mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes in a Barolo wine reduction. The beef was so tender you could slice it with a fork, and the wine reduction and pappardelle plenty flavorful.
But Maria’s is known for its wide selection of seafood. There are two staples on the menu — sea scallops and salmon — and several daily special fish dishes.
On one of our visits, the time we sat outside on the patio, there were three fish specials — blackened tuna over lobster risotto with broccoli rabe, carrots and a lemon herb sauce; roasted halibut with risotto, almonds, oranges, mint, lobster and a citrus glaze; or swordfish with a potato croquette, broccoli rabe, and a lobster puttanesca.
So many good choices!
The next time, the fish specials included sea bass with lobster mashed potatoes, broccolini, and a red orange lobster salad; a gluten-free lobster cavatelli with basil, asparagus, lobster meat, and a plum tomato sauce; and roasted scallops with tomato risotto, lobster meat, asparagus, and basil.
The scallop special ($32) was sensational. It was three jumbo-sized scallops, seared on the exterior and mouth-wateringly delicious on the inside. We are watching our carbs and reluctantly passed on the risotto, but we received additional vegetables and a generous portion of lobster meat. There was not a morsel left on the plate when we finished it.
It was a similar case with the sea bass ($35). That’s a steep price to pay, but the dish did not disappoint. Again, we said no to the potatoes, but we received extra broccolini and more than ample lobster meat. The dishes were distinctive without taking away from the flavor of the fish.
On both visits, we also tried a special appetizer, a generous portion of burrata ($16) served on toasted garlic bread with tomatoes, parmesan and basil. We had a bread-eater on each visit who attested to the crispness and flavor of the toast and the yumminess of it when used to soak up the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic reduction, cheese and plum tomato sauce.
We also indulged one visit on dessert, opting for the Peach Crostata ($10) to share. This heavenly concoction of Italian pastry filled with peaches, amaretto crème anglaise, caramel sauce, fresh berries, and pistachio gelato was insanely good, and our waitress shared that when they run out, customers revolt. That’s totally understood.
Maria’s is a seasonal restaurant and there’s a hotel — The Hotel Maria — attached to it. The properties are named for the late Maria Bellone, who immigrated to this country from Sicily, and later operated the restaurant and the nearby Breezeway Resort, with her husband, Nicola, and children.
It was Maria, according to a post on the restaurant’s website, who spotted a for-sale sign on a former Atlantic Avenue eatery in January 1994 and rushed home to announce it would become the family’s restaurant.
Son John Bellone is in charge now, and his mother is likely smiling down on him. The place is seemingly always busy, and the food, by all accounts, is praiseworthy. And even if you can’t get a seat on the patio, when the weather is good, the restaurant doors open up to the outdoors, bringing in the sea breezes.
Maria’s proclaims on its website, “Fresh off the boat fish, house made pasta, vino & cocktails,” and that’s pretty much it. The restaurant will close for the season on Oct. 16, so if you’ve got a hankering, don’t procrastinate.
Maria's Seaside Café
132 Atlantic Ave., Westerly
Cuisine: Sophisticated Italian with a heavy emphasis on seafood and seasonal fare.
Service: We had great service one visit and mediocre service the next. Yelp reviews suggest that Maria's one negative is its service. That's too bad because the food is so good.
Hours: Lunch Saturdays and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. until Sept. 14. Happy hour 4 to 6 at the bar. Dinner 4 p.m. until closing every day until Sept. 14 and then Fridays and Saturdays Sept. 20-Oct. 14. Maria's will close for the season on Oct. 16.
Atmosphere: You can hear the waves and smell the salty air, but you can't see the ocean because there's a retaining wall that protects diners from busy Atlantic Avenue. There is indoor and outdoor patio seating, but even indoors, on pleasant days, the doors are wide open to connect the spaces.
Prices: Pastas range from $18 to $28 for the Lobster Mac & Cheese, while some of the seafood specials are as high as $35. Appetizers and salads run $10 to $16. At lunchtime, a Lobster BLT is $20 and a Patriot Burger $15.
Credit cards: Accepted
Reservations: Yes, and it's recommended you make one.
Handicapped access: Yes
Parking: Valet is available and convenient