Rhode Island is called the Fun Sized State and with good reason. It is small, but packed with so much to see, do, and eat! Rhode Island is also a state that is ethnically diverse which truly enhances the food scene. The top five ethnic groups which have a great influence are Italian, Irish, English, French, and Portuguese.
Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is considered the Creativity Capital which is certainly true when it comes to food. The Creativity Capital is home to one of the top culinary universities in the world, Johnson and Wales University. Not only do they produce the finest chefs, but the chefs are trained to have a respect for food like I have never seen. Each graduate I met from Johnson and Wales truly loved, valued, and respected food and the food world.
With so many great restaurants in Providence, it was difficult to choose, but I managed to pick my top five.
Truly a treasured spot by all who live in Providence, this gem should not be missed. Located right downtown, Gracie’s space is warm and inviting and very popular, which means you need to have a reservation. With numerous awards year after year, Gracie’s outshines all the stars and diamonds hanging on their walls. The attention at Gracie’s is focused on four things; the people, the ingredients, the textures, and the wines. The staff at Gracie’s welcomes you and carefully walks you through the three different types of menus you can order from; a’la carte, Pre-fixed, tasting. In my opinion, the tasting menu with the wine pairing is surely the way to go.
Each delicious course delivered the finest bites, perfectly proportioned and paired with just the right wine. I will say the most memorial dish was the Smoked and Pickled Mussels served with house made potato chips. The layers of flavors and texture were perfection. The other dish I cannot get out of my mind is the Halibut Cheeks, perfectly paired with local ingredients. It was like butter. The tasting menu is well-priced with options for the number of courses you can choose from. It is well worth the expense.
The service is top class without being pretentious. When you are at Gracie’s you are welcomed and made part of the family. You will experience the highest level of service and food packed with layers of excitement from the ingredients to the textures and flavors. What more could you ask for! Gracie’s is only open for dinner, but is also included on the Rhode Island Red Food Tour.
While Sarto is brand new to the Providence food scene, the chef/owner has called Providence home even when working elsewhere. Providence tends to bring people back home as it did with chef/co-owner, Robert Angreozzi. A Johnson and Wales graduate, chef Robert has worked in some of my favorite restaurants around the world. Once returning from Italy, he decided that Providence was just the 21st region of Italy. The only difference was he would be bring the local Rhode Island ingredients into the dishes. Sarto was born.
Chef also believes that “what grows together goes together”. The dishes, like the Gem Salad, are proof of both philosophies. A simple salad, true Italian style, with local smoked bluefish and puffed grains. Another dish to mention is the Sardinian Seafood Stew with local Rhode Island fish. I highly suggest ordering the Family Meal and let the dishes flow from the kitchen.
Sarto is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is moderately priced. It considers itself a Rhode Island-inspired Osteria & Salumeria. I am predicting Sarto will quickly become a Providence hot spot!
I first have to mention the space that Milk Money is located in. Just over the river, you walk into an industrial, yet warm and homey space. It is an old space that feels lived in and loved; the sort of space you start with a cocktail and end up staying through many shared plates with friends.
The food is locally inspired and sourced, yet globally inspired. I enjoyed a delicious brunch at Milk Money with three friends. We chose four dishes to share off the wonderful menu and our server encouraged us to have the daily bread and deviled eggs. I am so glad she did. Although all four of our brunch dishes were delicious, I have to say my favorites were the French Toast, perfectly prepared with house-baked brioche and the Chicken and Biscuits. The buttermilk biscuits were light and fluffy and the black peppered gravy was just right.
I can’t wait to visit Milk Money for dinner as the menu looks fabulous. With a comfortably priced menu, there is something for everyone’s budget and taste.
Milk Money is open for lunch W-F, brunch on the weekend, and dinner most nights.
Sydney is another newcomer to Providence, but is already a hit among the locals. Located just a couple of short blocks form the train station, it is perfect for grabbing breakfast or lunch when you arrive or before you leave town. Speaking of trains, Amtrak is the perfect way to arrive if traveling to Providence. The station is located right downtown and a short ride from most Northeast locations.
If I lived in Providence, I would be at Sydney three to four days a week for breakfast. The space is open and filled with natural light. There is both a full array of house-made baked goods and delicious plates for breakfast or lunch. Most of the baked goods are inspired from the flavors and foods of Australia using local ingredients, but there are classics as well. The baked goods case was full and I had to sample a few, including the almond cake and the bread pudding which were both delicious. For breakfast, I had the house speciality, well at least the dish most recommended by locals, the Avocado Toast. It was served on house-made bread with feta, cherry tomatoes, and microgreens. I, of course, added a poached egg.
Sydney is open most days 7 am - 6 pm.
Mercer’s Deli is still another newcomer to Providence, but with an old traditional feel. It is located in the Wayland Square neighborhood of Providence, which is a great area to do some shopping. Mercer’s Deli is a full-service deli with eat-in seating available. They truly have it all from the sides right down to your choice of half sour or dill pickles or a pickled green tomato.
I went for the soup and half a sandwich for lunch. It was scrumptious and large enough to serve two people. The Matzo Ball Soup was a full bowl with three matzo balls and the half sandwich was what most would consider a full sandwich. I enjoyed a classic rueben and when I could not make up my mind on the pickle, the server brought me both the half sour and pickled green tomato. Not to fear, it was all so good I devoured everything.
Mercer’s Deli is a great new addition to the neighborhood and is a beautiful walk back downtown though the Brown University campus. Priced just right, you will also be assured to have leftovers for a snack later with its hefty portions.
And for a culinary bonus be sure to try...
The Rhode Island Red Food Tour - This three hour walking tour highlights eight of Providence’s finest with the option for an alcohol add-on. The tour is not only delicious, but will give you the cultural background of the city, too.
Knead Doughnuts - So good I took a dozen home for Sunday family dinner dessert. You simply have to try the Brown Butter Pecan.
Apponaug Brewery - Just outside of Providence in Warwick, this brewery is filled with food, beer, and community. They just happen to have the best chicken and waffles I have ever had. Seriously!
Modern Diner - A Providence classic and must visit for breakfast. This has been the Food Network’s #1 diner food in America. The Custard French toast is amazing!