A few simple tips visitors might want to know when it comes to ordering
ordinary things in Rhode Island’s restaurants. First, around
here, most of us drink our coffee regular. That means with cream
and sugar— very uncomplicated. Second, a cabinet is not a kitchen
cupboard; it’s a thick milkshake and it must be made with rich
and creamy ice cream. Third, be absolutely clear when you say you
want a grinder. It’s not the deck crew who trims your mainsail;
it’s the sandwich that the rest of New England usually calls
a sub or hoagie. And, one more thing: We like our stone-ground flint
cornmeal johnnycakes served with the freshest dairy butter, so hold
the maple syrup, please.
Having mastered the basics, you’re ready to venture deeper
into the pleasures of local dining. Not surprising, the best of Rhode
Island cuisine has a lot to do with the flavors of the sea. Ever
wonder why we’re called The Ocean State? It’s because
there are more than 400 miles of saltwater coastline. The best chefs
in town are absolutely confident about the freshness of the seafood
they have on their menus. The Catch of the Day is actually more like “the
catch of just a couple of hours ago.”
Chef Ted Gidley at the
Clarke Cooke House on Bannister’s Wharf says, “We consider
ourselves very Fortunate to have the bounty of Narragansett Bay at
our doorstep.” And, he is quick to add, “There is nothing
quite like just-caught striped bass.” Chef Gidley’s one-minute
pan-sauté of “striper” filets is prepared with
seven minutes of additional roasting in the oven, which gives the
fish a golden-bronze color. Forget about the heavy tartar sauce.
Chef Gidley plates it with citrus vinaigrette, chickpea puree and
a pickled rhubarb garnish and it’s not like any baked fish
you’ve ever tasted before.
A couple of docks down from the Cooke House kitchen, Chef Kevin
Gaudreau at The Pier Restaurant on Brown & Howard Wharf, says
that some of his basic recipes for raw bar delicacies can be easily
prepared in any galley. “Boaters can pick up great shellfish
at our local fishmongers” he says, “or if they would
like, they can dig up their own.
When I was a kid growing up in Jamestown we would go down to the
creek and dig up littleneck clams when we got hungry. “It was
so carefree and the clams were delicious.” Chef Gaudreau savors
those memories and carries his boyhood experiences forward to some
flavorful sauces that he creates for oysters, clams and shrimp. These
are intended, he says, to let the fresh flavor of the sea come through.
(Recipes on page 30.)
For the cooks on board, here are a couple of tips. Take a spin over
to the State Pier at the end of Long Wharf when the commercial fishermen
are returning to their slips and you can buy lobsters, shellfish
and fish right off the boats. Also, Aquidneck Lobster Company on
Bowen’s Wharf has a long icefilled tray of fresh fish in addition
to their lobster pound. Anthony’s Seafood on Aquidneck Avenue
in Middletown has both fresh seafood and a casual restaurant.
Of course, the best adventure option for finding fresh fish is to
join a charter captain like Capt. Joseph R. Aiello of Sara Star,
or Tom Mazza of Tom Kat for a day of deep-sea fishing and then plan
to keep enough of your catch for dinner and the freezer. With prior
arrangements, you can bring your fish to Café Zelda’s
kitchen door on Thames Street and their chefs will prepare it to
your liking and serve it at your table when you come in for dinner.
so much seawater around us, it’s easy to forget there are many
small, family-run farms on Aquidneck Island, too. One of the most
beautiful farms is Sweet Berry Farm, about five miles from Newport
Harbor. “We’ve had the entire crew of some of the yachts
come up here,” says Jan Eckhart, who owns and runs the farm
with his wife Michelle. “It seems they like to get off the
water to mix things up a bit, and picking their own apples, for example,
is a great way to provision before heading out on a cruise.” The
farm stand has expanded over the years from a little tent and table
where they sold baskets of strawberries to an upscale gourmet destination.
Chefs at the Sweet Berry Farm kitchen offer a daily menu of in-season
prepared foods, including entrees, panini, salads, wraps and specialties,
all made with the produce harvested just a few feet from the kitchen
door. Having a delicious lunch at the café or sitting outside
at the picnic tables and watching the farm tractor go by with a wagonload
of just-picked produce makes you never want to go to a supermarket
to buy food again.
