INTRO:

Amy & I are big fans of the couch surfing project.  If you haven’t heard of Couch Surfing, the premise is simple, you open up your home to out of town guests! It’s like letting a friend of a friend stay at your place for a couple of days. The friend you both have in common is Couch Surfing, which is an online community of travelers (http://www.couchsurfing.org).

The surfers (i.e. your guests) are vetted by the website in a number of different ways. There are reviews by previous hosts, the surfer’s profile where you can get a feel for their personality (for instance, if I received a request from someone who was in their 40′s and travelling the world following the Justin Bieber concert trail,  I might think twice about accepting their request), as well as a “vouching” system.

The long & short of it is Couch Surfing it not for everyone (in fact, most of my friends think we’re nuts), but if you have an open mind, enjoy traveling, experiencing other cultures, and/or just enjoy showing off your hometown, then it might be for you!

So, all of that is a long way to say that we often have people from out of town staying at our house. After the first few times I quickly saw that it made sense to put together a list of “Mike & Amy approved” activities & places in Providence/Rhode Island. Because we are who we are it seems to be focused around food & drink, but there is also other “stuff to do” as well! Anyway, I thought it might be helpful for anyone visiting the littlest State, so I thought I’d post it here. Enjoy!

MA

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Rhode Island Travel Guide

Ok, it’s mostly an eating guide, but there are also suggestions for a few things to do between meals.

Rhode Island EATS:

Providence has a well deserved reputation as a fantastic restaurant town, especially for it’s size. As a result, there are fine dining restaurants of every stripe available here (though admittedly a bit Italio-centric). If interested I can provide a list of truly excellent full service restaurants to check out as well. HOWEVER, since the assumption is that your time (and budget) is limited, there are several very regional (i.e. “rhode island only”) dishes that you need try during your stay, and thankfully, these tend to be available at decidedly more affordable places….usually with lots of local color thrown in at no cost (read: any wiener joint in the state!)!

With that said, here is a list of regional dishes, usually available only in Rhode Island, that you should try while you are in our state…..

Hot wiener’s (Gagga’s, Weenies, etc.)

What are they? Small, natural casing,  hot dogs with a “mystery” chili/meat sauce. Getting them “all the way” means mustard, raw onions, meat sauce, and celery salt. They are very tasty, but beware…they will stay with you! Several years back I did a “taste of Rhode Island” trip with a group of friends where we went to and rated as many wiener joints as we could get to. I don’t recommend this. However, a couple of weenies at any of the places below is time well spent!

1. Olneyville NY System (Original Restaurant)

20 Plainfield St. Providence RI 02909

2. SAM’s New York System

1031 Mineral Spring Ave North Providence RI 02904

3. Original New York System

424 Smith St Providence, RI 02908

Pizza Strips

As an out-of-stater, pizza strips for me took some getting used to. They are odd to be sure, but when done well they are delicious! Basically just bread dough topped with a modified tomato sauce. No cheese. Their simplicity is their brilliance. It’s all about good crusty bread (corner pieces are much preferred for this reason), and well spiced, fresh tasting, tomato sauce.

1. D. Palmieri’s Bakery

624 Killingly Street, Johnston RI 02919  401.621.9357

These are the best! Most things here are really good in fact. I’d recommend an “old fashioned” pizza strip (only if you love garlic though) and a regular.

2. Crugnale Bakery

1342 Douglas Avenue, North Providence RI 401.353.7166

Pizza strips here are really good.

3. DeFusco’s Bakery

1350 Park Avenue, Cranston (401) 944-0650

They also have decent eclairs and their spinach pies are also very good.

Coffee Milk

Milk mixed with a local coffee syrup. It can be ordered at any diner or “NY System” wiener shop….when ordering wiener’s you are required to have coffee milk. State law.

Calamari

Rhode Island style calamari is the only way I’ll eat it now. Marinara sauce is for the birds. Rhode Island style calamari is squid rings & tentacles breaded & deep fried then mixed with hot banana peppers. I’ve sometimes seen marinara on the side, but usually not. In any event, it’s not needed. Fresh lemon is typically served along side, but it can also be incorporated into a light butter/lemon sauce.

1. Mike’s Kitchen

70 Randall Street, Cranston, RI 02920 (401) 946-5320

If you are having trouble finding Mike’s because there is a VFW where the restaurant should be…don’t worry that IS the restaurant!

2. Caffe Dolce Vita

9 DePasquale Square, Providence, RI 02903 (401) 331-8240

3. Any suggestions?

Spinach Pies

Not a pie at all! Basically just a calzone with spinach as the filling. No cheese, just spiced spinach filling and onions.

