When she was in college, Melissa Symes Patalano was a waitress at a trendy Newport, R.I., eatery that was so crowded with tables, her legs were constantly bruised from bumping into one nearly every time she turned around.
Since opening her own restaurant on Main Street in Stoneham nearly 10 years ago, Patalano has strived to maintain a spacious, bruise-free environment along with great food and a sense of camaraderie.
“This is where I come to have my morning coffee. This is my family,’’ Patalano said of her close-knit, 15-member staff. “The restaurant is my life.’’
Originally called KroMels, the restaurant was renamed Melissa’s Main Street Bistro six years ago. The first- and second-floor dining rooms each seat about 30 people, with a four-chair bar overlooking the open kitchen on the ground level.
Our three-person party visited on a recent Tuesday night, sitting near the expansive picture window. A basket of freshly baked white and wheat bread was delivered to the table along with the menus.
We ordered two appetizers before our waiter had a chance to tell us that cream of vegetable soup ($6) had been prepared that day, so two of us also ordered that. The soup had a thick, chowder-like consistency, chock full of zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, and corn that was grilled and pureed.
The prosciutto and asparagus in puff pastry ($7) consisted of three delicate pieces lightly drizzled with balsamic glaze. The asparagus tips sticking out were well cooked without being wilted.
The grilled vegetable flatbread ($9) was more substantial than any of us were expecting. The thin crust was heavy with fontina cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant, and also drizzled with balsamic glaze. It could have been a meal on its own.
Not knowing this, we also had ordered entrees. The large portion of boneless beef short ribs ($24) was so tender that my dining campanion never touched his knife. The meat was braised and served in a red wine sauce that provided a complementary rather than dominant flavor. For his two sides, he enjoyed creamy cheese risotto and grilled corn off the cob that had a pleasing smoky flavor.
Because the seafood fra diavolo ($27) is prepared to order, another diner was happy to hold the salmon and shrimp that usually accompany the mixture of haddock, halibut, mussels, and lobster in a tangy plum tomato sauce over linguini. In fact, this spicy dish was so seafood-heavy that the amount of pasta paled in comparison.
Honors for best presentation went to the semolina-crusted haddock ($22), an extra-long, lightly breaded filet that was halved and crisscrossed atop a mound of basil and artichoke risotto, which itself was topped with arugula lightly mixed with local tomato vinaigrette.
We were about to decline dessert until we saw the homemade chocolate whoopie pie with vanilla ice cream ($7). This one was dry, however, despite the nice touch of chocolate icing and sprinkles on top.
Patalano said a new menu will accompany the change in seasons, with dishes offered as specials before they become permanent additions. The short ribs, however, will remain year-round. One customer, in fact, orders them every month when he travels from Washington state for business.
“You don’t often see short ribs on a menu in the summer,’’ she said, “but they’re so well-received that I can’t take them off.’’