Only a couple of miles from Sweet Berry Farm
are the two Aquidneck Island wineries— Greenvale Vineyards and Newport Vineyards.
We recommend taking a half-day wine tasting tour of both, which produce
small quantities of estate-grown wines. Located along the Sakonnet
River in Portsmouth, Greenvale has a unique history as a 19th century
working farm and over the past several years, has evolved into an
entertainment destination with live jazz on the weekends and highly
informative tastings and tours.
Our favorite way to get the full “farm-to-table” experience
in Newport is to go food shopping on the days when the local farmers
markets set up their tents and tables. The largest outdoor market
of fruit, vegetables, breads, meats, eggs, cheeses, seafood and products
such as local honey, berry jams and maple syrup, is the Aquidneck
Grower’s Market. It is held in a big, open field, every Saturday
from 9 am to 1 pm, June through October at 909 West Main Road in
Middletown, a location that overlooks Newport Vineyards. Many of
these same vendors set up again on Wednesdays, from 2 to 6 pm in
town on Memorial Boulevard. Look for their carts and pick-up trucks
on the left just as you pass the intersection with Bellevue Avenue,
a five-minute walk from Newport Harbor. Bristol, Barrington and Tiverton
also have multiple market days.
We have friends who only seem
to show up in town on the weekends when there are fabulous food
fests on the Newport waterfront. Newport has long been famous for
the Chowder Cook-Off and the Bowen’s
Wharf Seafood Festival. And, in recent years, the
has included a new wine and food festival at the Newport Mansions.
Every year the “Oktoberfest” gets bigger
with more oompah-pah, making it New England’s largest authentic
German celebration. That typically takes place the week after the
Festa Italiana, which follows the Hellenic festival at the Greek
Church on Thames Street. (Spanakopita! Baklava!)
If you’re one of the season’s
real early-birds, come to the Kinsale Ireland Festival of Fine
Food in March, an event that celebrates our sister-city ties. Or,
better yet, plan to be here for the Newport Restaurant Weeks. Twice
a year, spring and fall, for a low fixed price you can enjoy lunches
and dinners at dozens of area restaurants.The chefs create three-course
menus that send the food-bloggers to their keyboards with their mouths
watering even before the menus are published in the papers. One
of the most ravedabout dishes during Restaurant Week last March
was the “deconstructed” clam chowder served
at the new Tallulah on Thames. It was, as our blogger friend Andrea
M. writes, “an extraordinary experience.” She oohs and
ahhs over the way fresh, steamed little necks were arranged atop
a layer of diced potato, bacon and oyster crackers. The server, she
says, then poured a creamy clam broth into the bowl at her table.
The full datebook of the area’s food events is
easy to find at GoNewport.com.
Two simple words about a delicious
dish everyone who visits Newport must try, a meal that came to Rhode
Island generations ago with immigrant fishermen: Portuguese Soup.
If you see this listed on any menu, order it. It’s kale and
cabbage, with spicy chorizo and white pea beans, and it’s hearty
and tasty. The recipe has as many variations as there are cooks in
the state and after hundreds of bowls of kale soup, we’ve yet
to find one that we could improve on.
We can tell you that when
it comes to local cuisine, you’ll
always find the old Yankee favorites like apple cobblers and fried
clams, prime rib and steamed lobster, but you’ll also discover
that Rhode Islanders seem to have a knack for blending the flavors
and traditions of many cultures into something wonderful. What is
the true taste of Rhode Island? Well, last week we decided it was
a big-enough-for-two Scallop and Bacon Pizza with a Jim Beam Whiskey
and Maple sauce which we enjoyed at Fieldstones Portsmouth Grille
on East Main Road for just $11. What did we have with it? Local beer,
of course — frosty
pints of island-brewed Newport Storm’s Hurricane Amber Ale.
With so many fine restaurants and great local ingredients, we’re
sure that next week we’ll
find another great dish that tops our list of favorites.
Visitors enjoy a wine tasting at Greenvale
Vineyards located along the beautiful Sakonnet River in Portsmouth,
RI, five miles north of downtown Newport.