An eclectic mix at Hudson cafe
40 Washington St. (Route 85), Hudson
Hours: Monday, 6 a.m.-3 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; closed Tuesday
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Hudson has been working hard to revive its downtown, completing a face lift for the business district, creating a park, playground and walkway along the Assabet River, and expanding its cultural activities, to draw visitors and boost the local economy.
Here's hoping it works, for the town in general but in particular for the Harvest Cafe, a homey restaurant just south of the downtown rotary where routes 85 and 62 cross paths.
Inside a nondescript Washington Street building, partners Karen Freker and Pippa Jollie have crafted a welcoming atmosphere for their customers, not to mention local artists and musicians, and various business and charitable groups from the area.
The cafe has two main sections, divided by a small but well-stocked bar. On one side, a scattering of couches and padded chairs invites hanging out, sipping a beverage, and admiring the eclectic art on display, including the walls' vibrant color schemes. The other side, equipped with perhaps 10 tables and a dozen or more tall stools lining a counter along the outer wall, is set up for slightly more active pursuits, such as eating a full meal and listening to live music.
The cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on most days of the week, with Sundays wrapping up after brunch, and Mondays ending after lunch, giving the owners the rest of the day and Tuesday to recover and regear for the next go-round.
The dinner menu changes regularly, shaped by what's fresh and reasonably priced, and is kept to a simple printed sheet that manages to cover a lot of ground.
The fall lineup will start reflecting the changing tastes of the season, according to Freker. Early this month the cafe was dipping into the garden for roasted tomato and onion soup ($2.75) and a Caprese salad ($8) of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella on mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Among the recurring appetizers is Harvest Cafe's Bento box ($9.50), a sampler of pungent cheeses, chutneys, pickles, crackers and miscellaneous other snacks arrayed in little compartments on a square hardwood platter. Pleasing to the eye, it was also fun to explore, as our group exchanged tips on mixing and matching the tidbits divided among the tray's cubicles.
A repeat offering among the main dishes is the orange soy braised ribs ($15), a hearty slab of country-style pork ribs in a ginger-infused sauce. As with most of the entrees, the ribs are served with a choice of rice or potatoes and a vegetable, which on this evening proved to be crisp green beans.
The stir fry (vegetarian $12, or $15 with chicken) was a heaping bowl of veggies and meat sauteed in Asian spices and served over citrus rice, light and very satisfying.
For a seafood dish, the cafe offers roasted salmon ($16), a plump wedge of moist fish topped with a savory herb mixture. At our request our server reported back from the kitchen that it was wild salmon, rather than farm-raised.
While all of the meals were good, the hit of the evening proved to be a specialty, the Harvest ravioli ($14; with chicken, $16), which featured squash-filled pasta squares and large chunks of chicken breast set off by a rich Amaretto cream sauce, creating a delicious combination of flavors and textures.
To cap our meal, we settled on two desserts from a tempting list. The Harvest bread pudding ($4.50) has a delicious secret - it's made from muffins, rather than bread hiding under a small cloud of whipped cream. And the homemade brownie sundae ($4.50) with vanilla ice cream is simple and sweet, just as nature intended.
The cafe hosts live music four nights a week, starting with an open mike on Wednesdays and featuring local musicians Thursdays through Saturdays, from 8 to 10 p.m.
On our Saturday night visit, a Rhode Island-based performer, Paul Pasch, provided a very entertaining mix of original and well-known folk songs, and the intimate setting was the perfect showcase for his acoustic guitar and warm voice.
Looking over the cafe website's detailed discussion of events, which include a knitting group, book club, wine night, and even a songwriting workshop (inspiration for the open mike, perhaps), there seems to be something appealing for many facets of the community. We could only hope to have a home this full of good food and festivities, but dropping in for a regular visit will do almost as well.