RJ Cafe &  Bistro: A Hidden Gem

A ride to the beach is even better when it includes a stop at the landmark R.J. Julia Booksellers store in Madison. And even better is when it includes a leisurely lunch at the RJ Café & Bistro.

The cafe is tucked away in the back of the Boston Post Road landmark bookstore, and owner Kym Campbell has proven a couple of things since she took over the place: It doesn't take a commercial kitchen to create tasteful and attractive food, and loving to cook beats simply holding a degree in cooking.

"It's not a commercial kitchen; we just have a few small appliances," she said. "But we do a lot with what we do have."

Under Campbell's direction, the café offers breakfast, lunch and light supper menus that boast an array of fresh ingredients and choices that are artistically presented in a setting that invites diners to linger and enjoy.

"It's a perfect setting and a two-way street for both of us," said Campbell. "People who come here just to eat learn about the bookstore and customers at the bookstore come upon us and, honestly, we have a lot of regulars now who didn't know about us or didn't know about the bookstore and now are fans of both."

Campbell has always liked to cook, but she did not get serious about owning her own place until her children were older.

"I was looking for something else on Craig's List when I saw this space advertised," said Campbell, whose cooking expertise comes from a combination of classes, watching cooking shows and experimenting on her own. "I wanted a place where everyone is comfortable; where people can get really good food and just sit back and unwind.

"I want people who come here to eat to enjoy the experience."

The café, which boasts a full espresso bar, also features a bakery case displaying award-winning cupcakes from La Rosticceria in Guilford. Rich wood, a menu chalkboard and original paintings set the quaint and comfortable mood for the indoor seating, while a huge tree that covers the patio makes seasonal al fresco dining just about perfect.

Breakfast offerings include an egg and cheese paninis and Florentine paninis with eggs, cheese, spinach and artichoke spread, tomato and avocado with the option of bacon, ham or turkey. Lunch includes a selection of fresh soups and salads, such as the rosti with goat cheese, dried cranberries and spiced walnuts; and the popular "Scoops," a cold salad plate with choice of freshly made tuna, curry chicken or egg salad over fresh greens and vegetables and topped with house made croutons and dressings like the not-so-ordinary white balsamic apple vinaigrette or honey lemon.

There are flatbreads such as the one featuring black forest ham, caramelized onions and goat cheese. An array of sandwiches includes the Gooey Grilled Cheese with fig and arugula; and a make-your-own option that lets you choose from mango chutney, basil pesto, Asian pear, spinach artichoke spread or blue cheese mayo. Seasonal choices include the summer's lobster salad BLT and in the fall a fresh root vegetable salad.

Campbell is quick to tap local vendors, including Foxon Park Sodas, Hope Water, Two Cousins Biscotti, Liuzzi Mozzarella, Deep River Potato Chips, Alex's Lemonade and Haddam's Zen Coffee Roasters.

>>Rj Café & Bistro is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Information: 203-318-8008 or rjcafebistro.com.

 

Editor's note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to correct the name of the restaurant owner.