Monday, August 16, 2021

Eating BIG in New England (Pt. 2)

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring Rhode Island aka the Ocean State

After a week in upstate NY (report still to come) and a couple of lunches in Connecticut (click HERE for report) we were on our way to Rhode Island. I chose Providence as our home base bc I wanted to be somewhat central to everything else and I hadn't visited the city in more than 20 years. While it was our resting place we were running around the state, or the part of it on the ocean, for most of the time. We were mostly in Providence during the evening if not the early morning. It's a cool city (I think they all are) but it was pretty quiet and also regularly raining on our visit. We did the typical stuff like walk around Federal Hill (old Italian neighborhood) but didn't eat anywhere bc red sauce Italian wasnt why we were visiting. We wanted seafood and beaches. This was mid July and I'd never explored the state past a day in Providence. So we chose it for the first part of our New England beach vacay. 

Sights from Rhode Island 

One thing I didn't realize about the smallest state (by size) in the nation was the weather patterns were so island like. It was raining in Providence for much of the time we were in Rhode Island but it always seemed like there was a spot not far from Providence where it wasn't raining. So we just kind of watched our phones and the weather reports and worked it from there. We visited some beautiful spots but I expected the beaches to be better. Some were good but many of them were inaccessible to those not from the towns they were in, and when they were accessible it was only for those willing to pay $20+ to park. We found Fogland Beach with it's two sides of water (one with waves and one calm) to be the best spot to chill and at $10 to park it was cheaper and more private than others. 

Sights from Providence

Foodwise Rhode Island also intrigued me with it's array of regional specialties many of which will be featured here today. It's also home to a large Portuguese community as well as Italians and is the home base of many fisherman which means there's plenty of places to explore. Plus it's in New England where they have tons of old school spots due to the fact the region itself is very old school. Everything is old in New England. Rhode Island is small but not small enough to where I got to all the spots I was hoping to hit. Still I covered good ground and ate some good stuff. Thus it was a success. 

Sights from Rhode Island (click pics to enhance)

Bristol Oyster Bar (Bristol)

First stop in Rhode Island was for some oysters. We arrived into the cute beach town of Bristol in the early afternoon and made our way to the Bristol Oyster Bar where the weather was wonderful and the oysters were local. I can never remember the exact type of oysters we eat but I tend to love the cold water varieties and from what I can remember I don't recall trying many Rhode Island varieties before this trip. I'm guessing much of them don't make it out of the state and if they do it's to other states in New England. I didn't have a bad oyster this trip and the ones from Rhode Island were all wonderful.  

Oysters at Bristol Oyster Bar 

Food by North (Providence) 

After a week of hot dogs, pizza, and burgers (NY and CT) and more of them all still to come, Food by North made for a great change of pace. It's ran by a young chef and at first it was a small neighborhood spot but they'd recently moved into a larger space located in the Dean Hotel in downtown Providence. The food menu goes in a few directions but it's Asian leaning with made on-site noodles taking a front seat. We started off with a raw fish chirashi bowl that was nice and refreshing before moving onto an order of Country Ham biscuits which were interesting. The biscuits were much better than I was expecting seeing how far north we were, heck that's the restaurants name. I had to try the chilled ginger miso noodles bc it seemed the perfect dish for a hot and humid night. I was right. Texturally right noodles were doused in a umami heavy miso sauce and topped with spring onion, eggplant, and chunks of charcoal grilled chicken. A super satisfying dish from an up and coming East Coast chef. He has another place called Big King but we didn't make it over there.  

Food by North

Anthony's Seafood (Middletown)

We took a late morning stroll through the Newport area one day and it was every bit as ritzy as we thought it would be. Beautiful place but busy as there was live pro tennis being played at the International Tennis Hall of Fame which resides here. Not just that but it was a summer weekend in a town that has a ton of aqua related activities. After striking out on fried clam bellies from a famous local spot that stopped serving them due to inflating prices we went one town over to Anthony's. It doubles as a seafood market and a restaurant which is always a good sign for those looking for fresh cooked seafood. We ended up with an excellent spread. They served the best fried clams we had in Rhode Island as well as a terrific stuffie mixed with spicy chourico. Stuffies are one of Rhode Island's signature dishes. They're stuffed clams made with the tough meat of the Quohog clam. It's chopped down and mixed with a combo of bread crumbs, onion, celery and such. Anthony's made a really good one with some real heat from the Portuguese chorizo. The same chorizo is used in their Portuguese Seafood Chowder which was the best chowder of the trip (made with fish and clams too). 

