Not your average meat and potatoes

Karl Wells
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Café Wedgwood offers old favourites with a French twist

CafÉ Wedgwood

17 Elizabeth Ave.

Phone 726-1860

I was hopeful as I walked toward the main entrance of CafÉ Wedgwood. It was a bright day and I was with my bright friend, Linda.

Cafe Wedgwood's meatloaf is an upscale version with lean ground beef, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and dates all mixed together and served on super creamy garlic whipped potatoes. Submitted photo

CafÉ Wedgwood

17 Elizabeth Ave.

Phone 726-1860

I was hopeful as I walked toward the main entrance of CafÉ Wedgwood. It was a bright day and I was with my bright friend, Linda.

From the outside, the location had undergone a transformation since it had housed The Great Canadian Bagel. Now, a spanking new sign that featured a giant fork, as well as a striped awning welcomed customers. I knew nothing about CafÉ Wedgwood except that a friend of a friend said they had "really, really good food."

The second "really" clinched it for me.

For some reason, I was expecting CafÉ Wedgwood to be a small hole-in-the-wall sort of place. Instead we found a spacious, welcoming restaurant that could easily hold about 90 diners. The resin-topped tables were - with the exception of salt, pepper and sugar containers - bare. The room was large and bright in a big city delicatessen kind of way (minus the cranky waiters.) Each table accommodated two practical, sturdy wooden chairs but the room was arranged so that a couple of tables could easily be pushed together to fit four diners. Surrounding the space, several colourful framed art reproductions helped warm the atmosphere.

Darn good cook

CafÉ Wedgwood was named for its owner, Chef Peter Wedgwood. He's a member of the family that owns Wedgwood Insurance. I guess poring over the latest actuarial tables was less attractive to Peter than pouring, mincing, stirring and frying ingredients for any number of tasty plates of food. I don't know what kind of insurance broker Peter Wedgwood would have made. I do know that he's a darn good cook.

CafÉ Wedgwood's food is far above what you will find at similar family-style restaurants of its type. I asked our server where the cook had been trained. She casually mentioned, "Oh, Le Cordon Bleu." Right, I thought. That bit of information explained a lot. Le Cordon Bleu culinary programs are among the best and most expensive in the world.

The menu at CafÉ Wedgwood is just big enough. Often, restaurants make the mistake of trying to please every taste by creating a menu with a tractor-trailer load of dishes.

The result, frequently, is that very little on the menu tastes that good. CafÉ Wedgwood offers about six dishes (or less) in each category: breakfast, soups and salads, sandwiches and main meals. They also offer an impressive selection on the catering side of their business. There's something for every sort of occasion: three-course sit-down dinners, cocktail party fare and full buffet (breakfast or lunch.)

French twist

American diner comfort food with a French twist is how I would describe CafÉ Wedgwood's menu. For example, breakfast includes strawberry stuffed French toast with maple syrup and Chantilly crÈme, at lunchtime there's the albacore tuna fish sandwich with basil aioli or meatloaf and potato with cabernet cream sauce.

For dessert, I'd favour the homemade chocolate-banana bread pudding. CafÉ Wedgwood also offers a full range of different coffees: espresso, cafÉ mocha, cappuccino, vanilla latte, and so on.

We began with a dreamy roasted corn chowder with smoked bacon. You could tell it was thick by the way the topping of grated cheddar just sort of sat there - resolutely, with no swimming bits. Besides being nicely thick, it was creamy with lots of corn kernels and cubed potato. Permeating the whole dish was a glorious smoky aroma and flavour, supplied by the addition of the bacon. The charcuterie provided a nice salty edge as well.

A section of CafÉ Wedgwood's menu promotes daily specials comprising changing styles of pizza, pasta and curry. Linda chose the curry, which on that day was butter chicken. Butter chicken is one of my favourite Indian dishes. CafÉ Wedgwood's was a little too subtle in flavouring for me. Nonetheless, it was quite delicious. The dish was smooth and, well, "buttery," with a definite note of tomato. Spices were low on the scale but I did pick up faint hints of garlic, ginger, paprika and coriander. Underneath the beautifully moist white chicken meat and sauce was a pile of steamed basmati rice that made the meal even more rib-sticking good. Oh, I almost forgot, they served some very tasty hot naan with the dish as well.

Meatloaf redux

No American-style diner or cafeteria would be complete without some hamburger dishes. The king of them all, of course, is meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It is the quintessential American working-class meal. Alice served it to her Ralph Kramden and Edith Bunker served it to her Archie.

Like the late, revered American food critic, Craig Claiborne, I am a sucker for anything that features ground beef or pork.

CafÉ Wedgwood's meatloaf was an upscale version of meatloaf that should please most. It contained lean ground beef, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and dates all mixed together. They served a huge thick slab of it on super creamy garlic whipped potatoes, topped off with a few spoonfuls of cabernet cream sauce. I enjoyed it but (being picky) I would suggest cutting back a little on the very sweet dates, so as not to blunt the flavours of the other ingredients.

CafÉ Wedgwood is well worth a visit, or several. I'm already planning my return.

Next time I might try the Philly cheese steak sandwich with fries, or, if I'm famished, perhaps the lamb and Guinness stew. By the way, for the friend of the friend who recommended CafÉ Wedgwood to me, you were right. The food there is "really, really good."

Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Le Cordon Bleu, Wedgwood Insurance, Guinness

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