If I were to picture my heaven, it would be filled with books, good food, and preferably a water view.
Bestsellers Cafe in Medford has all three. And if that won’t draw you in, the swirling wafts of cinnamon greeting you at the front door — from the freshly baked
cinnamon rolls — will.
Dubbing itself “the cafe with a unique river view,” this independent bookstore and cafe opened in Medford Square in 1997. But it closed in 2007 for what was to be a few months so the building’s owner could do some reconstruction on the 19th century brick building. It took five years.
Thankfully, Rob and Marianne Dilman, Bestsellers Cafe owners and Melrose residents, hung in there and reopened last August.
With bamboo floors, a long counter filled with tempting home-baked goods, and of course, bookshelves upon bookshelves, the cafe gently pulls you in to read, eat, or both. Once in, it’s hard to leave.
The cafe’s stunning and surprising hallmark, three floor-to-ceiling French doors opening to the quietly flowing Mystic River, stream in natural light, even on gray, rainy days. Traffic, clearly visible as it turns onto Route 16, blends into the background, behind budding trees. Quacking ducks fly in for a landing on the Mystic. A kayaker paddles by. Wait. Is this Medford Square, or Quechee, Vt.?
Bestsellers’ menu is small — soups, sandwiches, paninis, home-baked goods, coffee and teas
— but plentiful. “We didn’t want to do a full restaurant. We’re a bookstore first,” Rob Dilman said.
“This is our kitchen,” he said, pointing to the tight area behind the food counter, stocked with a convection oven, panini maker, coffee maker and espresso machine, and dishwasher. From this confined space, the cafe offers a menu of soups, sandwich fillings, and pastries made by others, which Rob and his staff either warm up or prepare while you wait.
After placing our orders at the counter, we headed back to the cozy, but wide-open cafe. This day, an author read from her new children’s book, entertaining a crowd of preschoolers while their mothers enjoyed lunch, strollers by their sides.
My own fifth-grader and her friends transformed into a gaggle of “ladies who do lunch,” talking nonstop while they ate their paninis. At $6 each, there’s a choice of turkey, ham, or roast beef, with American, Swiss, or provolone, on wheat bread or Tuscan pane, a crusty bread made by Jessica’s Brick Oven in North Andover.
Others enjoyed lunch solo, including my teen daughter, who happily ignored us, reading a book while eating her panini.
I tried a delicious beef barley vegetable soup ($3.50 for 12 ounces, $4.50 for 16 ounces) with my panini. (You can also try soup and half-sandwich, $5.50 or $6.75). There’s always a choice of four soups, made by Kettle Cuisine in Chelsea and served with a roll. Rob rotates 50 varieties throughout the year, including some vegan or gluten-free soups.
My friend had the “world famous” cranberry walnut chicken salad sandwich ($3.50 small, $4.50 large). Served on bread, a roll, or croissant made by Jessica’s Brick Oven, the sandwich fillings, which also include tuna, chicken, or seafood salad, are made by Boston Salads and Provisions in Boston. Rob says the cranberry walnut chicken salad was supposed to be a seasonal selection for the fall, but they sell “four times more” of it than the other sandwich salads, so it stayed on the menu. One taste and you can tell why.
Besides the usual selection of sodas and ice teas to accompany lunch, there’s old-fashioned root beer, lemonade, and lime rickey ($3), made in New Hampshire and wrapped with a custom label.
Coffee ($1.75 small, $2.50 large) is roasted by Equal Exchange; there’s also espresso, cappuccino, cafe latte, mochaccino,chai, and organic teas by Mighty Leaf.
We voted for the jumbo-sized, decadent with a capital “D”, artisan desserts, the other “best seller.” Made locally by Janna Bees, a two-sister company that bakes in the commercial kitchen in a Medford VFW, the desserts are all priced at $3.25.
There were fights over the Chocolate Peanut Butter Hullabaloo Bar, a fudge brownie covered in a peanut butter cream and chocolate ganache, then a mound of chopped chocolate peanut butter cups. The Galaxy Bar, a brownie frosted with Nutella, and a row of sliced Milky Way bar, then sprinkled with chopped walnuts, will have you seeing stars it’s so rich.
For gluten-free noshers, the Janna Bees desserts include shortbread jam bars, chocolate mint brownies, and triple chip blondies.
This is clearly a lunch to book.