Sunday, June 26, 2011


Le Central (483 Hope Street, Bristol, RI  401-396-9965) has a menu I enjoy - French comfort food (cassoulet and coq au vin) combined with classic New England (chowder, lobster and cod). The space is big, airy and relaxed enough to feel like a neighborhood restaurant. And it's open for lunch - the place to go for a lobster BLT.

What some people may not know is that Le Central has a full bar now and serves local oysters for a dollar on Sunday and Monday nights.

Monday through Thursday there's a full tapas menu from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. Put that together: on Mondays you can begin with tapas and move on to oysters.

Monday, June 20, 2011


The Coastal Wine Trail ( is a string of nine Rhode Island and Massachusetts wineries running from Westerly, RI to Truro, MA. From west to east, they are:

Langworthy Farm Winery in Westerly, RI  (
Newport Vineyards in Middleton, RI  (
Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, RI  (
Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, RI  (
Westport Rivers in Westport, MA  (
Coastal Vineyards in South Dartmouth, MA  (
Running Brook Vineyards in North Dartmouth, MA  (
Travessia Urban Winery in New Bedford, MA  (
Truro Vineyards in Truro, MA  (

This coming Saturday, June 26, the group will hold its 4th annual Coastal Wine Trail Festival. The host winery is Sakonnet Vineyards (162 West Main Road, Little Compton  401-635-8486). All the wineries, along with Newport Storm brewery (, will be there. On the food side, the range of participants is impressive: Matunuk Oyster Bar, Nantucket Wild Gourmet, Salt Water Farms, Persimmon, Smoke & Pickles, The Sunnyside, Milk and Honey Bazaar, to name a few. Note: there are extra charges for the raw bars.

It's a walk-around, one-big-tent affair, rain or shine.

Saturday, June 26    1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.    $45.00 per person
Call 401-635-8486 x116 or reserve through the Sakonnet website

Deadline for ticket purchase is 5:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 22

Sunday, June 19, 2011


My preference is a single perfect cheeseburger not a lot of little ones. Too much bun. But little ones are popular - Harry's Bar & Burger (see 6/4/10 post) on North Main (401-228-7437) in Providence has been successful selling bitty burgers and lots of beer to a very young clientele in a restaurant not much bigger than the sliders. /

Next door, at 125 North Main (401-273-9090), the newly reborn XO Steakhouse (quickly transformed from Cafe Noir via paint,  snappy awning and a more conventional - i.e. locavore, etc. - and more expensive, menu) serves big burgers at the bar. Note: bar menu is distinct from table menu. Pronounced terrible by a friend, the burgers were topped with something called "chicken fried bacon" which didn't go over well. Sampling from the table menu (house-made tenderloin meatloaf and baby roast chicken) was more successful although not ah-inducing. The physical redo from Cafe Noir is barely noticeable but the wait staff is new and better. The intention, reportedly, was to attract a hipper crowd (read younger, spending more on drinks).

Really good sliders are on the menu downtown at the revamped Tazza (250 Westminster St, Providence  401-421-3300). In fact, all the small plates we tried were satisfying. Of course, we had just walked a couple of miles and were happy to be in out of the rain. Still, all was good (especially the Thai curry soup bowl) and the sliders were terrific. The new Tazza is very modern and I'm sure there is some grumbling about that. No more comfy lounge seats but no more people in residence for the day either.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Westport Rivers (417 Hixbridge Road, Westport, MA  508-636-3423) is 25 years old this summer. One of their celebratory events is a Pinot Noir Barrel Tasting and food fest. The chef is Frank McClelland, owner/chef of L'Espalier ( and owner too of Sel de la Terre, both in Boston ( Also participating are Erik Johnson, sommelier for the restaurants and Tyler Balliet of Second Glass, the net wine page. Lots of charcuterie, pickles, cheese, crispy pork belly, grilled shrimp, etc. to be washed down with red wine. Call to reserve (a must).

Saturday,  July 9th     4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.    $85.00 per person

Coming up: chardonnay tasting on July 30 

Sunday, June 12, 2011


My fear that good burgers were not available in Rhode Island was unfounded - several excellent candidates for great burger have been identified. BUT, the best have been served in atmospheres too tony for proper cheeseburger appreciation. What's with this? Do you really go to New Rivers or Cook & Brown Public House for a burger and is it really a burger if it's served with ratatouille, if you eat it while drinking red wine? I think not. Important issues here. So we've tried a corner bar (actually mid-block), Ivy Tavern (758 Hope St), and Fat Belly's (at the foot of Steeple St - part of a Rhode Island mini-chain), and Trinity Brewhouse (on Fountain Street in downtown Providence). Ivy Tavern is an okay place and the burger is decent but there's nothing notable about the venue or menu to draw you back. Fat Belly's is too fake old for me but my friend thinks it's okay. The atmosphere is similar to those ersatz Irish bars where the woodwork is gorgeous and every detail looks "historic" from the moment the place opens for business. The burger was ho-hum. And Trinity Brewhouse, far from cozy, produces a so-so burger.

