Monday May 21, 2007

Jimmy’s Café
Homey and Satisfying Fare in Wellesley

Richard Cravatts writer

Nothing seems as comforting as familiarity and reliability, especially when it comes where we go out to eat. Filling those expectations for some 12 years is precisely what Jimmy’s Café in Wellesley, near Roche Brothers on Linden Street, has been doing for locals who are drawn to its casual and homey bistro-like setting.

Run by Jimmy McDevitt, a veteran hospitality pro from his days with the Sheraton Corporation—and ably assisted with front-of-the-house graciousness by his wife, Amy—Jimmy’s Café has grown into exactly what its owners had originally envisioned: a reliable, welcoming local eatery where patrons look for tried-and-true favorites on a menu that intentionally varies little over the seasons. ”Instead of taking our whole menu and continuously revamping it,” Jimmy says, “we find that our loyal clientele like coming here and seeing the same, expected dishes.”

Lit by soft Tiffany-style shaded lights in the evening, the 16 country-style, purposely mismatched wood tables in the cozy single dining room are unadorned, save for a wire bread basket that arrives with crusty, warm rolls. A tiny service bar at the front door with a few stools serves as the place for bring-your-own wine bottles to be opened, and as a waiting spot for diners before being seated at one of the 57 seats in the dining room. It is a modest, though comfortable space, and gives little hint that the kitchen will soon bring forth generous offerings of comfort food, each dish given little twists and flourishes by the imaginative chef-owner.

Like the decor, the selections are eclectic and draw from various cuisines. The Quesadilla ($5.75), for instance, is offered at dinner as an appetizer, comprised of a chili-infused tortilla folded over mild molten cheese, with a generous ramekin of fresh, cilantro-spiked salsa and a cool helping of sour cream. Chicken can also be slipped into the quesadilla for a small additional charge. In an alternative appetizer, Warm Spinach & Shrimp ($9.00) are sautéed in a lemon wine sauce and dotted with freshly-sliced mushrooms. Mussels ($7.50) have a Mediterranean character; the plump bivalves are steamed in a salty broth of white wine, shallots, garlic, and tomato.

Jimmy prides himself on both the size of the portions and freshness of the salads. The simple Mixed Green Salad ($6.00) is garnished with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and mandarin orange slices, available with either a fresh vinaigrette or a bleu cheese dressing. The classic standby, Caesar Salad, is available in its original form ($8.00), with the addition of grilled chicken ($10.50), or gussied up as a Bleu Caesar ($7.50) with the addition of tomatoes and bleu cheese dressing. A lighter, alternative salad is available with thin, salty bits of prosciutto tossed about a bed of arugula ($7.50).
One could choose to make a meal out of the large Caesar Salad with chicken, or with one of the burgers offered both at dinner and lunch: the standard Hamburger ($8.50), with options of cheddar, Swiss, or bleu cheeses, or the lighter, leaner Turkey Burger ($8.50), served with lettuce, tomato, and an herbed mayonnaise.

But the enthusiasm from the kitchen is revealed in the prodigiously-sized dinner entrées many incorporating odd little flourishes and unexpected ingredients to churn-up the flavor quotient. A simple, satisfying, and gargantuan plate of linguine arrives at the table with three plump, freshly-made meatballs draped in an intense Basilica sauce of tomato and fresh basil, all served with slivers of garlic toast ($11.50). Another homey standby is the Roast Split Chicken ($13.95), a half chicken marinated in fresh, pungent herbs, served with comforting garlic mashed potatoes, but also with a Southwest-inspired black bean and corn salad with the faint wisp of cilantro weaving through each bite.

A true winner was the nearly confectionary Amaretto Chicken ($14.95), a Panko-dusted plump chicken breast sitting in a succulent pool of an Amaretto and mushroom-dense sauce, served beside a little mountain of creamy, satisfying garlic mashed potatoes and vivid-green grilled asparagus. The ubiquitous Pan Seared Salmon ($14.95) here is finished with a wasabi-spiked crème fraiche, delicate lamb’s lettuce drizzled in chive oil, and the option of either mashed potatoes or rice on the side.
Baked Haddock ($15.95) is also dressed up with a nice culinary flourish: a rich crab stuffing pulled together with a shot of coconut milk. The dish is also served with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Homey and satisfying risotto ($10.50) is also a dinner option. The rice is fried briefly in oil before being cooked in broth, herbs, and spices. In this rendition, spinach and shiitake mushrooms are added. A boneless, pan-seared duck breast can also be added atop the rich risotto ($14.95).
Another intriguing dish which blends sweetness and saltiness satisfyingly is the Center Cut Pork Loin ($14.95), its edges crusted over with a brown sugar-balsamic rub, arriving at the table in a tempting little pool of sauce dense with red currants; beside it sits mashed sweet potatoes and a seasonal vegetable offering.

There is a limited, but decadent, selection of five desserts, although the generous portions of dinner might necessitate taking some of them home with you. The Lemon Mousse cake is dense with lemon essence, ethereal mousse pushed in between yellow sponge cake, all topped with a lemon jelly and indulgent butter cream ($5.00). Cheesecake, always rich, here is pushed over the edge by a draping of chocolate mousse over a rich, New York-style wedge, all covered with a semi-sweet dark chocolate ($5.00). The confectionary star here might well be the Individual Chocolate Lava Cake ($8.00), a tantalizing, warm, and slightly-molten chunk of dense chocolate cake, sitting in a little pool of rich blackberry sauce and topped with whipped cream.
Jimmy’s is also open for lunch Mondays through Saturdays, and offers its soups, chowder, and sandwiches, such as Grilled Chicken with herb mayonnaise ($6.50), Grilled Eggplant with roasted red peppers, Calamata olives, and feta cheese ($7.50), Tuna Melt with avocado and tomato ($8.50), or Prosciutto Mozzarella with red pepper, onion, and pesto ($8.50). Wraps, burgers (both conventional and turkey), and quesadillas are also served at lunchtime.

This is the kind of place that locals know and love because they look forward to familiar meals and welcoming service. Jimmy says he makes a point of hiring young wait staff from the neighborhood and Wellesley schools so both they—and the customers—feel the neighborhood connection through the experience. They become a virtual family for him, especially since the restaurant business, as everyone knows, demands a complete commitment of time and energy. “There has to be a passion for this,” Jimmy says, “and you have to have a burning in your gut for the hospitality industry and be prepared to start your own thing and work 100 hours a week to make it work.” Clearly, that time and effort here is “making it work,” just as Jimmy had hoped from the beginning.



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