Food + Drink » Restaurant Reviews

Belle’s a beaut

A recent entry to downtown Dartmouth feels like home.

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A tiny house on Ochterloney Street, Ma Belle's could just as easily be called Ma's. It feels like a home--- if home is a place where your mother likes to sell fresh, simple lunches to random strangers. It's a tiny space, at once cozy and sunny, with a deep bordeaux paint on the walls and a chalkboard menu over a fireplace mantle, buttery yellow accents and friendly smiling servers.

The restaurant has been open since December. Our server tells us that she started on Mother's Day, a day this restaurant seems made for, with cakes and jellies displayed on the front counter, loaves of bread in little baskets under a window to the kitchen and a quaintness that exudes from every corner. The menu is made up of fresh salads, sandwiches and quiches.

There are only a handful of tables tucked into the small, warm dining room. A group of older ladies are lunching, one of them wearing a little paper tiara, ostensibly celebrating a birthday. They are laughing and chatting, bringing a sense of joy to the little room.

We start by ordering a Stewart's lime soda ($2.49) and an iced tea ($2.25). I'm a little disappointed that the iced tea is canned, having made a bold assumption it would be fresh. We get one of the day's quiches with a spinach salad ($7.99) and the French dip panini ($7.99), which I am nonplussed to discover I cannot order with a salad on the side, surrendering to veggie chips.

Service is slow, but the restaurant is busy and crowded and the atmosphere is pleasant, so patience abounds. Our plates eventually arrive with generous helpings that are worth the wait.

The quiche is crustless, looking more like a frittata at first glance, though one bite into the luxurious, eggy custard makes it clear that this is, indeed, an expertly made quiche. The creaminess is offset with the salty smokiness of bacon, the nutty, mild bitterness of broccoli and sweet peppers. It's wonderfully composed, fluffy and golden.

The spinach salad is just as delicious. Fresh baby spinach is mixed with diced apples, pecans, sliced mushroom and bacon. It's served with a light, homemade poppyseed dressing that strikes a great balance between sugar and acidity, tying all of the ingredients together nicely.

The French dip panini is hot and fresh with deep-brown grill marks. Strips of steak, medium with only the slightest hint at pink---a little more cooked than I'd like---sit with lightly cooked, still crisp julienned green pepper under a bed of melting cheese. A big pot of beefy jus is served on the side. Coleslaw, a dill pickle and a stack of crispy veggie chips round out the plate.

Veggie chips aren't my favourite side dish, as I expect that weird, airy Styrofoam texture that so many have, but these are thick, crunchy and taste good. The coleslaw and pickle are a nice sweet and sour accompaniment to the meaty, melted cheesiness of the sandwich. A great lunch.

We split dessert---chocolate cake with boiled icing ($4.50). When the enormous slab arrives at the table, it turns the heads of the group of women at the next table, who all ooh, ahh and soon order their own sweets.

The cake is good, but not great, a little bit dry and, while the hearty coating of gooey boiled icing helps relieve that, it is topped with chocolate shavings that give it a gritty mouthfeel that neither of us enjoy.

We wrap up our meal, pay, and head out into the sunshine, full and happy. The ladies at the next table are just starting on dessert, happily giggling to one another. I think to myself that I should call Mom and take her to lunch. And now I know just the place.

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