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Bill Okesson
John’s Café has certainly seen its share of changes throughout its 11 years of being on the forefront of Connecticut’s thriving restaurant scene. What was once a sleepy little corner town nestled in the center of Fairfield, New Haven and Litchfield Counties, Woodbury is now a genuine destination of New England charm, antiquing, and fabulous food. Chef Bill Okesson created John’s Café in 1995, taking an ordinary “mom and pop” burger joint and transforming it into a New American Bistro, creating a more sophisticated, yet casual, restaurant and gathering place, maintaining its country charm and hospitality.
Upon graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Okesson took several opportunities to study under some of the most reputable chefs in New York City, including The Maurice in the Parker Meredian Hotel for Chef Christian Delouvrier, a 4 star chef from the popular Lespinasse Restaurant. Chef Okesson then began a career with the Doral Hotel Company, relocating him to Miami to spend over a year helping to open the Doral Saturnia restaurant. Upon returning to New York, he applied his talents as sous chef for the Sea Grill Restaurant and as the director of banquet functions throughout Rockefeller Center.
In 1992, Chef Okesson began what was to be the launching pad to his Connecticut success, as the executive Chef for The Boulders Inn located in New Preston, CT. Here, Chef Okesson received rave reviews from the media, as well a loyal customer base. In 1995, the opportunity to open his own restaurant came in the form of “John’s” and was an instant success as John’s Café. The renovated space features large windows, soft tones, subtle lighting, wood fixtures and furnishings, and white tablecloths without the pretense. There is an intimate bar, which is perfect for pre-dinner cocktails or a place to gather with friends. Private parties and meetings can be accommodated in the second floor private dining room.
The menu, a delicious mélange of New American and Mediterranean influences, features such signature dishes as steamed beer steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with chorizo sausage, housemade pork terrine with Vermont cheddar, and jumbo lump crab cakes with celery root remoulade. Scrumptious grilled pizzas and salads are joined by innovative pasta dishes such as Chef Okesson’s rigatoni pasta with homemade Italian sausage ragout and the fluffiest potato gnocchi with smoked chicken, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto cream sauce. The perfectly grilled veal chop with a potato pancake, braised red cabbage and an apple brandy sauce, broiled Atlantic salmon with butternut squash orzo, and the pan roasted breast of duck with white bean cassoulet are just a few other menu highlights.
In addition to the Café’s celebrated cuisine, Chef Okesson has been receiving Wine Spectator Awards every year since 1998 for his unique presentation and collection of wine offerings, and continues to be at the top of Connecticut’s Zagat rated restaurants. Chef Okesson’s cooking classes at the Silo are consistently sold out, and he is a regularly featured guest chef at The CT Farmland Trust fundraisers, a organization that is important to this chef who relies on local resources to supply him with the freshest of ingredients. John’s Café continues to grow, both creatively and esthetically, and has exciting plans for the future, including Chef Okesson’s wine dinner series and tasting events. It’s been over 11 years now, but John’s Café is showing no signs of slowing down – it’s just the beginning for this talented chef.