Take a weekend trip to experience the small city with big taste. Here's a rundown of the area's hottest culinary spots.
As home to culinary school Johnson & Wales, Rhode Island's capital city tends to snag its share of new graduates. For dining patrons, that means there is always a steady supply of talent in the city’s restaurant kitchens. Add to that, a rich cultural heritage from generations of Portuguese and Italian immigrants —and proximity to rich agriculture New England and the ocean — and the small city of Providence has become a big destination for foodies, especially those who appreciate the farm-to-table approach.
One of Providence’s most essential reservations is New Rivers (7 Steeple Street, 401-751-0350), located near Brown University in an 18th century river warehouse. Last year, the long-time chef Beau Vestal took over the restaurant as owner. His speciality? Cured meats including sweet and salty pork belly that melts like candy on the tongue, strips of succulent pastrami beef tongue and smoked fish. The menu leans into seasonal ingredients and showcases Rhode Island's natural bounty of seafood with dishes like the maltagliati — a pasta dish served with local clams and tuscan kale.
Gracie's (194 Washington Street, 401-272-7811) in downtown Providence is another stop for farm-fresh junkies: The best way to eat here is to leave it to the chef. After a few questions from the server — who are among the friendliest and most helpful in the city — the chef will send out a surprise five-course tasting menu ($75) — perhaps with things like a slow-poached farm egg or sea scallops served with a maple-glazed pork belly, all flavored with herbs grown in the restaurant's rooftop garden.
Sunday brunch is a sleepy affair in Providence but well worth rising for to down two things: Pork belly and brussel sprout hash and a Dirty Red Snapper, a house special bloody Mary mix with gin and olive juice at XO Café (125 N. Main Street, 401-273-9090). The restaurant defies the farm-to-table stereotype and instead rocks more of let’s-do-one-more-shot-of-whiskey atmosphere. Fittingly, the menu is has all kinds of hangover busters, like the XO Benedict, a local short rib served with chive potato pancake and chipotle Hollandaise.
For the serious foodie — as in you like to pick out the chicken you kill for dinner — a visit to Antonelli Poultry Company in the city historic Italian Federal Hill district is another must do. The best way to navigate the area is to sign up for the Savoring Federal Hill culinary tour (401-934-2149, $50) with chef Cindy Salvato. Salvato, a former professor at J&W, escorts folks through local purveyors -- like the live chicken shop and bakeries —to view and taste some of the most authentic just-like-your-noni-made-it Italian goodies. One word of advice: Reserve early, the popular tour has a months long waiting list.