Kudos to Café Wedgwood

Karl Wells
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Café Wedgwood
17 Elizabeth Ave., St. John’s
Phone: 726-1860

Congratulations are in order. It’s been just over five years since Chef Peter Wedgwood opened Café Wedgwood and Catering on Elizabeth Avenue. Passing the crucial five-year threshold is considered a milestone of success in the restaurant business. Conventional wisdom tells us that if an eatery can make it to the five-year point it should have a bright future.

On a couple of lunchtime visits recently it was obvious that things were going swimmingly for Wedgwood. The restaurant was filled with happy diners and bubbly chitchat — the kind where we humans become so engrossed in a conversation that we don’t notice much, if anything, going on about us.

Café Wedgwood is a large, bright spot with lots of energy. Add good food, good service, lots of hard work (and maybe good timing and a little luck) and you have the formula for Wedgwood’s success.

The words “and catering” in the business’s official name are not to be sniffed at. Wedgwood is one of the best and busiest caterers in town. This summer and fall will no doubt see him catering many weddings. I’ve attended events catered by him and he does a great job. Of course, it was the “restaurant” vittles that I was interested in lately.

 

Fab soup

I tasted Café Wedgwood’s tomato and avocado soup many years ago and found it dull. Perhaps some part of the recipe had been overlooked back then, or maybe the ingredients weren’t ripe enough. Who knows? Anyhow, I tried it again last week and it was fabulous. (Of course, it’s also possible the recipe was improved.)

Whatever the reason for it being better, I can now say that it is a beautifully smooth, colourful and rich tasting bisque. The menu states that it “goes great with a grilled cheese sandwich.” By gum, I bet it does.  

Mad about wings? Me too. Not for one reason, but for many. I love wing meat. It’s tastier. So is the tight, crackling skin. I also like chewing and sucking on the bones — for the flavour, for those strands of meat that cling, and for the cartilaginous bits at the ends of the bones. Textures, lots of textures.

Café Wedgwood has wings on its appetizer list. You can order them with all sorts of spices and sauces. But, as much as the honey garlic, sweet chilli and barbecue sauced wings appealed to me, I thought it best to avoid the possibility that my new shirt might get splashed by airborne projectiles of sticky, red dressing. The dry spiced wings satisfied my craving just fine, spicy enough and not too salty.

 

Satisfying

The only thing better than a salad of fresh baby spinach, sliced ripe strawberries, dried cranberries, almonds and cucumber is one with thick slices of juicy chicken on it. Café Wedgwood’s house dressing of roasted red pepper vinaigrette tied everything together for a very satisfying main course.

Mention chicken, sausage and tomato and I’m on board. Add the word gumbo and there’s no way I’m not going to try it.

A classic Louisiana gumbo is a stew served (usually over rice) in a bowl with some liquid shoring the perimeter. Café Wedgwood’s chicken and sausage gumbo was like a casserole in that the ingredients were more tightly bound together. It was served over a mound of rice but had little excess liquid.

What’s more important is that the gumbo was delicious. There are no hard and fast rules about its preparation. Chicken thighs were used and braised to the point of willing tenderness. Tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and mushrooms added loads of flavour dimension and chorizo sausage gave the gumbo some kick. Grated cheese and sour cream on top surprised. I’m not sure I can get on board with dairy in gumbo.

 

Pasta pride

A restaurant that prides itself on serving home-style cuisine must offer a few pasta choices. (Remember Mom’s mac and cheese?) We ordered the Cajun chicken linguini. Pieces of moist, boneless chicken were mixed through al dente pasta along with sweet peppers, onions and mushrooms. Permeating and exciting the entire dish were Cajun flavours (garlic, red pepper, oregano, etc.) delivered in a judiciously rich sauce.

If Café Wedgwood’s pan-fried cod and chips were an image on a TV screen I’d want to adjust the brightness and contrast. That’s because the chips were too dark and the fish too light. Appearances aside, apart from the smoky edge on the fries, it was a good tasting effort.

The fish did, in fact, melt in the mouth. Scrunchions and lashings of salt and vinegar added to the party.

Chocolate banana bread pudding (excluding coconut cream pie) has to be the most comforting of the comfort food desserts. Of course, it must to be done correctly with the right amounts of banana and chocolate.

I once tasted a version that contained far too much dark, bitter chocolate and it was a complete turn-off.

Café Wedgwood’s pud achieved perfect harmony. It was soft, eggy, and buttery rich. Banana and chocolate enhanced, but did not take away from the effect of the main bread ingredient. Never underestimate the wondrous qualities of properly made bread.

And never underestimate the qualities of an unassuming café in a neighbourhood strip mall.

 

Rating: * * *       

Price: Lunch for two with tax and tip — $70 (approximately)

Sound level: Moderate

* Fair  * * Good  * * * Excellent  

* * * * Exceptional

 

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

 

 

Organizations: Canadian Culinary Federation, Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Louisiana

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  • Anna
    June 08, 2014 - 11:57

    Thank Karl for reviewing other restaurants besides the fine dining ones. Wedgewood is one of my favorites for brunch and lunch and I'm never disappointed there. Too bad they can't do anything about their decor, paint the wall another color or something as the tables, floor and walls are all the same.