(03/25/06) (06/24/06) (01/17/07) (02/08/14)
This tiny storefront on River Street halfway between Memorial Drive and Central Square is a counter-service-only operation with just three stools against a counter and two tiny tables crammed into a tight space. Technically, Coast
Café isn't barbecue; it's a soul food joint where the friendly staff serves ribs, fried pork chops, grilled and fried fish, and a wide assortment of soulful sides. Parking at peak mealtimes is next to impossible, but there's a garage on Green Street a few blocks away.
A deep menu has pork ribs and beef ribs, neither of which I believe are smoked, but this is soul food, not barbecue. Chicken is a focal point, available as fried wings, fried chicken fingers, grilled or barbecued boneless chicken, and fried chicken breasts and thighs. Pork chops can be had fried, grilled or smothered (onions and gravy). Fish plates include grilled or fried haddock or catfish, plus fishcakes. You can even get a burger. A few different wing specials, including jerk, were noted on the window signage.
In my first review of Coast Café, I said that I might just stop in any time I saw that one parking space available, but I managed just a few more visits between then and now. I got a hankering recently and decided to make it a target unto itself rather than a happy accident. All of the visits have been on late Saturday afternoons.
Patties: The Caribbean answer to Peking ravioli arrived hot from the display case and reasonably fresh the first time and a little dry the second time. The crunchy shell was tasty, as was the beef. These make a good vessel for dipping into the unique sauces when available.
Wings: The highlight of the first meal was the chicken wings, fried to order and well seasoned with salt, black pepper and other spices. It was piping hot and super crisp without compromising the tenderness or juiciness of the plump inner meat. I'd never tasted fried chicken this good or this light. Follow-up visits returned to the wings, which remained very good, very juicy and very light. The seasoning has varied though, supplying less pepper recently.
Pork Ribs: The ribs were very large and meaty, and very tender from the heavy coating of brown sauce. They were probably stewed in the sauce after a quick grilling. This wasn't barbecue, but then again, it wasn't passing itself off as such; what it was was good. The meat was of high quality and had a nice flavor. A more recent serving had a redder sauce, slightly sweeter, with a similarly stewy consistency. This batch came closer to decent than good based a few dry spots.
Fried Chicken: Thighs are the way to go here. Crunchy, juicy, loaded with highly seasoned batter that gives way to equally flavorful (marinated) meat beneath. The most recent taste's batter was darker and thicker than usual, but generally speaking, all of the attributes of the wings are in the even moister thighs.
The sides have been good, though somewhat plain.
Collard Greens: With smoked turkey instead of pork, a 2006 serving had a nice flavor and texture. In 2014 the collards had similarly good texture (a little past wilting) and mildly pleasing flavor (bitterness gone witrhout resorting to cover-up flavors to obscure the natural greenery), but lost the meatiness.
Cabbage: Perfectly cooked in the 2006 visit, it was velvety, with a nice buttery flavor. In 2014, the cabbage had transformed to include a supporting cast of peppers and other vegetables that I found more refreshing.
Black-eyed Peas: Cooked down 'til soft, these had good natural flavor but felt like they might have been sitting around a bit.
Mac and Cheese: A tight southern version with just enough cheese to get the job done.
In the old days there was a nice array of about a dozen Caribbean themed hot sauces available at the small eating counter. The Baron scotch bonnet sauce was particularly good, somewhat similar to East Coast Grill’s Inner Beauty hot sauce.
The Bottom Line
Good soul food with some barbecue touches. There might not be a smoker here, but the ribs were decent and these guys sure know how to fry. I've neglected my earlier promise, I'm still going to at least try to stop into Coast Café anytime I see a parking space available.
Yelp reviews of Coast Cafe
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