Remember when Barnes & Noble went into the cafe business sometime in the ’90s? The theory was if you supply people with enough caramel crunch cheesecake, cinnamon scones and coffee, they may browse the shelves and pick up a few books on their way out.
The spiffy new Roots Cafe in Westbrook reminded me of that. The beautifully designed cafe shares space and a mission with Green Tree Ministries. If you sip a coffee and enjoy one of the cafe’s tasty individual quiches, served with a small bag of warm, gooey cheese puffs, is the idea that you will rekindle your relationship with God? (The cheese puffs are so irresistible, it just might work.)
The cafe wears its mission on its sleeve, almost literally so. The counter people dress in black T-shirts emblazoned with the catchphrase “Live Out Love.” The same phrase appears on the bags of coffee for sale and the pretty bags that deliver those silver-dollar-sized puffs (gourgeres by another name?). As you wait to place your order, you can browse the shelves of books, arranged by such topics as Addiction, Anger, Abuse, Death of a Child and Seeker. At lunchtime the day I visited, the wait to order was 10 to 15 minutes, then another 10 minutes to wait for your number to be called so you could pick up your lunch. (The place was packed! Were all those mothers and toddlers from the adjacent Little Red School House daycare?)
Turn right as you head into the cafe instead of left, and you can pick up a free devotional or a bible. But the ministry’s message of love is most adorably conveyed through the cafe’s salt and pepper shakers, which sit and smooch atop the tables and countertops – kissing pigs, kissing frogs and kissing pandas.
Amazingly, none of this felt heavy-handed. At least to me, and I say this as a Jew. The words “scripture” and “blessing” and “worship” drifted down to me from the conversation that a trio of men, who seemed to be associated with the ministry, was holding at the corner of the communal table where I sat. But it was perfectly possible to simply eat lunch and appreciate the friendly buzz, the even friendlier service, the light-filled space and the good food.
I ate an excellent vegetable quiche – the filling was delicate, the homemade crust tender – and a pretty, seasonally apt salad with roasted butternut squash, apples, almonds, quinoa, dried cranberries and crumbled feta, all arranged atop a bed of baby spinach. My quiche, salad and complimentary cheese puffs, served on stylish white china, came to just $10.25, which felt like a deal. And the portions were so generous, I lacked the stomach space for the chocolate ganache and banana crepe I’d been coveting as I watched the staff make sweet and savory crepes to order.
The cafe offers smoothies, soup, cookies and cupcakes, too.
I returned a few days later expressly for that crepe. Alas, the cafe was facing temperature challenges that afternoon. The crepe was cold, the coffee lukewarm. But let’s chalk it up to small growing pains for a still-new cafe.
On my first visit, I’d watched one of the ministry men do magic tricks as his colleagues finished lunch. He made a quarter, then a jack of hearts disappear into thin air. Several times. Where’d it go, one of the men asked. “Into the spiritual realm,” the conjurer answered, and they all laughed.
WHERE: 20 School St., Westbrook; (207) 854-TREE. rootscafeme.com
HOURS: 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WAIT: About 20 minutes on a busy weekday lunch hour
PARKING: Private lot
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes