While in Rhode Island I learned not only is it full of American history but jammed packed with amazing food establishments. The food scene is continually growing as evident with the recent successful Eat Drink Rhode Island event. The founder and president of Eat Drink Rhode Island, Dave Dedakian, met up with us at Easy Entertaining in Providence, Rhode Island to discuss the ever evolving food scene. Dave explained that Rhode Island is keeping pace with the dining scene in large cities. In Providence there are more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city. That is definitely trivia tip for you. The food culture in Rhode Island is a “melting pot” which everyone seems to help stir by keeping things local and collaborative. Here is a run down of some of my favorite spots that I had the pleasure of discovering on my trip:
In addition to a wonderful dining experience, Chef Matthew Varga was kind enough to let us tour Gracie’s rooftop garden. It is always extra special when you are able to see where elements of your food is coming from. Chef Varga is not planting a couple of tomatoes and some lettuce, calling it day. He has been studying different types of edible plants and he has a heart for foraging. He finds there are some wild plants that naturally grow in his garden and those are the ones he is most excited about. Again, striving to go above and beyond to be innovative but local. Our dinner was a series of one stand out plate to the next. Of course it almost seemed as if we weren’t going to make it passed the bread basket. Everyone was taking seconds and thirds of the honey glazed beer bread from Ellies Bakery. Next, I was served a Russet Potato Gnocchi that was very light. It seems contrary that I would call gnocchi light. It was served in a light broth with pieces of braised lamb, mushrooms, and carrots. It was followed up by a perfectly cooked duck with spatzle that tasted like brown butter.
It was a rainy spring day and the first stop on our trip was Easy Entertaining, owned by Chef Kate Roberts. As you enter Easy Entertaining you are instantly drawn into the cozy, shabby chic atmosphere. As I sipped on my thyme lemonade, I was charmed by the mason jar glasses and chalkboard menus. Local products fuel the menu as well as seasonal fare. We feasted on everything from local cheeses, to fried chicken sliders, to falafel salad. The falafel salad was honestly the best I have ever had. I am pretty sure if I lived in Rhode Island I would be there for lunch everyday digging into those crunchy chickpea nuggets!
The White Horse Tavern
Being at the White Horse Tavern is one-part dining and second part history class. Or maybe it is the other way around? The White Horse Tavern in Newport is a 300-year-old tavern, which makes it America’s oldest! It was converted from a residence to a public establishment in 1673. Head Chef Rich Silvia is committed to keeping the integrity of the building and the food practices. He feels a responsibility not only to Rhode Island but America, explaining that he is not only running a restaurant but curating history. It is statements like that they really left a lasting impression yet again about people in Rhode Island are less about ego’s and more about working together towards the greater good. Chef Silvia partners with famers, fish mongers, and encourages the sharing of ideas amongst the food community. Although Chef Silvia serves up amazing traditional dishes such as menu staple, Beef Wellington, he also puts his own spin on this tavern menu. I am pretty sure George Washington didn’t get the chance to dine on pork belly with house made kimchi, soft poached egg, and nori vinaigrette.
Johnson and Wales Culinary Arts Museum
If you are obsessed with all things food just like me than this is one museum that will speak to you. If the impressive display of over 200,000 items alone doesn’t impress you the examples of the student’s work certainly will. The museum is home to thousands of cookbooks, menu collections, kitchen appliances and recently there is a whole section dedicated to the American diner. Of course, being from Jersey every town has their diner so this really spoke to me heart. Not only do they have all the nostalgia you could ever want but they have on staff Curator Richard J. Gutman, who is an expert of the culture of Diners. He is a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond your disco fries and patty melt. in addition to vignettes about dinners in the White House and how Colonel Sanders branded KFC, JWU students have their work displayed. This made me almost never want to cook again. These students are artists and geniuses in the making. We had a chance to learn the art of pickling from two gracious and talented JWU students. I found myself instantly wishing I could turn back time and have one of my assignments be finding the perfect pickle brine!
This is one of the more unique places I have ever been too. This is not just a restaurant, art studio, or theater. Although, it is all those things the meaning behind it is much deeper. Bert Crenca, the founder, has made it his mission to create an uncensored environment for the arts. His dedication to preserving the culture of Rhode Island stems from the belief that freedom of expression creates a strong community. AS220 offers artists the opportunities to live, work, exhibit, or perform. Bert was inspirited by his time as an artist struggling to be seen and heard. He took his struggle and turned it into opportunity for thousands of people who come through As220 needing a place to be welcomed. Any art for you can think of exists within the AS220 building(s). Part of As220’s mission is not only to serve artists but to insist on building a culture that enforces embracing and respecting EVERYONE. As you walk through the studios you see all different kinds of people engaging in all different types of activities. You can’t help but be in awe of not only what people are creating here but the atmosphere is compelling as well.