Matera Caffé: Worldly, wood-fired flare in a low-key locale
By Brandy King
Photo: The Midnight Sun pizza at Matera Caffé in Franklin
Just south of the Montgomery County border, one exit down from the retail and empty office space mecca of Austin Landing and cozied up right next to the classy New York, New York Gentleman’s Club, you’ll find Matera Caffé. I grew up in Miamisburg, but have never been all too familiar with what lies south of State Route 73. My day job takes me to the Warren County-area at least once a week, and our staff had started ordering lunch from Matera occasionally because that area isn’t long on options for “slow” food. Having been impressed with all of our take-out orders, I decided I’d give it a whirl in person and see what kind of place was serving such great food.
You seat yourself when you arrive, but it would be helpful having a sign that noted this. It’s one of my pet peeves. I don’t mind that you don’t have a hostess, but let me know I should choose a table instead of waiting to be seated and becoming increasingly irritable.
We started out with the cherry and chicken lettuce wraps. This is akin to something that we’ve all seen on a lot of Asian menus, but with a different flare. Roasted chicken, carrots, candied walnuts, blue cheese, cooked cherries and a sweet teriyaki sauce, served in crispy lettuce leaves. This is what I had been ordering for lunch all those times until I discovered other goodies. Three wraps come in an order, and for a lady-sized appetite, it’s plenty. Be forewarned, though – these are messy and the cherry juice will stain almost anything it touches. Just wear black. They’re worth washing your hands afterward. It’s a tough appetizer to share, though, with an odd number per order. I don’t mind cutting one in half if I’m with my husband, but not during a business lunch. The rest of their appetizer menu boasts several items from warm spinach artichoke dip with crostini – which I’ll also vouch for – to fried calamari.
As for the menu of mains, that’s also pretty expansive. They have your standard pasta, salad and sandwich fare, but they also have an authentic, wood-fired oven that’s visible from the dining area. They use the oven for steaks, fish, ribs, chicken and, of course, pizzas. I can pass up almost any pizza you put in front of me, except one that just came out of a wood-fired oven, with that delightful smell and perfectly light char on the crust. We had ordered one of my favorites as a starter and my husband was ordering my other stand-by, so it was time to find a new favorite. Enter the Midnight Sun pizza. Bacon, caramelized onions, olive oil, paper-thin gold potatoes, fresh rosemary, fontina and romano. Aside from being a little heavy on the olive oil base, it was easily one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. I would probably tag all of their pizzas as more “artisan” offerings. Since I know that word has lost most of its meaning at this point, what I mean is that fans of Dominos all-meat, thick crust, triple-bypass pies probably won’t dig this as much as others would.
The Cuban sandwich that Mr. FvF ordered was every bit as tasty as I remembered. I know because I made him give me a bite – or two. I’m always annoyed when restaurants mess up a perfectly simply sandwich like the Cuban by making dumb substitutes like sweet pickles. Everyone knows it’s supposed to be dill. Matera’s Cuban is spot on – basic thick white bun, roasted pork, ham, Swiss, dill pickles and mustard, cooked and pressed flat. They don’t make the mistake of trying to improve on a classic. They have over a dozen other sandwiches, several of which make good use of that slow roasted chicken and pork that they chef up in-house.
One thing I definitely want to make the trek back down there for is their breakfast menu. Chorizo hash and strawberry mascarpone French toast? Count me in. They use Honduran coffee in all sorts of beverages, like lattes and breves, and also offer fresh fruit smoothies. More importantly, they have beer and wine, even offering wine tastings at least once a month.
The service wasn’t outstanding, but it also wasn’t terrible. We waited around to be seated and ended up seating ourselves by default, then we waited a few more minutes for a server to take our drink order and we waited nearly twenty minutes for our appetizer. With great food and reasonable prices, though, slightly under par service won’t keep me from going back when I’m in the area. Prices were well-suited to what they’re serving. Most of the pizzas were around $10, and more than enough for two people. They have some higher-dollar entrées like the wood-fired steak, but most other menu mains averaged around $9. It’s worth the trek to check out even if Franklin is a bit of a hike for you. If the dining experience left you feeling too fancy, I’m sure you could drop in to their neighboring establishment to even things out.
Matera Caffé is located at 1219 E. 2nd St. in Franklin. For more information, call 937.550.9565 or visit materacaffe.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Brandy King at BrandyKing@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com.