Doherty's East Avenue (342 East Avenue, Pawtucket  401-725-1800) is more what I had in mind. The furnishings weren't rescued from an Irish castle and the bar isn't a thirty-foot expanse of mahogany; in fact, it's borderline tacky. The crowd runs young to old, a mix of types. Doherty's is busy from early evening to late. It's an after-the-movies option.

The menu is typical bar food, heavy on whatever you can fry or load with butter. The beer list is huge. The burger is satisfying, points off for being pre-shaped and served on an over-large bun but points in favor for really good taste. Doherty's, located way up on East Avenue in Pawtucket (Hope Street turns into East Avenue at the Pawtucket line) doesn't get the end-of-day bar business of suited young lawyers you see downtown or on South Main; it draws from a wider city. Maybe that's why it seems so relaxed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Next on Ocean House's dinner calendar is a feast from local waters. Chefs Mark Mellinger and Eric Haugen will preside. Menu isn't specific but includes passed hors d'oeuvres, three courses and wines. Along with a view.

Wednesday, June 15     7:00 p.m.    $75.00 per person plus tax and tip

Ocean House (Watch Hill, RI  401-584-7000)


Hemenway's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar (121 South Main, Providence  401-351-8570) is serving a Pacific Northwest wine dinner on Wednesday, June 15. Michael Wylie and George Foote of Chateau Ste Michelle ( will lead the way through wines from Chateau Ste Michelle  and Oregon's Erath Winery (/ All this will wash down four-courses including oysters three ways, Alaskan salmon and Creekstone sirloin.

Wednesday, June 15        6:30 p.m.  $69.00 per person plus tax and tip

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


You know it's summer when Chez Pascal (960 Hope St, Providence  401-421-4422) rolls its hot dog cart (best ever) across the street to Lippitt Park. When you slather your hot dog with one (or more) of the Chez Pascal house-made relishes and take that first bite, it's a good moment. The hot dog cart is out Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. when the weather cooperates. Cheap and satisfying lunch date.

P.S. Chez Pascal's hots dogs are big, not like those runty little ones sold by the wiener chains.

Also back at Lippitt Park for the summer (and through October) is the Hope Street Farmers Market, open Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons.

Saturdays 9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m (though 9:00 isn't great - some vendors are slow to set up)
Wednesday afternoon - 3:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


International House of Rhode Island (8 Stimson Avenue, Providence  401-421-7181) is a non-profit center where international newcomers (all ages) and long-time members of the community come together. Non-English speakers can take ESL classes and/or get tutoring. In the process, members enjoy a cross-cultural social interchange, participating in cooking classes, taking yoga, going on field trips, etc. The organization schedules lots of events. Look at the website ( for more information.

If you are interested in attending one of their feasts, call to see if there is space at the Friday, June 10 Festa D'Estate dinner where Claudia Leotta will be preparing Sicilian antipasto, pasta and fish.

$25.00 non-members; $15.00 students. 
6:00 p.m. Friday      Call now.  401-421-7181

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The annual Strawberry Festival at Smith's Castle is Saturday, June 18th.
wild strawberries - j. billinger
The original Smith's Castle (155 Richard Smith Dr., Wickford, North Kingstown  401-294-3521), built by Richard Smith, was the first "English" residence in the area then known as Cocumscussoc. Home to the Narragansett tribe, Cocumscussoc is where Roger Williams established a trading post in 1637. The castle was burned in 1676 following a very bloody period between colonists and natives; Smith junior rebuilt in 1678. In 1740 the Updike heirs remodeled the home to what it looks like today. The history of Smith's Castle is a story of the good, the bad, the ups and the downs of Rhode Island fortunes over four centuries but only the good is celebrated in June when homage is paid to the local strawberry.

Saturday, June 18   12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Rain date: June 19

Smith's Castle, 155 Richard Smith Dr. (off Route 1), Wickford, North Kingstown. 401-294-3521

Friday, June 3, 2011


John Mariani*, the famed Esquire restaurant reviewer (though who is it, I wonder, who actually reads Esquire?) is promoting his new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World,  at DeWolf Tavern (259 Thames Street, Bristol  401-254-2005) on Thursday, June 16th. Guest for the evening is Mary Ann Esposito, of the PBS show, Ciao Italia. DeWolf Tavern's chef/owner Sai Viswanath (growing famous himself) will be serving an Italian-themed dinner and choosing wine pairings. A gracious host, Viswanath gets extra credit in my book for keeping his kitchen open late enough so you can eat after going to 2nd Story Theatre in Warren.

Thursday, June 16th  -  $60.00 per person or $110.00 per couple including the book (one per couple). Call for reservations and time.

*a note on John Mariani - Google Mariani and you'll read the usual, his years as restaurant critic for Esquire, his wine column for Bloomberg News, and about his blog/newsletter ( etc. But you can also read the dirt, or figurative food-slinging, going on between him and Grant Achatz, chef/mega-star of Chicago's Alinea. Kind of entertaining.