Rhode Island’s 5 Best Appetizers
Thursday, February 06, 2014
Navajo Fry Bread
Local 121 - Providence
It may be the official state bread of South Dakota, but one chef in Providence has added a tasty version of this Native American staple to his menu. Local 121 Executive Chef Tyler Demora tops this crisp-tender bread with sweet mole pulled chicken, house queso fresco, creme fraiche and cilantro. The result is one of the best, most satisfying apps we've had in a long time. The fry bread holds up well to hearty ingredients, and is lighter and more airy than you'd expect. It's enough to share, but you could make it a meal as well.
121 Washington St.
French Onion Soup
Chez Pascal - Providence
Cold, snowy day? yeah, they all seem to be lately. Chez Pascal has what you need in the form of a savory, old school French onion soup. We've tried all the varieties of this favorite and continually return to Chef Matt Genuoso's version. Sweet onions sautéed until soft anchor a rich, super-flavorful broth that, unlike many we've had, isn't too salty. Topped with a generously-sized herb crouton and stretch, delicious gruyere, it's, well, mmm mmm good!
960 Hope St
El Rancho Grande - Providence
Our favorite spot for authentic Mexican in Providence is El Rancho Grande. Every visit begins the same way: a craft margarita and some of the delicious fondue. The flavor of the Mexican cheeses is enhanced by the addition--or not--of chorico and smoked peppers. The smooth and flavorful cheese is accompanied by some of their soft and chewy tortillas for dipping. Just about anything you try here is going to be the best you've had and this is no different. It is a perfect winter warm-up.
311 Plainfield St.
84 Tavern on Canal - Westerly
Our dreams of summer lead us to Westerly recently and we discovered 84 Tavern on Canal. This welcomed addition brings the best of the gastro-pub idea to the local dining scene. Chef/owner Christopher Champagne brings a lifetime of knowledge to this place and you can taste it. The confit chicken wings with sriracha sweet Thai chili were crispy and sweet and spicy. We loved them. They had a Buffalo version that we will be returning for soon.
15 Canal St
Rasoi - Pawtucket
There are few cuisines that warm your winter bones quite like Indian cuisine. The combination of spices and flavors take the chill away and please the palate simultaneously. When we're craving an Indian meal, we usually head to Rasoi and we always start with the samosas. We switch it up from form time to time but the ground chicken always wins us back. There is just the right amount of spice and the chicken flavor is well balanced as well.
727 East Ave.
Related Slideshow: 5 New Food Trends to Try in 2014
Upscale Chefs go "Downscale"
It's an incredible expense of time and money to be among the best chefs around. All of those high-end ingredients cost an arm and leg and the pressure to stay on top is enormous. Most cooks began learning at the feet of their older relatives--moms and dads; grandmas and grandpas. It's this food that calls them back. We see local Chef Jake Rojas rejoice in dropping the tweezers and cooking those SoCal family recipes he grew up eating. Local faves Thames Street Kitchen embarked on a burger concept this year and Providence icon Chez Pascal has its "Wurst Window" serving homemade sausage and comfort food. They're upscale food is wonderful, but this might be their best!
More Gluten Free Options
As we continue to pay the "processed food" price, our nation's food allergies continue to soar. Restaurants have been on the forefront of the movement towards options that take these allergies into account. The gluten allergy has taken the fore as bread and pasta and coated French fries became the first food victims of this allergy. Local establishments such as the Grange have taken gluten free to new heights with terrific vegetarian offerings. On the Hill, Pane e Vino has got an almost 40-item menu of gluten free options. It features everything an Italian meal could need without the worry.
Vietnamese as the "Go-To" Asian Cuisine
Every year it seems as though America "discovers" a new Asian country's food and gets hooked. This year it's the foods of Vietnam. Vietnamese food and ingredients have been a part of local Asian food for years now, but this time it stands on its own. Vietnam's food is highlighted by fresh, simple ingredients treated respectfully and flavorfully. Broths and noodles; lightly cooked meats and fresh vegetables all combine in a balanced meal. Locally we love Pho Horn in Pawtucket and Minh Hai in Cranston. Both are very good local versions of this wonderful cuisine.
Look...here's the problem with us Americans: we only eat the mild stuff. The muscle meat. It's chicken breast and tenderloin and striped bass filets. The problem with this style of eating is what it does to our ecosystem. Local fishermen used to be able to catch a bounty of swordfish BETWEEN the mainland and Block Island, now it's a day's trip to find them. Local chefs and fishermen are working diligently to bring back the mackerel and the sardine and the scup. Fish we have long since forgotten, but helped our forefathers thrive. Check out any of our top-notch "farm to table" spots--Persimmon in Bristol or Farmstead in Providence for example--to try a forgotten yet delicious fish.
As with most things food and beverage, the last 10 years have seen a move towards "smaller is better". Big box stores are gone and chain restaurants are suffering locally. It was only a matter of time until these ideas began making their way into our cocktails and boy are we psyched to see what the future holds. Locally we have Sons of Liberty in South Kingstown, producing small-batch whiskey, single malts and, even vodka. Our state features Coastal Extreme Brewery which makes Thomas Tew rum along with their Newport Storm beer. We've only gotten back into the distilling business here in Rhode Island in 2006 but we think tasty things are coming soon!
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