It’s a pity that Hull is on the way to nowhere, except the quirky and considerable charms of the peninsular town itself. Quite near the center, along the commercially populated strip of Nantasket Avenue known as Kenburma, is a fittingly eclectic corner café turned restaurant.
The small eatery is packed on Tuesdays and Fridays when it runs specials - and its Saturday night prix fixe menu also draws a crowd. On other winter afternoons and nights, there seems to be few souls venturing out to sit in and eat at Café Ona, but many stop by to take away some of its very good meals.
Its small menu is new each week, and is available via e-mail and on the restaurant’s website.
Nestled in the curved storefront of a small apartment building that also houses a hair salon, Café Ona looks unchanged from its predecessor, the thoroughly disappointing Café Calabria. The exterior is half-timbered, in the English Tudor style, and the interior still bears the detailed wood paneling installed by the previous owner built as a celebration of his Italy. If not stylish, the space conveys the simplicity that Michael Aprea sought after closing his catering company, Z-Chef, in 2005.
Aprea and his co-owner and sister, Stephanie, seem to have found a way under the restaurant radar, sidestepping the complications of a big operation (there is one server) while being able to put out 150 to 170 dinners, sit down and take out combined, on some nights.
As much as Aprea says he wants to leave the stress of catering behind - “No more corporate events at the Prudential Center, no more weddings. . . I want time to be able to see my grandmother, to take three vacations a year’’ - his food is still marked by the caterer’s obsession to do it right so you don’t ruin somebody’s big day.
Café Ona doesn’t offer appetizers; the main courses are accompanied by a house mesclun salad, with fresh cucumbers, grape tomatoes, shredded carrot, chopped olives, and there are soup offerings that also do nicely as a first course. A plate of bread and olive oil with tapenade works well, too.
Manicotti and braised beef short ribs ($18) raise comfort food to the realm of mother food (comfort food that’s really well done). Served in a very hot casserole dish, the manicotti is almost al dente (a feat in a casserole) and the boneless short ribs are meltingly delicious in the silky tomato sauce with cheese on top.
The four scallops in the jumbo sea scallops with linguine ($18) are darkly seared and perfectly done. The dish has a lightish sauce of lemon and butter with lots of wilted fresh baby spinach, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and bits of pancetta.
Here the lobster roll ($16) is paired with a grilled hot dog bun barely able to accommodate the meat, at least eight or 10 very small and tender whole claws.
The mushroom Swiss turkey burger ($9.50) is 3 inches high and arrives cut in half with a toothpick anchoring each towering side. The ground turkey has been mixed meatloaf style and is flavorful and satisfying. The melted cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and Dijon aioli are not overdone, and the romaine lettuce and tomato slices are bright and fresh. This sandwich, like the lobster roll, comes with a choice of soup or salad.
Quite a bit of lobster in a very tasty sherried crumble sits atop the lobster-stuffed cod ($17). The large fillet comes with a mass of perfectly steamed fresh green beans and very nice mashed potatoes.
Café Ona, named after the Aprea siblings’ grandmother, is a little gem hidden in plain sight just 4 miles from the Route 3A traffic rotary in Hingham. Even without its various specials - two dinners for $22 Tuesdays; prime rib for $19 Thursdays; two dinners with a bottle of wine for $30 Fridays; the $25 three-course prix fixe menu Saturdays - it’s definitely worth the trip.