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Died and Gone to Providence

August 16, 2010

A year ago this week, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area on vacation.  Today I am in Providence, Rhode Island.  Not exactly in the same league, but still I’m very glad to be here.

In the past I’ve been unjustly criticized for wanting to make Albany more like San Francisco.  My reply at the time was, “I’d be happy if Albany were more like Providence.”  After all, on my master chart of Neilsen DMAs, Providence is only ranked 53.  Albany is very close behind it at number 57.

Yes, I understand that the Albany metros population covers a much larger geography, so it is not quite as dense.  But there are a lot of similarities.  We are both state capitals, we both have a bunch of universities, and we both draw tourists from major metropolitan areas.  But regrettably, I do not believe it is those things that are what makes Providence such a good food city.

To give you a sense of it, here is a snapshot from the past couple of days.

Friday’s Dinner
We went to a gussied-up throw-back soda fountain, where they make gourmet grilled peanut butter sandwiches, hot dogs, grilled cheese and lobster rolls in addition to their home made ice cream.  Of course I sampled a little bit of everything.  Young Master Fussy, the peanut butter expert, was in charge of cobbling together the peanut butter sandwich.  He chose dark chocolate peanut butter topped with marshmallow fluff, which was a delicious sticky mess.  While oddly the grilled cheese benefited from salt, the lobster roll was delicious.  And the coffee chip ice cream with chocolate sprinkles really had an assertive coffee flavor.

Coffee and traif would appear to be a theme.

Saturday’s Breakfast
I am not one to gush.  But the corned beef hash topped with poached eggs and toast that I had for breakfast was amazing.  There were crispy charred bits, soft and silky bits, bright green onion bits, and the most gorgeous poached eggs I have ever seen.  And while no pancakes are as good as those my father-in-law makes, when these were topped with homemade fruit compote and a silky whipped cream, I wasn’t complaining.  Especially when all of that sweet was followed by a nice bite of crisp smoky, salty bacon, and then washed down with a nice cleansing sip of coffee.  Holy cow.

Saturday’s Lunch
At the farmer’s market I spied a coffee roaster that was selling lightly-roasted cold-brewed single-origin iced-coffee.  That’s a lot of hyphens.  And if something like this is available in our neck of the woods, somebody please tell me quickly.  This was followed by homemade sausage from the gourmet sausage truck. I had the pork currywurst, and it was juicy and delicious. Chef Matt who is the mad genius behind the truck used to work at Oliveto. Small world.

Saturday’s Dinner
Providence has a vibrant Latin American population.  And Yelp guided me to a locally beloved sit down Mexican restaurant that sells traditional street tacos for $1.50 a pop.  For the uninitiated, that’s a soft corn tortilla with meat, onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  They even had barbacoa made from goats in addition to Oaxacan tamales and the best horchata I’ve had in a long time.

Sunday’s Breakfast
Yesterday morning my mother and sister chipped in and gave me an early birthday and Chanukah present – they took care of the kids and let me catch up on some sleep.  I cannot even begin to tell you how good that felt.  So breakfast was coffee with some sweet rich Portugese bread my step-father brought in from some local bakery.  I’m kind of glad I don’t have access to that bread all year long, because that could get dangerous.

Sunday’s Lunch
I finally made it out to a Rhode Island clam shack. The family sat on the water and feasted on lobster rolls, clam stuffies, and fried full belly clams overlooking the water.  I’m a newbie to the lobster roll, but this one was truly something special.  It was just pure, sweet, juicy lobster on a grilled bun.  Mayonnaise and drawn butter were served on the side.  I thought Little Miss Fussy would be interested in a sip of the melted butter, but apparently she only like to eat butter by the stick.

Sunday’s Dinner
I think I got the winning dish at a new gussied up Latin “Bistro” that takes traditional dishes from the many fine culinary cultures of Central and South America and brings them to an entirely different level.  My love for papusas is well documented, and this one came with two wild boar ribs that were braised in a housemade barbeque sauce.  Damn, those ribs were good.  And everything that night went beautifully with a glass of Gruet’s Brut Rosé.

But I am looking forward to getting back to Albany and seeing what Roxbury Farms has in store for me this week.  In the meantime, there is one espresso place that looks promising, even though my mother hates it.  However, since she also hates the Bonny Doon Framboise the place could totally be awesome.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2010 11:46 am

    I’ve never been to Providence, but this post has me thinking I should revisit Rhode Island. I was in Newport years ago and thought it was just beautiful.

    Aside from the Portuguese bread, did you have any other Portuguese food? It was my understanding that there’s a very high concentration of Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island, and I would think, Portuguese food, but perhaps I’m wrong.

  2. Chad permalink
    August 16, 2010 12:57 pm

    You’re right, Rhode Island has a relatively large Portuguese population. It’s definitely worthwhile to hunt out some ethnic specialties.

    I have a couple suggestions for you while in RI. In Providence, you should try out Cassarino’s on Federal Hill (Providence’s “Little Italy”). I had a fantastic meal there this spring at a very modest price (nearly all the entrees are under $20). I’d go back again in a heartbeat! This may also add fuel to your argument that Albany restaurants overprice/under deliver in comparison to restaurants in other mid-sized cities.

    I would also suggest you try to make it out to Newport (30-40min drive) for a day. You’ll find great food (fresh seafood, right on the water) and fun (hang out at the beach or stroll through the impressive cliffside mansions. If you need a suggestion, one of my favorite places is Flo’s Clamshack, right across from Atlantic Beach Club. Another great value as they have a fresh raw bar and plenty of local favorites. Hope you enjoy!

  3. MattB permalink
    August 16, 2010 2:40 pm

    Besides being denser, isn’t Providence a richer area than Albany? I’d think that would be a big determining factor — along with size — of how many good restaurant options there are.

  4. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    August 16, 2010 6:54 pm

    And you have to get a chocolate cabinet and coffee milk.

  5. August 16, 2010 7:38 pm

    Isn’t it great that Albany is just three hours from NYC, Boston, Montreal and slightly less than that from Providence? (Just couldn’t resist – sorry!)
    Love Providence – thanks for sharing.

  6. August 18, 2010 1:35 pm

    My GF lives behind nic’s (I live center square). Providence to me is a more walkable city (food, etc) but is a dirtier city, they have a zoo though.

    If you go again and want good bread-bakery-coffee Seven Stars is very good.

    And why can’t albany have good mexican food like el rancho. Maybe even a medicore taco truck(we dont have any do we?) That goat barbacoa is tasty.

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