Steamers, Clam Cakes and Oysters, Oh My!
Providence, Rhode Island. A picturesque little city with a river running through it, students both hot and artsy, and not least of all a proud selection of fine restaurants. I spent one lovely autumn afternoon on Federal Hill, in the Italian District, sipping pinot grigio, smelling exhaust and listening to beautiful young men yell at each other about football, politics, and women. I ate a giant portion of fettuccine and ravioli for Sunday dinner. Andino’s is definitely a local haunt for Italian, but I can’t say I would recommend it to tourists. I found the food to be decent, but far too plain for the price. One evening I went out for sushi at Providence’s east end near the water, at Haruki East. I ordered Nigiri (something I only do if the fish is really fresh) only to discover all the fish had been flown in sometime that week- from California! Although the red miso soup with clams was nearly revelatory, their sushi did not impress.
On another occasion I ended up at a well-known rotisserie/Italian restaurant, Parkside Rotisserie and Bar, and while I nearly fainted after consuming a char-grilled bruschetta drenched in 5 types of mushrooms and a sage cream sauce, I was less impressed by the high-priced/low excitement entrees and desserts.
When traveling, my only criteria is this: The food must be better or different than what I can get in my own hometown. When eating out in Asheville, my criteria is that the food must be as good or different than what I can get in the big city in which the rest of my family resides. Or most big cities in general.
My Providence week was bookended by one exceptional establishment. Hemenway’s is the local favorite for RI food, more specifically, seafood. Poppasquash is a bay where one talented oyster farmer has placed his beds. The oysters are light, fluffy (if that’s possible), sweet, and rich. They were the best oysters I have ever tasted.
I also tried Steamers, which are a Rhode Island tradition, according to the heavily accented waiter. A large pile of clams are steamed in their own juice. That juice is then set aside. First one must pull a clam from it’s shell, pull the skin from the foot (um, what did he say?), and then “wash” it in the clam juice (to devoid the mollusk of its sand deposits), dip it in butter, and then stuff the whole dripping, briny morsel into one’s open mouth. And chew. Chew some more. Repeat.
Their clam chowder, while most likely rivaling the fat content of a big mac, tasted wonderful. I would definitely make Hemenway’s my first stop in Providence. As for the rest, I don’t know that I would recommend them. I was busy at a work conference, and I don’t feel I did the necessary research beforehand. Mostly I just asked the bellboys at the hotel, or other friendly boys I met at the mall next door to the hotel. On the last day I realized I had just spent my trip eating like an 18 year-old Italian kid from Providence. Reader, if you have any Providence, RI dining tips, please let us know.