Restaurant: John’s Cafe, Woodbury
When you are hankering for: A “bistro-style dining experience featuring fresh, innovative New American dishes that often resonate a Mediterranean flair.”
Today’s occasion: We were both hungry. It was our first outing since Lora got married. We were celebrating carbs being back on the table.
What we ate:
A lot! Chef Dennis DeBellis kept sending out dish after dish…we didn’t argue with Chef.
Housemade ricotta cheese and tomato jam
Maine lobster rolls
Italian street corn (from Roden’s Farm, Bethlehem)
Watermelon, feta cheese, and arugula salad
A tower of eggplant parmesan made with fresh local tomatoes
“Sunday gravy” housemade Rigatoni with meatballs and Italian sausage ragu
Let’s chat with the chef!
In John’s Cafe’s case, the owner and chef are one man, Dennis DeBellis.
How would you describe the type of food at John’s Café for someone who has never been?
I would say the type of food is American with a heavy lean towards Italian. Not a lot of foams or plate painting, just simple, straight forward ingredient-driven food.
What is your favorite food memory?
My favorite food memories are waking up Sunday mornings with the smell of sausage and meatballs being cooked by my mother for the “Sunday gravy.” And the night before Thanksgivings as a kid helping prep all the food. Thanksgivings were huge in my house and still are; no presents, just food!
Favorite kitchen gadget?
I have 2 favorite kitchen gadgets: our 20-quart mixer, it makes our daily focaccia and pizza dough, grinds meats for our sausage, and grates the parmigiana cheese. And our pasta machine, if you look at it, looks like a dinosaur, but it still (knock on wood) bangs out pounds of fresh pasta every day.
Tell us about your training?
In 1994, I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY. After graduation, I worked for three years at the Mayflower Inn, in Washington back in its heyday when it first started earning its 5 stars, 5 diamonds, and Relais and Chateau status. I worked under Chefs John Farnsworth and Chris Freeman where they embedded standards in me that still hold true today.
I’ve also worked at various restaurants in Florida, New York, and Westport, CT. In 1998, opening sous chef for the Lakeview Inn on Lake Waramaug, the owners owned the French culinary Institute in Manhattan. That allowed me to take their 3-week bread baking class at the school.
In 2000, I started at John’s Café and 15 years later I bought it!
What do you think is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
I don’t know if it’s the next big thing because it’s pretty big already, but I think take out is just going to keep getting more popular. Everyone’s lives are getting more and more complicated and busy with work, school, bringing kids to games, practices, that no one has time to cook anymore. So being able to pick up a ready-made meal that everyone can sit down and enjoy together with little effort is huge. It’s something I’m really trying to promote at the restaurant.
What do you love most about your job?
The thing I love most of my job is the cooking. It’s all the other stuff like dealing with salesmen, staff, bills, etc., that’s work, but creating a dish, cooking it, having someone enjoy it, that’s what I live for.
Cappuccino ice-cream profiteroles
White chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel sauce
Things you should know:
They have a private room upstairs which can be rented for parties and family gatherings. In fact, Lora and Michael’s rehearsal dinner happened there and it was perfect!
They offer catering and take out.
Sunday and Monday – there’s no corkage fee. 😁🍷
Thursday equals 1/2 off wine bottles.
Friday and Saturdays – happy hour is 3-5:30 pm.
Bev’s favorite thing:
The tomato jam on ricotta was amaze, as was the homemade pasta!!
Lora’s favorite thing:
Homemade pasta – oh, and those profiteroles were dang good!
John’s Café, 693 Main Street South, Woodbury, CT 06798
Photos: Lora/Words: Bev