Midtown Café

A cut above the rest in Wakefield
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  January 13, 2010

In this economy and in downtown Wakefield, it's a tough task to keep a restaurant going. A big portion of success depends on establishing a local clientele, and owner Robin McGuigan has gone the extra mile, opening his eatery to a local theater group in December, trying new ideas (the jazz and blues nights, with dinner, beginning January 15), offering unusual lunch dishes, and training staff to be friendly and accommodating.

We'd heard good things from those who ate at the dinner theater in December, and on yet another recent windy weekend, we headed to Midtown to sample their fare. We were on the late side for lunch, so we missed out on a couple of items, but our search for something hearty and warming led us to fish pie and pork loin with prune gravy.

McGuigan has drawn on his Irish background for some of the obvious British Isles influences on the menu, such as bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) with onion gravy, "roasties" with the ribeye, and French toast with syrup and cream. But he and co-chef Yulia Kuzmina have also tapped the local appetite for Italian-American food.

On the menu are bruschetta, topped with tomato and basil or mozzarella and chili pepper; linguine or penne with meatballs and marinara, pesto, chicken carbonara sauce (bacon, mushroom and cream), or spinach and melted brie; two risottos (parmesan and cream or Cajun chicken); and shrimp scampi ravioli. So a lunchtime visit will give you a good idea of some dinner items.

The seared pork loin with mashed potatoes and prune gravy ($11.95) appealed to Bill, and he requested a side of vegetables, which were roasted zucchini, butternut, and sweet red peppers. He enthused about the veggies, contrasting them favorably to the bland steamed variety we often encounter. The pork was less pink that he likes, but he forgot to specify his preference. It was still quite tender, tasty with the prunes, and the leftovers made delicious sandwiches.

My fish pie had both salmon and haddock, in a white sauce with capers, boiled potato chunks, and chopped boiled eggs. One of my favorite comfort foods is anything in a cream sauce, and this had the added lemony zing of those capers.

I also had a mixed greens salad ($5.25), with orange vinaigrette, a nice alternative to balsamic. Next time, I'll try the customer favorite of roasted butternut squash, beets, goat cheese, and mixed greens, with that orange vinaigrette. Also alluring among the salads are grilled tuna Nicoise, grilled shrimp on greens, and baked crab cakes with hot relish and greens.

The sandwich list includes burgers, BLTs, and clubs, the latter with turkey, chicken, or beef. You may also have smoked salmon with sour cream, turkey with avocado, grilled tuna with olives, or grilled veggies with pesto.

The dining room at Midtown feels spacious, with its high ceilings and oversized circular lamp shades. A banquette stretches along the front of the restaurant, where large windows give a view of Main Street shoppers or, during our brunch the following day, blustery gusts whipping snow off the green awnings. Around the walls are large framed French café posters, bright cheery colors against the soft avocado-green.

Bill devoured a giant three-egg omelette with ham, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese ($6.25), plus a side of home-made hash browns ($1.50), a change from the more ubiquitous home fries. The shredded potatoes were nicely crisped.

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