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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    The Café in downtown Westerly is a gem

    Pan-Seared Dry-Aged Sirloin with mushrooms, blue cheese and dauphinoise(Ann Baldelli)

    What an embarrassment of riches — so many very good and different restaurants to choose from between Mystic and Westerly, and now, another great choice with the opening of The Café in downtown Westerly late last year.

    This eatery on Canal Street, connected to the newly refurbished art house United Theatre, is a gem. Its décor and artwork alone are worth a visit, but add in the food and libations, and, well, you just have to visit and see for yourself.

    The first time I ventured in was for lunch, and I tried a daily special, lamb on a pita with a tzatziki sauce, and there was no doubt I was coming back. We have been several times since for dinner with friends, and the food and ambience has been consistently good, with one off night with service. It was just aggravatingly slow, but given the times, and the universal help shortage, we decided to shake it off.

    On our most recent visit, with Stephen as our waiter, both the service and the food were exceptional.

    Let me tell you about the Crispy Fried Artichokes ($13) with harissa aioli and lemon wedges. I speak of this dish authoritatively since we have ordered it on three separate visits, simply because it is so good. There are five small artichokes, prepared with a light tempura batter and perfectly flavored and crisped, settled on a rectangular platter and sprinkled with fresh chopped herbs. How many different ways can you say delicious?

    Another favorite is the Miso-Marinated Local Cod ($28), which was served with beautiful bok choy the night we tried it. Coated with a butter crumb crust, the fish was soft and flaky and good and the plate was so attractive that the woman at the table beside us leaned over to get a better look and to ask if she should change her order to the cod. Absolutely, we told her.

    We have also indulged more than once in the Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf ($25). This is a hearty dish with two good-sized slabs of the flavorful meatloaf wrapped in bacon with a very mild marina sauce on top, fingerling potatoes, and toasted bread from Nana’s. It is comfort food and too much to eat for a single meal. Both times we have taken some home for lunch the next day.

    The Local Greens salad ($12) is also a generous serving, with baby greens, crumbled feta, olives, and three big salty, stemmed caperberries nestled on the top. It’s tossed with a light house dressing that is just the right touch. Too much dressing can ruin a salad.

    On our most recent visit, we indulged in the Oysters Morgan, $16, which were prepared with parmesan, rye bread crumbs, spinach, and pastis, an anise-flavored spirit. They were very, very good, and we will get them again.

    Our waiter recommended the meat and cheese board for $18, which we passed on, but when we saw it go by to another table, we debated whether we had made a mistake. The deviled eggs ($7) also looked good, and so many orders went by to other tables, we decided we must be missing out on a good thing.

    We did partake (two in our party) in the 12-ounce Pan-Seared Dry-Aged Sirloin ($34) that came with mushrooms and blue cheese, potato dauphinoise, and a little tub of bearnaise on the side.

    One ordered rare and the other, medium rare, and both remarked on how perfectly their meat was cooked. The potatoes were yummy, and the blue cheese and mushrooms on top of the steak were just enough, a nice accent to the beef but not overwhelming.

    Dan King is a partner in The Café, and he is the executive director of the Royce Family Fund, which has invested heavily in a rebirth of downtown Westerly, including the United Theatre, as well as other charitable causes. He is the son-in-law of Chuck and Deborah Royce.

    King spent time at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and previously operated the Westerly eateries Up River Café and Senior Flacos.

    His new restaurant is in the space that previously housed The Twisted Vine, and it is really impressive with the curated art on the walls, the mix of bar, table, booth and counter seating, the track and globe lighting, and the drinks and the food.

    You can order a cocktail, a hummus or smoked fish platter, a salad or sandwich, or something unusual, like elk ossobuco. The only dessert we have tried, which was sensational, was the Sticky Toffee for $12, but there are other options.

    The Café is a fun and delicious new addition to the local restaurant scene and another in a long list of good reasons to visit downtown Westerly.

    Oysters Morgan (Ann Baldelli)
    Miso-Marinated Local Cod (Ann Baldelli)
    Crispy Fried Artichokes (Ann Baldelli)
    Local Green Salad (Ann Baldelli)
    Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf (Ann Baldelli)

    The Café

    3 Canal St., Westerly

    (401) 357-0300

    Find their website at thecaferi.com and search their name to find them on social media.

    Atmosphere: The interior is dark and cozy, with red brick, wood, a big fireplace with hearth, a massive bar with an equally massive mirror, and best of all, incredibly cool artwork on the walls.

    Alcohol: A full-service bar with fine wines and specialty cocktails.

    Hours: 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays to Sundays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

    Service: Good to excellent

    Prices: Entrees average $25 to $35, sandwiches and salads $12 to $18, and snacks $6 to $18.

    Reservations: Yes, although it can be hard to get a reservation. But if you walk in without one, you can sometimes get a seat at the bar or even a table. Plan ahead and make the reservation.

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessible: Yes

    Outdoor seating: We were told there will be a few tables out front on the sidewalk when the weather warms up.

    What else: If you can't find parking on the street, there's a big lot out back and a rear entrance, and there's a new municipal lot down Canal Street on the left, just past the railroad overpass.

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