241 Main St., Wareham
Open Wednesday through Saturday, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
At the rear of a small building on Main Street in Wareham Village is the busiest culinary secret in town.
The tiny, intimately elegant Café Soleil, which opened in October 2011, is open only four nights a week. It does no advertising, and its Internet presence consists of just a Facebook website. It takes no reservations, and there isn’t even a telephone in the place; we had to get co-owner Leanne Hunt’s cellphone number from her so people could contact her about the restaurant.
But on a usually slow Wednesday night in the restaurant world, the place was full. The reason is simple. The offerings are limited but can best be described as really good down-home cooking, and where you’ll pay no more than $13.75 for the highest-priced entrée, the marinated steak tips.
There’s also the hands-on owner, who’s more mother than restaurateur.
“I just like feeding people,” said Leanne Hunt. “I want to make sure people eat well.”
On top of that, the view is tremendous. The restaurant’s large windows face the Wareham River, and there’s a railroad track next to it, on which you see the occasional Cape Cod dinner train rumble by.
Leanne and her husband, Robert Hunt, both work full time at Dick’s Marine in Buzzards Bay. But last year, they took the plunge and opened Café Soleil. Leanne’s culinary experience did include 17 years at the popular, but now departed, Hell’s Blazes in Middleborough (the chowder at Café Soleil is an ode to the Hell’s Blazes favorite).
In Wareham, the couple has created a handsome little place with beadboard walls, adorned by a shelf holding creative items mostly made by Leanne. On the tables, there are charger plates bearing sayings she has painted, such as “The fondest memories are those made gathered around the table.”
That’s a fitting sentiment in this 32-seat restaurant. We started out with a unique dish, Puttin’ on the Ritz Stuffies ($4.50), six delicate puff pastries mounded with an abundant clam-meat and vegetable-bread stuffing that was a tad on the dry side but packing spicy heat. Another popular appetizer is the fried mac ‘n cheese dish ($4.50), bits of macaroni and cheese deep-fried in seasoned crumb coating.
The entrée menu is brief, with 10 items, and being so close to the ocean, we went with fresh fish all the way. The baked haddock ($10.50), a thick filet topped with a seasoned cracker-crumb topping and served with rice pilaf and butternut squash, was ample, filling and tasty, the fish done to a crunchy-yet-juicy perfection.
We also tried a special, the haddock and scallop casserole ($13), deliciously sweet scallops with fish in a creamy sauce with Ritz cracker topping, a warm and hearty dish on a chilly fall night.
We thought the best dish in our party of three was the “Six-Point Schrod en Papillote ($10.50),” named for those who are, the menu said, “counting points or just prefer something healthier.” It was a huge cut of fish baked in parchment paper to moist, flaky doneness and tasting of tarragon, garlic, lemon and white wine, served with butternut squash and an amazing a la carte side, a fried baked mashed potato ($2.50).
Café Soleil uses a whole baked potato skin, stuffed with seasoned mashed potatoes, coated in potato flakes and deep fried. We’ve never had anything quite like it, a crunchy-good tater down to the last flake.
Even the liquor is inexpensive here. For $3.75, you get a mini bottle of Woodbridge chardonnay, served in a little engraved ice bucket. Mixed drinks run $5 each, and the beer is $2.25 a bottle.
The dessert menu consisted of two items, called Café Cups, and we wolfed each of the cupcake-sized treats. The chocolate fudge cake ($1.50) was rich, creamy, and chocolaty great, an ultra-fudge cake topped with whipped cream.
Equally good and even cheaper was “Put the Lime in the Coconut” key lime pie in graham-cracker crust, topped with whipped cream ($1.25).
The restaurant also has a regular 241 Main Street special: any starter and salad for $6.
Virtually everything at Café Soleil is homemade, from the salad dressing to desserts to the glass candle holders on every table. Cooking is done mainly by head chef Annie Kilpatrick, with no formal training, just a knack for cranking out delicious food. Leanne Hunt created the menu, and the two work together to bring it to life.
The family feel of the place is no accident; it emanates from the back of the house to the front, with the Hunts’ son, Jordan, as fry cook and Leanne’s mom, Rose Ann Pilkington, doing the serving with her daughter — which doubles the motherly ambience. They are downright doting, ensuring your water or cocktail glass is never empty, always seeing if you need anything else.
The Hunts bought the place at auction, and on the day they did, Leanne spotted a saying on Facebook, her favorite of all the expressions she’s painted on the charger plates: “Fear is temporary. Regret is permanent.”
Check out Café Soleil, and you probably won’t regret you did.
Paul E. Kandarian