Just because it's the smallest state in the U.S. doesn't mean you should overlook "Little Rhody's" bounty of tender sweet seafood, serene beach scenery, friendly faces, and hilarious accents – their r's sound like a's and vice versa, e.g. "Chowdah" & "Pizzer".
Last week on a family reunion trip from Newport Beach, CA to Newport, RI, my appetite definitely discovered why Rhode Island is officially nicknamed, "The Ocean State" – let's just say I didn't feel the need to eat meat or poultry ONCE. But, since the last time I visited was 10 years ago, of course I found a way to stuff in my favorite Ice Cream & Donuts from my childhood summer trips, including a famous 50-year-old "Pizzer" place too.
After all the fried seafood, and 3 different Lobster Rolls from 3 different cities – stay tuned the next 2 weeks for my blog posts on Brant Point, Nantucket and Kennebunkport, Maine – I definitely felt like a Lobster Roll myself the last day.
- classic New England style, thin not thick Clam Chowder & ridiculously packed with flavor Clams Casino at The Black Pearl in Newport ($4.50 cup/$9)
- insanely tender 'n sweet Famous Fried Clams, fresh 'n crunchy "Lobsta" Roll, and spicy Stuffed Quahogs at Flo's Clamshack in Middletown ($15.95/$14.95/$2.50 each)
- i-can-tell-why-they're Voted Best Fish 'N Chips, Clam Cakes, and Stuffed Quahogs at Iggy's Doughboys & Chowder House in Narragansett (Mkt price/$3.75 half dozen/$2.25 each)
- the-best-I've-ever-had, whole chunks of fruit juicy Crab Cocktail with Ginger-Peach Dressing & Wasabi Mousse, spicy 'n hearty Rhody Royal Mussels in Tomato Broth with Chorizo, and simple Lobster Sliders on Silver Dollar Brioche Buns at The Grill of 41 Degrees North Hotel in Newport ($24/$17/$19)
- light, crispy, but a little too tangy 4-item Supreme Pizza at Caserta Pizzeria in Providence ($18.50 large with 4 or 5 items)
- a toffee love affair Butter Crunch Ice Cream at Newport Creamery in multiple locations ($2.89 2-scoop cup)
- seriously, it's my crack Chocolate Glazed Donut from Dunkin' Donuts in multiple locations ($0.95)
1. The Black Pearl – Somehow, someway, us Californians brought our UN-summer weather and arrived to 3 days of cold, stormy rain in Newport, RI. I personally love the rain, so I didn't mind much. But we decided to cure the cold with a steamy hot cup of the best "Chowdah" from one of New England's top restaurants. Located on Bannister's Wharf since 1967, the always packed Black Pearl has two different dining rooms – the fancy green-walled, white linen table Commodore's Room, and the more casual, glossy black walled, nautical themed Tavern Bar. Whichever experience you choose, make sure you order the Clam Chowder – it's famous. Unlike Pacific Coast chowder, which is usually super thick, this New England style is much thinner, yet still has a creamy flavor. It's loaded with tender, not chewy, Clams, fresh chopped Dill, Clam Broth, and big chunks of Potato & Celery. And don't you dare "Fuhget About" the Clams Casino. These babies were invented by Julius Keller, the maitre 'd of the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island in 1917. Between the sweet Littleneck Clams, savory Bacon, chopped Green & Red Bell Peppers, Parmesan, Fennel Seed & Parsley, altogether they kinda taste like a sausage pizza, but it all works and I left wanting more.
2. Flo's Clamshack – You'll get a kick out of Flo's in Middletown because it really looks like a full-on Fish Tackle Box, Aquarium meets Clamshack. Despite the several eating areas – dining room, upstairs Raw Bar, and outdoor patio, there's no wait service, so you must order at the counter. They give you a rock with a painted-on number with your order, then call it over the loud speaker. Looking over Flo's paper menu, you'll see they've been written up in over 20 publications across the nation, especially for the Best Fried Clams. I've never had a sweeter, bigger, more tender, fluffy, lightly breaded Fried Clam in my life. In fact, we liked them so much, we went back for more, and you will too. The Lobsta Roll is refreshingly light and crisp with sweet Lobster meat and a big bed of Iceberg Lettuce Leaf. It's served on a traditional New England Style Hot Dog Roll, which is sharply cut on all sides like a rectangle, then toasted for extra crispiness – it really enhances the overall experience. We were saddened to get only one Stuffed Quahog – the largest clam found in the Atlantic – because they had run out. But their ancient Portuguese recipe definitely has a spicy, red peppery kick. I just wish there were more clams to be found.
