When I moved to Rhode Island five years ago, I felt like a misplaced transplant from the Land of Diners. During my teenage years in northern New Jersey, my friends and I ended countless late nights at 24-hour diners. College in central Jersey meant more late nights and the occasional diner study session. These weren’t “new retro” chains like Denny’s Diners or Johnny Rockets, but family-owned restaurants, each with their own character.
The first Providence-area diner I discovered was the Modern Diner, which deserves a post of its own, but unfortunately isn’t open past 3pm. I still needed a place to share milkshakes with dates and fries with friends. Imagine my excitement when I found Stanley’s, a short drive away in Central Falls. While it’s not open 24 hours, you can grab dinner there until 9 or 10 (and I’m no longer a teenager, so this will suffice). Stanley’s is the real thing – unlike some of the new “retro” diner chains, it’s actually been around since 1932.
Chili fries and poutine (credit: Jeremy May) and the inside of a bacon burger
I first heard about Stanley’s when lapetiteamericaine told me they served an Americanized version of poutine. I tried these and their chili fries, which are excellent. They serve up the perfect diner-burger: flat, tender and topped with caramelized onions. Add a frothy milkshake and you have the classic diner experience.
If you’re a Stanley’s fan, I have great news – they’re busy constructing a second location in Providence’s Jewelry District. If we’re lucky, maybe it’ll have later hours to keep the area nightlife fed.
535 Dexter St., Central Falls, RI
Lately I’ve been occupying my scarce leisure time with an important assignment – clipping the most interesting recipes from my stack of cooking magazines. Luckily, one of the few I’ve tried was a keeper – I’ve already made it twice in two weeks. It’s extremely quick, healthy and perfect for fall.
It isn’t pictured in the magazine, and now I know why – it’s not terribly photogenic.
The recipe is “Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard” from the March 2006 issue of Bon Appetit. It took me a very easy half-hour to make because I cut the butternut squash ahead of time. I added more than the recommended amount of chili powder, extra hot sauce, and substituted vegetable with beef broth for a heartier flavor. Great to bring to work for lunch.
Portion increase is a hot topic these days, blamed for the obesity of younger generations. Most of the time I prefer smaller portions at restaurants, but I make an exception for hearty food that makes me feel like I’m at a family dinner.
Italian might be the perfect cuisine for large portions. Imagine a giant bowl of pasta fit to feed four, or chicken parmesan as large as a dinner plate. Here are a few places in Rhode Island you can go for a great meal and great leftovers:
1. Angelo’s Civita Farnese – Providence’s Federal Hill is an obvious choice for Italian, and Angelo’s – just past the famed pineapple on Atwells – has been serving up affordable home cooking since 1924. One of the reasons everyone loves Angelo’s is that you never know who you’ll sit next to, as it’s frequented by Providencians of every walk of life. Their eggplant parmesan has been awarded by the Phantom Gourmet.
2. Twin Oaks – Drive into a Cranston residential neighborhood and just when you think you’re lost, you’ll see a large (and usually full) parking lot. Just like the portions, the restaurant is gigantic, having grown immensely since its former life as a 1930s speakeasy. Waiters and bartenders dress to the nines, but you don’t have to. A classic cocktail should help you relax as you browse the menu, and don’t miss the daily specials.
3. Am I being selfish? I want to keep this one a secret. Like Twin Oaks, it’s hidden in a residential neighborhood. You can get a bottle of wine for just over the price of the average glass, and the leftovers last for several meals. Where is it? Maybe I’ll tell…one day.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending Food for Thought, an annual event for which some of the best restaurants in Rhode Island come together to raise money for the Genesis Center‘s culinary arts training program.
This year it was held in Roger Williams Park’s lush botanical center. Guests wandered through the greenhouse to sample the signature dishes served up by each restaurant. Three really stood out for me:
Photos: Sunrise Land Shrimp (credit: David Winthrop) and Gracie’s
1. El Rancho Grande – guests who hadn’t yet heard of this Mexican restaurant were asking for an address as they raved about the food. I’ve already had the pleasure of eating there but was still amazed – they brought the tenderest chicken in mole sauce, tamales both savory and sweet, shrimp in a red sauce and palm-sized sopas.
