www.sidwainer.com) delivers very fancy produce (perfectly ripe melons, miniature eggplants, exotic small fruits) and specialty foods (every grain or dried bean you can think of, high-end olive oils and vinegars, smoked meats and salmon) to the best restaurants. In fact, Sid Wainer delivers to more than 23,000 restaurants. It's a good story - the company is based in New Bedford (2301 Purchase, Street 508-999-3665) where it began in 1914. No longer strictly local, Sid Wainer delivers its goods to many tony restaurants who are happy to have you believe that their chefs spend early morning hours in green markets or scouring the countryside for perfect vegetables. In fact, Sid Wainer is often the agent doing the hunting and gathering.
It's an easy excursion from Providence. Take I-195 East to Exit 14, merge onto Penniman Street and turn left at County Street which runs into Purchase Street. Sid Wainer is less than a mile from the exit. Bring a jacket - you will need it in the cheese and produce rooms.
Well-known to locals and regular visitors is the lengthy tasting bar where samples of Sid Wainer products are sampled directly (olive oils, jams, etc.) or as used in recipes (as in the white beans with ham pictured above). Yesterday, you could indulge with cups of blood orange juice, serve yourself some Domaine de Provence (one of their brands) chicken and duck pâté and sample bean soup. Repeat visitors get to know which days and times are best.
You are not shopping for bargains here. More that you're getting an idea what's out there - exotic little vegetables, edible flowers, cheeses direct from producers in France, Ireland, Wisconsin (or down the street in Marion), Serrano ham, top-of-the-line vinegars. And you learn a little about the restaurant business. Even the best places can't send staff off every day hunting for squash blossoms. You know that the expensive fruit purees sold at Sid's are used to save steps in the "house-made" sorbet production.
Put your warm clothes on and visit the cheese. Ask all the questions you want - the staff is helpful. This is a place to buy. The produce area is entertaining but not as useful (to me anyway) in the summer and fall when local Rhode Island and Massachusetts market stands supply just about everything including the squash blossoms. The room becomes more interesting in the winter. But if you have a fruit urge and require a quality orange in August this is where you'll find it.
It is hard to leave Sid Wainer's place empty-handed - people usually succomb to the cheese. And occasionally there are bargains, products Sid Wainer has too much of and needs to move out - that is my explanation for the purchase of an eight-pound tin of Swiss strawberry confiture.
If you want to make a day of it, visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum downtown (18 Johnny Cake Hill 508-997-0046), open seven days a week and have lunch at Cork (90 Front Street 508-994-9463), the tapas bar, by the working waterfront. www.corkwineandtapas.com