Seafood Spread at Anthony's Seafood 

New York System Olyneyville (Providence) 

When in Providence a trip to a New York System is likely if you’re out and about past midnight. NY System being local slang for a certain type of spot that serves hot wieners or New York System style wieners which despite the name are a very Rhode Island thing (note: they're never called hot dogs). I visited a James Beard winning system in the form of Olneyville New York System which has been around these parts since 1946. They serve a ton of stuff but it’s the 4 inch natural casing wieners (pork / veal) topped with meat sauce, mustard, onions, and celery salt that most people are here for. A few of those and maybe a coffee milk, another local specialty made by mixing coffee syrup and milk.

a peek inside 

Devout eaters of NY System wieners would probably be upset if I compared this place to a traditional coney hot dog shop but that it is. Founded by a Greek immigrant. The wieners sit in the front window with a bowl of the meat sauce to the side. The toppings are similar too but the wiener itself is unique enough to make these their own thing, plus the dash of celery salt on top. I loved my NY systems and coffee milk. Olneyville NY System was a 2014 recipient of a James Beard American Classic award.  

NY System Wieners at Olneyville NY System 

Bayberry Garden (Providence) 

I read about this hot new spot when searching for the best new restaurants in town. It's ran by a couple that runs another place called Bayberry Beer Hall that's also very popular. As the name implies the food from here has a locally grown and in-season feel. The fluke crudo (chili, strawberry, black lime) was a miss but mostly bc of the slicing of the fish. The other two dishes we tried had a nice regional element going for them and were much more enjoyed. First was a bowl of steamers (steamed clams) served with burnt tomato, onion, Fresno butter and sourdough that had some delicious meaty clams and a deep flavored broth that was finished with extra bread. Our main dish was an order of head-on shrimp served with chourico (local slang for Portuguese chorizo), "Spring things" and Johnny Cakes (another Rhode Island specialty which are pancakes made with corn meal flatbread). Dessert was a dish made with hot fried goat cheese puffs and blueberry ice cream. 

Dinner at Bayberry Garden 

Sal's Bakery (Providence) 

In Rhode Island pizza from bakeries is especially popular. It's called pizza strips and they're another popular local specialty. It tends to be cheese-less, served room temp, and cut into strips. Sal's Bakery is commonly mentioned as having some of the best so I rode over early one morn for breakfast. Sal's makes a classic strip similar to tomato pie and also a potato option made with potato. Delicious. 

Pizza Strips from Sal's Bakery 

Matunuck Oyster Bar (Wakefield)

This extremely popular waterfront spot is a feel good story between two people who share a passion for oysters and cooking and entertaining. The owner met the executive chef while peddling fresh caught steamers to local restaurants and they began a friendship that resulted in Matunuck Oyster Bar in the sleepy vacation town of Wakefield. Matunuck sits on the oyster farm that the owner built. He bought the property and brought in his then favorite chef and now it's one of the states most popular spots. It's a big space but be sure to get a reservation in high season bc everyone is here to eat fresh local seafood and the oysters I had at Matunuck (both from their farm and another) were as good as any I can remember. We almost got a third round of 12 despite a huge order of clams with linguini we also had coming. This was a great lunch and one I'd rec to anyone looking for a meal recommendation in Rhode Island. If you like fresh seafood it's worth the ride from anywhere in-state. 

Lunch at Matunuck Oyster Bar

Iggy's (Point Judith)

I'm going to just go ahead and say this before I get to my review of Iggy's. I messed up by coming here instead of going to a spot near the Port of Galilee which is where we were before coming here. That's an area where they ship out over 16 million lbs of seafood every year (including boatloads of calamari) and it seemed like some of the spots over there were better than Iggy's. But Iggy's had calamari topped with the east coast style hot peppers which is a Providence thing I've always enjoyed. For whatever reason all of the spots that I scoped out (and I looked at many) only served the calamari rings and not the tentacles which I thought was interesting. Rhode Island claims itself to be the calamari capitol of the world but I couldn't find any fried tentacles for the life of me. We also tried an order of Rhode Island style clam chowder and I have to give props to whoever came up with that idea (calling it RI style) after forgetting to add the cream. Iggy's is also famous for doughboys which are fried balls of dough. Most of the seafood shacks are for tourists but this one felt especially so. 

