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Report From Providence (very long)

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Report From Providence (very long)

Bob W. | Sep 25, 2002 12:01 PM

Overall, a good trip foodwise, with one expensive misstep. The following are in the order we visited them.

General notes:

1. Rhode Island has great coffee!! One constant on this trip, from top to bottom of the $$ scale, was good java. Which is very interesting, because....

2. Rhode Island has crappy water!! From Pawtucket to Narragansett, Mrs. W. grimaced every time she took a sip, and I have to agree. It's bad.

Now, on to the chow!

1. Harbourside Lobstermania, Water St., East Greenwich (1971).
I'm sure the name is enough to scare many people off, but DO NOT be fooled. While this place sounds and looks like a tourist trap, it's the real deal.

The menu reads like an all-star list of RI delicacies: stuffies, snail salad, grapenut custard, etc. "Lobstermania" actually refers to one of the house specialties, some sort of lobster casserole that did sound good.

We split a lobster roll (good) and then had steamed two-pound lobsters (very good). Grapenut custard for dessert; my piece didn't have the layer of grapenuts I was hoping for, but the custard had good grapenut flavor.

For those who like local color, you'll be surrounded on three sides by boats in East Greenwich harbor.

2. Coffee Exchange, Wickenden St., Providence (Circa 1985). Still a great place to spend a sunny morning. Excellent coffee (not to be confused with the Excellent Coffee Co.) and a fine array of pastries.

Two nearby cafes, Cafe Zog and Amy's Place, also looked good, but it's like Acme vs. Felix's in New Orleans -- once you choose your camp you've chosen for life.

3. House of Pizza, Division St., Pawtucket (1975). Nice to see that some things never change. The pizza is still fantastic. Superb crust, generous amounts of salty cheese and mushrooms -- canned of course :>).

Meatball grinder was also delectable. For the chowlinguists out there, note that HOP lists both hot and cold sandwiches under grinders, but steak sandwiches are listed separately.

4. New Rivers, Steeple St., Providence (Circa 1992). Here is where we ran into some trouble. Were our expectations too high? I don't think so.

The good: drinks were excellent, as were desserts (apricot-amaretto sorbet and berry shortcake)

The bad: appetizers. they all sounded good, but for $11-12 we expect to be wowed. The goat cheese and mushroom tart was good, not great, and the "nime chow" was not much beyond an ordinary spring roll.

The ugly: entrees. Mrs. W. got the grilled ribeye w/ optional wild mushrooms. It was both riddled with fat and overcooked. For $33, a complete disaster. Sent it back. Were told "this is the first time this has ever happened. The steaks have been incredible." Well, there's a first time for everything.

To replace that Mrs. W. chose the tortellini. Already out. Choice number 3 was shrimp on sugarcane skewers. It was fine, but by that point not fine enough.

I was going to get the tuna, but when the server first came over to our table she told us there was only one order left and by the time we ordered it was gone. So I decided on one of the "small plates," grouper with a sweet pea coulis. Supposed to be five oz. of fish, which is not a ton but still a proper portion, but what I got was puny, and the coulis was extremely watery. This was about three bites and three spoonfuls of food for $19. Small plate indeed!

Now, we expect to get a short menu in a bistro, but they should at least make sure the menu doesn't get even shorter by running out of food well before closing time.

Denouement: Our very nice and competent server comped us to the desserts. But we won't be back.

5. Original New York System, Smith St., Providence (1927). Having worked up a good appetite at Waterfire that New Rivers didn't satisfy, we headed over to my favorite weiner joint. The weiners are up to $1.17 apiece, but still taste great.

6. Rue de L'espoir, Hope St., Providence (circa 1975). Finally made it to the Rue after decades of driving past. Their Sunday brunch is quite an operation. While the food is delicious (omelets, french toast, scones, etc.), the coffee is top-notch, and the service very good, they need to slow things down!

We were expecting to spent an hour, hour and a half easy at brunch. We were in at 10 and out at 10:40. That's not too relaxing. The place was mobbed by the time we left; I would love to know how often they turn those tables on an average Sunday.

7. The Back Eddy, Route 88, Westport, Mass (2000). Perhaps not the best choice on a foggy night -- Route 88 from I-195 down to Horseneck Beach is a scary, creepy road. But the Back Eddy is really good!

We got smoked clam & corn chowder, fried scallops, and a "Lazy Susan" lobster casserole. Portions were generous and everything was full of flavor. Those fried scallops were as sweet as could be -- like candy the server said, and she was right. No room for dessert, which was a shame, since the gentleman at the next table had a crisp that looked really good.

Funny note: No iced tea, which is a "seasonal" item at the Back Eddy. LOL

Funny note number 2: The water in Westport was noticeably better than the water in RI.

8. Rufful's, Wayland Sq., Providence (circa 1957). Nice new paint job at this local landmark, and some gentle price increases since my last visit, but it's still a time warp visit. Breakfast was decent, but the local color "Howz ya fotha?" makes the difference. Also, the Monday lunch specials included American chop suey ($4.95) and you can get a fig bar too. Now that's Rhode Island.

9. China Inn, downtown Pawtucket (1975). 26 years and counting for Louie Yip's place. We got take-out to bring to my cousin. The food's ok, portions are generous, but many people rave about it, and Louie is a good guy.

Hot tip: across the street from the China Inn on the grounds of an apartment house are some lichee trees. We tried some lichees and damn, they were good. Sweet as could be. There's nothing like the taste of stolen fruit!

But wait, there's more!

10. Sandwich Hut, North Main Street, Providence (1963). Stopped here on the way to the airport. Got two Delux Grinders (TM) ($4.95 each) to take back to Va. (a week earlier someone had got some to take to Hawaii). Seven hours later we opened them up and -- bada bing -- they tasted just like the first one I got back in 1972. Their combination of coldcuts, pickles, hots, oil, lettuce, tomato, onion, on an excellent roll is still perfection.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

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