Review: Mermaid Café

Enchanting dining on the Pawcatuck River
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  July 19, 2011

The first special thing about the Mermaid Café is its location: on the Pawcatuck River, overlooking an island green with trees, a few boats in a small marina and, across the river, a busy street in Connecticut. The river had a long history of passenger traffic and shipbuilding in the 19th century but, after World War I, the railway took over, and only in the last decade have small boatyards and launching areas sprouted up again.

There's a bright, cheerful, sea-green dining room at the Mermaid, with photos of old steam wheelers and a few mermaid motifs here and there. But there's also a good-sized roof patio, the better from which to take in the river's wildlife: ducks, cormorants, gulls and, last spring, even a few harbor seals

Owner/chef Carolyn Burkhardt has set out to use fresh and seasonal ingredients from local sources, including the Davis Farm in Pawcatuck, whose Kennebeck potatoes made Bill's hand-cut French fries irresistible — for all five of us eating lunch — and whose Indian white flint cornmeal so nicely coated our friend Yvette's fried oysters.

Mermaid Café | 401.637.4225 | 19 Margin St, Westerly | Tues-Sun, breakfast 7-11:30 am, lunch 11:30 am-4 pm; Fri-Sat dinner, 4-7 pm | Major Credit Cards | BYOB | Sidewalk-Level Accessible
Hers was an oyster po' boy sandwich, served on a baguette with shredded lettuce and tartar sauce on the side ($12.95). The baguette lay open with more than a dozen oysters atop it, far too many to fold into a sandwich, and just enough for all of us to sample them. This item was called a "Golden Star," each sandwich named for a former riverboat.

Bill's sandwich was the portobello mushroom burger ($8.95), generous with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, served on a sesame seed bun. Mickey D's: eat your heart out!

The other two named sandwiches at the table were Michael's "Linda," chicken salad with celery, walnuts, and dried cranberries ($7.95), and Gabriel's "Mystic," tuna salad with diced onion, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, olives, parsley, and olive oil ($7.95). Both were stacked high on whole-grain bread, and both came with Mermaid's special slaw, which the rest of us also had on our plates.

Slaw connoisseur Bill declared it the best he'd ever had. The base was green cabbage, but it was sparked by finely chopped turnips, carrots, radishes, red onion, and green pepper, and mixed with plenty of mayo, making it nice and juicy.

I was enjoying fish tacos ($10.95): fresh cod grilled with a bit of hot spice rub, served with two soft tortillas, plenty of sliced avocado, and house-made salsa. It really hit the spot.

And so did the strawberry shortcake, with homemade biscuits and real whipped cream, which we all shared, though, truthfully, I bogarted this dessert when my turn came around.

Bill and went back for Act 2 two nights later: an early supper (20 percent discount, 4 to 6 pm), with two more successful dishes. From the six entrees offered that evening, which included grilled swordfish, scallops risotto, and steamed lobster, Bill modestly chose the beef fajitas ($12.95) and, from the regular menu, I decided on the lobster salad plate ($15.95).

The latter had the announced quarter-pound of lobster, atop mixed greens, with a balsamic dressing. The lobster meat was tasty, with just a bit of celery and mayo, and it was surprisingly filling.

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