1. D. Palmieri’s Bakery

624 Killingly Street, Johnston RI 02919  401.621.9357

2. DeFusco’s Bakery

1350 Park Avenue, Cranston (401) 944-0650

3. Recommendations?

Cabinet

This one I can’t figure out. In Rhode Island, and ONLY in Rhode Island for whatever reason a milkshake is milk mixed with flavorings (so I guess coffee milk is really a milkshake?) and a cabinet is what the rest of the country calls a milkshake. With that said, pretty much everywhere you go a milkshake is a real milkshake (i.e. with ice cream)…but I have seen a few places that have both cabinets AND milk shakes.

1. SAM’s New York System

1031 Mineral Spring Ave North Providence RI 02904

2. Newport Creamery

Garden City Center, 100 Hillside Road, Cranston  (401) 944-3397

3. Gray’s Ice Cream (Tiverton is in the boonies…but this place is worth the trip! Try the Ginger Ice Cream.)

16 East Road, Tiverton Four Corners, Tiverton  (401) 624-4500

Chowder

RI has it’s own type of chowder. Just to be different I think. For my money there is only one REAL chowder, and that’s New England Clam Chowder. I’ve only had the RI Style chowder once and I can’t say I’m a fan. It’s made with broth, clams, potatoes, onions, spices, bacon, etc.. Pretty basic. Give me the full fat, creamy, New England variety over this any day. However, since we are also in New England I’ll list my favorite New England Style clam chowders….

1. Aiden’s Pub

11 John Street Bristol, RI 02809  401.254.1940

Simply the best clam chowder ever. 30 minutes is not too far to drive for awesome chowder and a good Guinness 30! Plus, Bristol is a quaint little town worth seeing in it’s own right.

2. Liberty Elm Diner

777 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI  401.467.0777

Their chowder is outstanding…but so is everything else on the menu! Blackbird Farms Burger anyone???

3. Recommendations?

Stuffies

Stuffies are stuffed Quohogs. Quohogs are clams. Ergo, stuffies are stuffed clams…and delicious ones at that! Usually well spiced with clams, pepper sauce, lemon, bread crumbs, onions, peppers, then stuffed in a clam shell, baked, and served with lemon and hot pepper sauce.

1. Recommendations?

2. Recommendations?

3. Recommendations?


Diners

As Rhode Island is the birthplace of the diner it is only appropriate to list a few of the best local diners! Technically, any of the hot wiener places above are diners (and all great ones at that!). However, for my money a true diner has to be in a Worcester dining car. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant that serves breakfast & lunch…

1. Liberty Elm Diner

777 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI  401.467.0777

This place is awesome! Everything is outstanding and most food is locally sourced. I get the turkey sandwich every time (as for the “Guy”)…with a cup of chowda. Their chowder is some of the best in the state.

2. Jigger’s Diner

45 Main Street, East Greenwich, RI  401.884.5388

One word. GingerbreadPancakes. Everything is good here, but don’t try everything, try the gingerbread pancakes.

3. Modern Diner

364 East Avenue, Pawtucket  401.726.8390

I’ve unfortunately not been here yet, but from everything I’ve read & heard this place is legit.

Portugese Food!

Granted, Portugese food isn’t exclusive to Providence. HOWEVER, RI (& Southern Mass.) has more Portuguese people per capita than anywhere but Portugal. Fact. Now that I’ve explained WHY the Portugese food here is so legit, let’s explore why it’s worthwhile. I can narrow that down to the following 1) Sausage is delicious (and especially delicious if served flaming on a ceramic pig) 2) dual starches should be more prevalent in every cuisine, 3) Vinho Verde is both delicious and affordable, and 4) they offer a good mix of seafood & meat dishes! Take all that into account and check out these great Portuguese-centric places in the area:

1. Chaves Market / Columbia Street

9 Columbia Street, Fall River, MA  508.679.4410 (20 min. from Providence, but a world away!)

Fall River is like taking a trip to another country…Portugal for instance. A strange, strange place, in a good way! Check out Columbia Street for some great restaurants and butcher stores, then end up at Chaves Market which is worth the drive alone! Soak up that atmosphere! A great local market.

What to get: Chorizo, Vinho Verde, baccala, Portuguese sweet bread, etc.

2. Silver Star Bakery

150 Ives Street, Providence, RI  401.421.8013

We go to Silver Star for one thing, and one thing only: Portuguese sweet bread! Everything else might be incredible (I’ve heard as much), but their sweet bread is the best!

3. O Dinis Restaurant

579 Warren Avenue, East Providence, RI  401.438.3769

Great little local restaurant. Authentic food, drinks, and atmosphere. This place is legit. Picture a table full of older, hard nosed fishermen, just off the boat, sitting around a table speaking in Portuguese and drinking white wine…and the owers & waitresses kids running around everywhere.

I get the same thing here every time: hot chorizo appetizer then pork alentejana (spicy pork & potato stew), though everything we’ve had in here has been really, really good.

BEVERAGES

I love beverages! And people get thirsty when visiting Providence.

