I’m not sure what exactly to call Marguerite’s Restaurant. Too nice for a diner and too New England for a bistro, whatever it is exactly, it has found a sweet spot in its little plaza in little Westport. It was full upon our early arrival for dinner and there was a wait when we left. Whatever my search for proper categorization, after eating there, and especially after receiving a very fair bill, its brisk business is no mystery.
The restaurant greets you with a wood bar in front, illumed by diner-style steel pendant lamps, each holding little spoons out on spokes, as though to say “let’s eat.” The atmosphere matches the casual, but not too casual décor. A great many people were drinking wine by their glass from a modest list of about a dozen offerings, but when the waitress cheerfully asked a local at the bar “didn’t you want a glass for your beer,” it was not out of place when he said “that’s okay, I figure it’s already in a glass.”
The menu is fairly extensive and very much New England, with plenty of seafood: mussels, calamari, quahogs, crab cakes, chowder and stuffed sole to name a few. That said, you could go there in many different moods, with burgers, sandwiches, salad staples and several pasta dishes on offer. For even more variety, there is an extensive and regularly changing specials menu. This featured some more adventurous plates, for instance cast iron duck over soba noodles. I’m sure this change helps keep Marguerite’s large group of regulars interested, and this is usually a sign that there’s someone in the kitchen who would rather do more work than be on autopilot.
There was still enough chill in the early spring air that we began with soup. My wife tried the Oyster Stew ($9), and I went with French Onion ($5.50), because melted cheese. The oyster stew was the classic preparation of this dish, which gets out of the way of the oysters. With no thickening agent and no bacon, in a way it isn’t really a stew at all, and instead oysters in a delicate, milky, buttery broth of onion and celery. They used a generous dash of paprika, which made for a bit of contrast and a pop of flavor. If I had to quibble, I’d have liked more herbs, but it’s better to be left wanting when it comes to subtle seafood.
Crucially, at the bottom of the large bowl were nine or ten oysters, nicely cooked. My French Onion soup was well gratinéed, the bread still had a tiny bit of bite in the crust and the broth was beefy and full of flavor. It is best summed up by the fact that I burned my tongue eating it in haste.
My wife’s slumbering Long Island genes – perhaps activated by the desserts behind glass, or an old man at the bar just having a cawfee – instinctively drew her to her default order at the chromed-out diners she grew up with off “the parkway”: the Greek Salad ($11). They tweaked things a little bit, with the introduction of crisp fried chickpeas and the omission of olives, but there was nothing too experimental here: good feta, crisp cucumber, marinated red peppers and as fresh a pile of greens you can affordably get together in mid-March. What made the dish a meal was the chicken breast, which was nicely blackened on the outside, moist on the interior and cut after resting into appetizing medallions.
I went with a Haddock Sandwich ($10). This was something of a test, as I get haddock from my local fishermen with great regularity. Sourced in nearby New Bedford, this was a great piece of fish. It was perfectly seasoned, lightly breaded, flaky and above all, a dinner: a nice, fat, center-cut of the fillet. Underneath, if that’s a bed of arugula, the floorboards beneath it are creaking. Great chunks of it fell out of the opposite side of the sandwich as I ate. And yet, ever the picture of finger-smacking class, I’m drinking Dona Ermelinda White ($6), a perfectly quaffable Portuguese white blend. You can do both here.
Speaking of dessert, everything is something your mom might make, with crisps, custards, puddings and cake. This is a small place, so it’s not surprising that the emphasis is on things that can be made ahead. We nabbed the last strawberry shortcake. I’m not sure why we’d order berries in March, but as the red plate paraded by, with its eager-to-please swirl of whipped cream, and a split biscuit soaking in strawberry juices, several other eaters felt compelled to comment; it’s just that sort of place. It tasted even better with each passing “I’ll have to get that next time.” At $57 before tip, for two, with wine and three courses, it’s pretty easy for there to be a next time, when you’re passing through. From what I’ve seen, if you’re a local, the word has been out for years.
778 Main Road