2. Gracie’s - I love everything I’ve eaten at Gracie’s, and their elegant dessert was no exception. Four delectable flavors were layered in a slim, cone-shaped vial: a puree of stewed amarillo cherries, Meyer lemon curd and two creamy mousses. To top it off, explosive pop-rock toffee and a star-shaped cookie brushed with gold dust.
3. Sunrise Land Shrimp - I was excited to try Sunrise Land Shrimp’s specialty: bugs! The crickets and grasshoppers were certainly snackworthy, but I was blown away by the mean-looking waterbug, which provides meat with a crab-like consistency. We were told the flavor would be much like a jolly rancher, which seemed hard to believe, but was spot on – tangy, fruity and very intense. I recommend the experience (to the non-squeamish, of course).
Cultural festivals are a fun and inexpensive way to get a home-cooked meal and a taste of culture. This fall, I made it to a church’s Greek festival and the German club’s Oktoberfest, both in Pawtucket. Put these on your calendar for next year!
Photo: Greek pastries and coffee
The German American Cultural Society in Pawtucket holds its annual Oktoberfest on a weekend in September (for up-to-date event listings, check out their website). Their club is in a Pawtucket residential neighborhood and seems quite inconspicuous – you’d hardly expect the mirrored ballroom, stage, and two bars hiding inside. The Oktoberfest event has entertainment and some delicious food and drink options. Various sausages are grilled outside and served with sides such as potato pancakes. For dessert, you have your choice of home-baked cakes and pies. And of course, don’t forget the beer!
This August was my first time at the Annual Grecian Festival, held at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church. If I knew how good the food was, I’d have been going every year. I had a sampler plate piled with Greek favorites like Spanikopita and Mossaka and my boyfriend tried the Lamb Shank. Just when I thought it was over, we noticed the pastry table, which was stocked with at least 8 types of pastry, each more mouth-watering than the next. What’s a girl to do? I got a box and one of each. We also tried Greek coffee and Metaxa. Unfortunately we missed the entertainment – maybe next year.
I grew up near New York City, so when I visit, I’m not drawn to the usual tourist attractions. Instead, I look to fulfill some need Rhode Island isn’t able to meet – odd stores, exotic cuisine, out-there art.
Believe it or not, Rhode Island doesn’t have one German restaurant. So before my latest trip to the big apple, I made a map of all the German restaurants in Manhattan, pining for good beer and a sausage plate. Unfortunately we only had time for one, and we chose Loreley.
Loreley is modeled after the pubs of Cologne, where the owner once lived. The biergarten’s communal tables will look familiar to anyone who has downed a liter in Deutschland, and the restaurant’s interior has an upscale coziness. Their 12 taps hold old favorites as well as seasonal beers (like Oktoberfest brews). They also offer Cologne’s specialty, Kölsch.
We each worked our way through a liter – I had the Hofbräu Helles, my boyfriend opted for the Köstritzer Schwartz Bier, both were excellent. As for food (which was certainly needed to soak up the beer), we ordered freshly baked pretzels with mustard, currywurst, a plate of assorted sausages, and aged gouda-topped rye bread. We left satisfied, slightly tipsy and vowing to return.
Loreley, 7 Rivington St. (Lower East Side), http://www.loreleynyc.com
In America, the act of buying a cup of coffee has become synonymous with grabbing a paper “to go” cup.
Though I’m guilty of the occasional paper cup, for me the price of coffee at a cafe does not only include pouring hot water over coffee beans – I can do that at home for a fraction of the price. I see it as a short-term rental of a seat and some atmosphere. Getting coffee “for here” not only buys the cafe experience, but if you are in the right cafe, also affords the feel of a warm ceramic mug and the sight of a well-made coffee (I often can’t resist a photo). Here are some of my favorite places in Providence to get coffee to stay. Of course, there are many more, so this post might warrant a second installment.
clockwise, from top left: The Edge, Cafe Choklad, Olga’s Cup and Saucer, Roba Dolce
Here are my notes on each: (click link to view) Continue reading