1. E&O Tap

89 Knight Street Providence, RI 02909  (401) 454-4827

Great local bar on the West Side of Providece. Great mix of people, good drink options, and good prices. Usually they play pretty awesome music as well (unless Kevin is working…he usually plays awesome music, but you might also be subjected to songs from Billy Ocean or Richard Marx depending on his mood).

2. The Avery

18 Luongo Memorial Sq Providence, RI 02903

This place is just around the corner from E&O so it makes a good mini bar crawl (which is different than going from mini-bar to mini-bar)…especially when combined with Julians and/or the Skurvy Dog which are both walking distance.

3. Julians

18 Broadway, Providence RI  (401) 861-177

Good selection of beer, decent food, funky atmosphere.

4. Skurvy Dog

1718 Westminster St Providence, RI 02909

Usually good punk/alternative tunes playing. Decent selection of beers at good prices. Pretty funky little place. Plus, no sign outside which is a bonus, and from the outside it kind of looks like you may be walking into a murder room.

5. Track 84

4 Kilvert Street Warwick, RI 02886  (401) 739-8484

A strange & wondrous place! If you are a beer geek this is the place for you. Excellent selection. Odd mix of people, odd location (across from the airport in a residential neighborhood), and not much character inside. All that said however, the selection makes this place worth a stop!

6. Coffee Exchange

207 Wickenden Street, Providence, RI 02903  (401) 273-1198

For when it’s too early to drink anything but coffee. Coffee Exchange is the real deal. Free WiFi, and very near Benefit Street. Plus, Wickenden Street is worth checking out as well. If Nadia is working say HI…she is also a couch surfer!

…and Now for the travel part….

If I had only day to see PVD here would be my recommendations.

A good place to start your trip would be a the Roger Williams National Memorial Visitors Center. First it’s an historic location, but mostly they are very helpful there and will make sure you have enough info to get the most out of your trip.

1. Walk down Benefit Street. Very nice historic residential street with some beautiful old colonial era houses. The John Brown house is available to tour.

2. While on Benefit Street the Providence Athenaeum is worth a visit. One of the first private libraries in the country. http://www.providenceathenaeum.org/

3. Also along Benefit is the RISD Museum. RISD is one of, if not the, best art schools in the country. The museum is very good, inexpensive, and a wide range of exhibits.

4. RI State House tour. You can tour the state house building…I’ve not actually done it myself, but i’ve heard it’s pretty interesting. It’s right downtown so very easy to get to.

5. Walk along Atwells Avenue. Federal Hill is the “Italian section” (historically) of Providence and Atwells Ave is the heart of it. Lots of really good restaurants, shops and Italian markets. Here’s a RI “fun fact” Federal Hill is the home of the New England mob, so that guy up there that looks like he could be in a mobster movie…just might be a mobster.

6. The culinary arts museum at Johnson & Wales. See info here: http://www.culinary.org/ . Again, I’ve not actually been, but from what I’m told it’s supposed to be pretty worthwhile. Especially if you are a foodie.

7. Wickeden Street is another nice place to stroll. Some good galleries and small shops. A good lunch spot there would be Duck & Bunny http://theduckandbunny.blogspot.com/ …and grab a beer at Wickeden Pub. Also check out Coffee Exchange for outstanding coffee & free Wifi

8. Hopefully you are here in the temperate months. If you have a chance to checkout Waterfire it is a MUST. It’s worth planning your trip to Providence around a Waterfire date. http://www.waterfire.org/

9. Check out AS220 (http://www.as220.org). It’s downtown and an excellent arts destination. A few galleries, live music, classes available, etc. plus it’s just a cool place to hang out. There is a bar there as well, and their restaurant Foo(d) is very good, and the prices are quite decent. Not to mention it’s one of the few restaurants in Providence where al fresco dining is an option (and you get to bus your own table).

Have a great time in the smallest state!

If you have more than one day to see Rhode Island.

1. Take a trip to Newport (35 minutes). Tour the mansions, walk/shop Thames Street, check out Cliff Walk.

2. Head to the Beach. There are several great beaches, most within an hour of Providence. More information here: http://www.visitrhodeisland.com/what-to-do/beaches/

3. Check out to Block Island. Block Island makes for a great day trip. Really good beaches, a couple of light houses, some pretty dramatic cliffs, and hiking trails. The ferry leaves from Point Judith just south of Narragansett.

4. Not in Rhode Island, but the Whaling Museum in New Bedford (30 minutes) is well worth visiting.

Further reading:

A great website for RI facts & local Cuisine info http://www.quahog.org/cuisine/
Article on Coffee Milk: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/CoffeeMilk.htm

Website from RI Tourism: http://www.visitrhodeisland.com/

Another RI Tourism Guide: http://www.visitri.com/
Good article on Rhode Island culinary oddities http://riroads.com/archive/uniquefoods.htm

Great website for all your travels in the USA http://www.roadfood.com Amy & I often plan trips around it! It won’t let you down! Thanks to some guy named Jim you can now check it out based on google maps, click here!