[Sidebar] February 3 - 10, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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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
No access

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 seconds.

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.

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