The River Cafe
Just like mom's cooking
by Dawn Keable
446 River Street, Woonsocket, 762-1457
Open Tues-Sat, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
No credit cards
There was no doubt about it, we were downright cranky -- cold, tired and hungry
in the wilds of northern Rhode Island. Fortunately, they know how to cure the
mid-winter blahs at the River Cafe in Woonsocket, using techniques and comfort
food borrowed straight from mom's kitchen.
With sponge-painted walls, an eclectic mix of Elvis and Lucille Ball posters
and a TV at the corner bar tuned to a sitcom, the cafe has a relaxed, homey
feel. The only thing missing was a maternal figure at the door, warning us not
to track any snow into the house. But after looking at the varied menu, which
included everything from Sicilian-style pizza ($10) to baked scallops ($6.75),
chicken cordon bleu ($6.50), lasagna ($3.99) and coffee cabinets ($2.25), we
decided she must have been very busy in the kitchen.
My husband, Andre, didn't waste any time trying to recreate the winter days of
his youth, ordering a cup of hot cocoa (79 cents) as soon as he took his coat
off. His return to adulthood was abrupt when he realized that once your voice
drops, a whipped cream topping needs to be ordered by special request.
To warm up, I skipped potential starters of chicken wings ($3.95 for
seven/$4.50 for 14) or fried cheese ravioli ($3.50) for a cup of minestrone
($1.50/$2.25 for a bowl), the soup of the day. The hearty tomato-based
concoction was loaded with pieces of carrot, potato and pasta for a delectable
homemade taste that was mild and heavy on vegetables.
I swapped a spoonful of the soup to sample the stuffed mushrooms ($3.95) that
Andre was hoarding on his side of the table. With six caps on his plate, he had
plenty to share. But after tasting the buttery cracker-crumb mixture flavored
with a hint of marsala, I learned why he pretended to be dining alone.
A large order of St. Louis pork ribs ($11.25) was large enough to feed both of
us. The meal was served with mashed potatoes with gravy and nicely crisp cole
slaw, but the ribs were clearly the main attraction. Lightly coated in a mildly
tangy barbeque sauce, the meat was so expertly cooked that it fell off of the
bone. Hard to believe, there was even another size larger than this caveman
portion -- a whole rack for $15.99.
Like a good French-Canadian girl, I went with the meat pie dinner ($3.99). Not
just any meat pies, these were Plouffe's, the king of French-Canadian meat
pies. The identifying characteristic is, of course, the buttery, rich, flaky
crust. Served with a crunchy fresh garden salad and a side of baked beans, my
individual pie of seasoned ground beef was the perfect size to satisfy my
hunger. One of the River Cafe's owners, Ron Ringuette (the other is Rich
Russo), has an uncle who formerly owned the company that made the meat pies.
The firm has since been sold, but the recipe lives on in the cafe's kitchen.
For $7, we brought a 10-inch deep dish pie home for the real taste test -- to
see if it would appeal to two meat pie connoisseurs: Mom and Dad. They were
soon in agreement with my verdict, as evidenced by their eagerness for
Choosing from the homemade desserts, Andre sampled a chocolate tart ($1.50).
The filling was a delectably smooth and creamy milk chocolate pudding. The
crust, though, was a bit too doughy for the delicate pastry. I opted for the
generous serving of hot fudge cake ($2.25). Two ultra-moist slices of dark
chocolate cake surrounded a center layer of vanilla ice cream. As a finishing
touch, this adult version of the ice cream sandwich was topped with a decadent
amount of hot fudge.
In a world of food fads and gimmicks, the River Cafe relies on old-fashioned
homecooked fare. This is a good thing, especially since a meal can be bought
there for about the price of my old weekly allowance.