738 York St.
It isn’t often that we get a chance to hang out with Dayton friends Greg & Caroline, but they phoned the other night to say they had a baby-sitter for the evening and were hankering to soak up some Newport nightlife, and York Street Café has it in spades.
The restaurant is located a short walk from Newport on the Levee and the Newport Aquarium in an 1880’s Queen Anne-style building that originally housed a pharmacy. Gone are the remedies and potions of yesteryear, replaced by a kitchen cooking up gustatory delights. Yet echoes of the past are evident in the original apothecary cabinets lining the walls, and the lovely stained glass over the door, which still advertises the former tenant, Pharmacist George Widrig.
Happily, seven of the restaurant's nine appetizers are vegetarian. Start with one of their "conversation boards," which provide the perfect opportunity to sample a selection. There's a Mediterranean board ($18) of hummus, tabouleh, babaganoush and pita points served with a Greek salad and spanakopita; also on offer are a bruschetta platter ($17), baked brie pastry with fruit $17), or have a go at the Swiss fondue with assorted fruits and bread ($18).
Be sure to try the dirty hummus, an ambrosial concoction of hummus whipped with a sweet, tangy sauce, melted cheeses, olives, onions, and diced peppers. I don't even want to know the caloric content of this appetizer, I just want MORE of it.
The dinner menu offers a choice of two vegetarian selections and one vegan option. Having enjoyed both the baked manicotti ($19) and veggie burger ($12) on previous visits, I decided to go for the vegan polenta ($18) to see how it stacked up. Verdict? Very, very good indeed. Steamed broccoli, sauteed mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds accompany the golden wedges of cooked cornmeal, with a generous puddle of smoky tomato sauce rounding out the rustic dish. Superb.
Lunchtime diners will find several vegetarian sandwiches, wraps and toasties available, and more often than not a vegetarian soup of the day. On a recent lunch visit I opted for the Middle-eastern wrap with a side of vegetarian black bean soup. While the toothsome, scratch-made soup was appetizing, it was thicker than I would have preferred, probably the result of a heavy hand with the immersion blender. The wrap, however, was scrumptious. Comprised of an herbed tortilla slathered with creamy, house-made hummus and filled with tart tabbouleh, crunchy veggies, peppery red onion and briny feta, it was a sensory delight.
While the kitchen creations are serious business, owners Terry and Betsy Cunningham have made sure that the enviroment isn't stuffy or formal. Part of what makes York Street Café a destination restaurant is that it is fun, with plenty of kitschy knick-knacks to amuse and charm. The recently opened Mercantile Center next door offers diners the chance to own pieces of nostalgia like those decorating the restaurant.
The building is truely a one-stop shop of entertainment; in addition to the vibrant restaurant, there's an art gallery upstairs and a lounge that hosts live indie and swing bands most weekends. There's even an inviting garden patio for alfesco dining when the weather is fine.