Driving toward Atlantic Avenue in Misquamicut to meet my wife for dinner, I passed a gauntlet of beachy destinations – Purple Ape rentals and the pink Sea Shell Motel. It started to sink in: I was in Vacationland. Most visitors to this area are familiar with the high-traffic tourist venues, like the raucous Paddy’s Beach Club and iconic Andrea Beach Bar. But tucked into this same strip is Maria’s Seaside Cafe, a hidden gem serving authentic Italian cuisine, local seafood, and house-made pasta. While the beach itself is the main draw, Maria’s is certainly destination-worthy in its own right. From prompt valet service to professional front-of-house staff, Maria’s took care of me and my wife throughout the whole experience – and, as you’ll see, in one way we never expected.
Maria’s, like other establishments in Misquamicut ruined by Hurricane Sandy, has only recently reopened. The building has a large, white dining room, and windows face the direction of the dunes. The breezy atmosphere and white-and-red striped table umbrellas on the restaurant’s patio remind you of the nearby ocean, and you can just see the top of a lifeguard chair. The horseshoe bar anchors the back section, with lively discussions from patrons joining the happy and boisterous conversations in the dining room.
After having my car valeted (always appreciated in an area with limited parking) I waited for my wife to arrive from work and busily enjoyed some warm bread with olive oil and fresh basil pesto. I also indulged in Maria’s signature cocktail, Putin’s Mule ($10): Stoli vodka, ginger beer, pomegranate juice, and fresh lime and mint served in a gently sweating copper mug. Absolutely refreshing – and potent.
And then there was the incident: I pushed the bread basket too close to the table candle, and the paper napkin caught on fire. In seconds, the bread basket was in flames. This was entirely my fault, but the manager expertly snatched the basket and ran it into the kitchen to be doused. Now that is service.
After my wife arrived, I confessed with embarrassment to the pyrotechnics she had missed. Still, the staff brought our appetizers as if nothing had happened: four Narragansett oysters ($8) and Nicola’s Calamari Alla Griglia ($10). Grilled squid is hard to do correctly, and Maria’s nailed it with that perfect tender snap, which complements the smoky herb-and-lemon overtones. The oysters tasted maritime-fresh and were served with cocktail sauce and vinegar on a tray of ice. My wife loved her sip of the Putin’s Mule so much that she ordered one for herself.
For entrees, we wanted to keep the locavore theme going and ordered the Pan Seared Stonington Sea Scallops ($30) served with an Italian lobster couscous, along with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes. For the second entree, we selected a frequent special: House-made Pappardelle ($26) tossed with 12-hour, red wine-braised short rib pieces, plus mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and goat cheese. Both the Pappardelle and short ribs were exquisite; the scallops were perfectly seared, their surfaces nicely caramelized, and they paired quite well with a glass of Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio ($12). The pasta dish had a wonderful savory sauce with tender, smoky short ribs. We also got a tasty side dish of Broccoli Rabe ($7) dressed in a light, lemony butter sauce. We looked at each other between bites and murmured, “Wow, this is good.”
We ended the evening with a Rhubarb Almond Crostini with basil pistachio gelato and caramel drizzle. All in all, a perfect date night and a wonderful surprise to discover a romantic Italian restaurant deep in the heart of Misquamicut. We’ll be back – and we’ll try not to set anything else on fire.
Maria’s Seaside Cafe
132 Atlantic Avenue, Westerly