Fried Calamari at Iggy's 

Ma's Donuts (Middletown) 

Speaking of fried dough we drove by Ma's Donuts and it wasn't on my radar but I decided to stop for a Malassada which was mentioned on the sign. Malassada is Portuguese style fried dough. It's a popular morning snack in Portugal and communities were you find Portuguese people. I was hoping these would be more like the Malsada Puffs one finds in Hawaii but those are a thing of their own. 

Malassada at Ma's Donuts 

Oberlin (Providence)

The last time I was in Providence (circa 2000) it was a real red sauce Italian-American type dining scene and it still is as Federal Hill is alive and kicking. But there’s also the newish Oberlin which has some outstanding Italian food that’s of the non fried calamari rings and or chicken parm variety. It's been on my radar ever since it's appearance in the 2016 Bon Appetit list for best new restaurants in the country. We had an excellent meal from here that had some B graded plates as well as some A's. 

Crudo of Triggerfish and Fluke (A+)

Grilled Green Beans, Pine Nuts, Coastal Green & Seaweeds, Pecorino, Jalapeño (A+)

Chitarra Cacio e Pepe (B-)

Lumache with Oberlin Lonza, Sweet Corn, Shishito Peppers, Stracciatella, Mint (A)

Tommy's Clam Shack (Warwick)

We stopped at Tommy's bc my wife wanted fried clams and who am I to say no, we tried to have them every day we were out there. Tommy's wasn't at the top of my list but it was near where we were going and it does look cool. I'd known about it from the likes of Roadfood and such. It was ok. There's no such thing as a bad clam belly (not that I've tried anyway) but we knew the best were yet to come. What annoyed me about spots like Tommy's was they dont offer clams as is. You had to get a meal and those come with frozen fries that are nothing more than filler. I'd rather pay more for all clams. 

Fried Clam Bellies at Tommy's Clam Shack 

O Dinis (East Providence) 

My favorite non-seafood meal of the trip was a Portuguese Feast here at Dinis Place. The area where Rhode Island meets Massachusetts is home to the largest enclave of Portuguese people in the United States and O Dinis is one of the community’s favorite dining destinations. It's housed in a brick building in a residential part of town and it’s named for its founder, Dinis Paiva, a well known Fado singer in Portugal. Fado being a musical genre traced back to 1820’s Lisbon. You can catch live Fado on Monday nights but I went for the food and the atmosphere. There’s something about Portuguese taverns that are extra comforting to me. From the grub to the setup they’ve always been great places to eat and drink whether I was visiting one in places like Cape Town, Canada, or in Portugal itself. Plus it’s not a cuisine you’ll find much of in Chicago or the rest of the Midwest for that matter and that’s likely bc the Portuguese tended to settle near the ocean due to their deep roots in fishing. 

Clams in Garlic and White Wine at O Dinis 

I liken Portuguese cuisine to Greek food or to it’s neighbor Spain. When done well and traditions aren’t messed with it’s really good and pretty much no frills as far as prep and presentation goes. The food at O Dinis was exactly what I was hoping for in the form of a Bitoque which is slang for a classic steak and egg dish that at O Dinis is cooked in a phenomenal garlic beer broth. Plus an order of clams in garlic and white wine which were the best non-fried clams we came across on this trip. The type of spot that always has a crowd and it’s always a festive one. I hope I can visit again one day.

Bit O Que at O Dinis

Evelyn's Drive-In (Tiverton)

I had no plans to try Evelyn's even though I've seen it on Roadfood and also Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I was considering it but the reviews left me worried it would be a waste. Evelyn's is an old school clam shack that happens to serve the hyper local chow mein sandwich (this regional treat will be featured in my next report). They also serve a lobster chow mein plate that Guy Fieri featured but the reviews on it were bad after bad. The price ($30+ ) was also a little much for what might be bad food. But we ended up hanging out at the nearby Fogland Beach on a couple of occasions including our last morning in town before heading off to Massachusetts. So we stopped for an expensive order of fried clam bellies but as I previously stated I've never had a bad one and that includes these. 

Fried Clam Bellies at Evelyn's Drive-In

See ya next time @chibbqking 


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