3. Iggy's – Voted Best Fish 'N Chips, you can definitely see & taste why. Iggy's serves a hefty portion of flaky Fresh Cod that's lightly breaded and not overly fried. For years, neighbor restaurants Iggy's & Aunt Carrie's have had an ongoing Battle of the Clam Cakes – check out my cousin Ben Hague, comedian & TV host, reporting it on The Rhode Show. While I didn't have room to try both, I can say Iggy's Clam Cakes – a popular RI & Massachusetts Fritter with Chopped Clams inside – are fluffy, bouncy, and not too dry or greasy. They're also better than Flo's, since I found at least 2 Clams. However, while Iggy's Quahog is huge with a LOT of stuffing and big chunks of Celery, I prefer the spiciness of Flo's that really doesn't need hot sauce added on.
4. The Grill – Stepping inside, or shall I say outside, to this open 4-wall restaurant right on the dock is like a nautical fantaSEA. It's part of the ultra cool new 41 Degrees North Hotel in Newport, surrounded by the ocean and yachts up to 250ft that you just wanna yacht-hop with the Mansion-Class. Off the Lunch Menu, a clams-down, must order is the Crab Cocktail. Huge, whole, and perfectly manicured chunks of Crab are sunbathing in a refreshingly cool Ginger-Peach Juice, then topped with a spicy, whipped Wasabi Mousse, and earthy Micro-greens. It's TO. DIE. FOR. Next up, the Rhody Royal Mussels – while tender and sweet, this dish is all about the tangy, spicy Chorizo & Sun-Dried Tomato Broth. The 2 Parmesan-Crusted Crostinis it comes with slowly melt as they soak up the broth, but are not enough. So make sure you order the Lobster Sliders – simple, sweet, yet a little watery – so you can use the buttery Silver Dollar Brioche buns to lap up the rest of the Mussel Broth.
5. Caserta Pizzeria – Apparently, this pizza place has been serving the "Best Pizza in Providence" for over 50 years. How did I not visit this on one of my many childhood summer trips?!? 20 years later I finally got to try it. We ordered the 4 ingredient Supreme Pizza – spicy Pepperoni, kinda bland White Button Mushrooms, crisp Green Bell Peppers, Black Olives, and Oregano. The Crust is "Wicked Auuwwwsome" – soft and pillowy with a fantastic crunch. The Pizza itself is pretty light, and if you're a Cheese lover you'll probably wish there's more of it. My Aunt and I both agreed that the Sauce is a little too spicy and acidic – perhaps a little sugar could help.
6. Newport Creamery – While there are over 10 locations in RI and MA, I visited the original location in Middletown that opened in 1940. It's a Burger 'N Fries joint that also serves award-winning Ice Cream, Awful Awfuls (an Ice Cream Shake I soon learned the meaning of when I spilled it all over our condo's carpet at age 9), and delicious "Cawfee" or Coffee Milk (the official state drink of RI made with Milk & Coffee Syrup). My absolute, spoons-down favorite Ice Cream flavor is Butter Crunch, which I believe used to be called Butter Brickle. It's thicker than usual, rich and creamy Vanilla Ice Cream with pieces of Toffee and ribbons of Caramel folded inside. I crave it at least 10 times a year and wish there was one in California.
7. Dunkin' Donuts – Just like my Butter Crunch Ice Cream addiction, the Chocolate Glazed Donut at Dunkin' Donuts is like my crack and is, in fact, the 1st thing I get as soon as I arrive in RI. Considering they're on almost every corner, and at one point up to 225 Dunkin' Donuts in Rhode Island alone, you can see why. It's got a crumby, rich & moist, Espresso-like Chocolate Cake that's dipped in a sugary Honey Glaze – Oh. My. Gawd! Please spread the love and come to CA soon, I beg you. Like seriously, I'll do anything. I need to feed the need!!!!!
As you can SEA, I've got you "Awl Set" for your next culinary adventure, discovering Rhode Island's sweet seafood and just desserts. But if I don't make it back for another 10 years, can you please ship me 1 of each of the above in gratitude for enlightening you? Ok fine, just the donut!
Your Next Bite in 2 weeks:
- Lobster Roll at Brant Point Grill in The White Elephant Hotel, Nantucket
- Baked Stuffed & Hot Boiled Maine Lobsters at Hurricane in Kennebunkport