A Canton coffee shop called Needful Things is actually in need of a few things of its own, primarily a steadier hand in the kitchen. What it does have is lots of charm, an inviting atmosphere and a simple menu for breakfast and lunch.
Owned by Debbie Brooks and Dorothy Addington, Needful Things was packed on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon. We opened the screen door to the lace-curtained restaurant and waited our turn to be seated. Black-and-white tile floors, a fireplace and bookcases painted dark green, and mismatched tables and chairs gave the room a cozy personality that reminded us of Cafe Hon in Hampden.
But atmosphere only goes so far. Even a neighborhood coffee shop has to have reliable food. For the most part, Needful Things does, especially in the breakfast category. There are bagels with all kinds of spreads, waffles, French toast, eggs and pancakes. We were drawn to the design-it-yourself dishes: the build-your-own omelet and the fill-your-own pancakes.
Our omelet was as thin as a crepe, rolled around mushrooms, bacon and Cheddar. Pancakes were thin, too. We filled ours with blueberries and walnuts, and liked the combination inside the sugar-dusted cakes.
A chicken salad sandwich was the best of what we tried on the lunch side of the menu. It was made with fresh chunks of chicken breast, tossed simply with celery and Hellmann's mayo, and served with potato chips and a pickle slice. Our North Carolina expert said the beef barbecue, made with ground beef in a tangy tomato sauce, tasted as if it had come out of a can. It may not be authentic, but some people like Manwich-style sandwiches. Caesar salad featured fresh romaine with bottled dressing and giant homemade croutons.
If we had ordered only these dishes, we might have felt differently about Needful Things, which got its name from a Stephen King novel. But we didn't. And some of the rest of what we tried was enough to give us chills. The worst offender was the chicken and dumplings, a misnomer by any stretch of the imagination. There was no flavor, no chicken and no dumplings, unless you count the soft globules in the pasty white stew.
Our waitress was surprised when she took away our seemingly untouched plate. It's one of their best sellers, she told us. That was a surprise to us.
Soups weren't much better. The Minnesota rice soup was entirely too bland, made with regular and wild rice in a cream base. It needed salt, pepper and a shot of pizazz. The pinkish-gray shrimp bisque had more flavor but was as thick as pudding.
So, our advice is to stick to simple things, like tuna melts or a powerhouse sandwich on seven-grain bread, eggs over easy, or cinnamon-raisin French toast. Sip a cappuccino from an oversized cup, and nibble a Linzer-torte-like raspberry cookie, topped with buttery lattice. Leave the scary stuff to Mr. King.
Address: 2921 O'Donnell St.
Hours: Open daily for breakfast and lunch
Credit cards: None accepted
Prices: Appetizers, $1.25-$3.75; entrees, $1.50-$5.75
Pub Date: 11/20/97