• March 9, 2012 |

    Best in Chow

    our picks in prov

    article by jane brendlinger

    Rémy and Jane have joined food columnist forces to give you the Best of Providence, all the delectable eats and treats that this fair city has to offer. From trucks to meat to bathrooms, these ladies get right down to the important stuff. Get your coats on, folks, ’cause we’re painting the town red.

    Best BYOB
    The joys of BYOB are almost too great to number. To begin with, it’s casual, affordable, and convenient; it’s welcoming to everyone, not just the 21+ crowd; and, freed from the constricting chains of a typical wine list, it opens up to the imbiber a world of possibilities. All the same can be said of Sawaddee, the tiny (in all seriousness, a sedan is longer than the dining room is wide) digs that serve PVD’s best Thai. Those of us in search of a bit more, uh, spice than is provided at the Thai joint on Waterman, venture down to Hope Street for made-from-scratch curry, papaya salad, and more unusual offerings from northeast Thailand. What makes one BYOB place better than another, you ask? One thing that gives Sawaddee the edge is its atmosphere; its dining room is the coziest around, making it especially conducive to popping open a bottle of wine (talk loudly enough, and the other 20 diners can toast with you). Another is the food itself, from a menu so big that you’ll be tempted to order a ton—what better way to wash it all down than with an icy-cold bottle of Woodchuck? And then there’s the niche it fills as a venue for first dates, dinner with the fam, and pre-gaming over satay with your suitemates: intimate, but fuss-free. I’ll definitely drink to that. —RR

    Best Drunk Eats
    I know what you’re thinking. I’m drunk, it’s 1 a.m., and I’m developing kwashiorkor. What should I eat? Between half a pizza at Nice Slice, an entire pizza from Domino’s, a loaded taco truck huarache, or two meal credits worth of mozzarella sticks at Jo’s, it’s a tough call. (Can you guess which one wins?) If you are on meal plan, Jo’s when you’re drunk on a weekend night is more than a munchies fix; it’s a cornerstone Brown experience. Jocks and computer science concentrators alike come together during their nights of revelry to refuel over plates of ketchup and grease. Without Jo’s, we’re just drunken wanderers, lost to the darkness; with Jo’s, we’re a drunken community. I’ll take that Spicy with, thank you. Spicy with. —JB

    Best People Watching
    Jo’s, Saturday 1:45 a.m. —JB

    Best Huge Bowl of Warm Soothing Stuff
    The words “medicine” and “soup” do not often find themselves next to each other, so at first their combination may seem a bit off-putting, suggestive of eucalyptus and Pepto-Bismol (weird). But at Angkor, it’s something far greater. So great, in fact, that it’s got to be a magical potion. Seriously. Their recipe for nam yaa, more commonly known as medicine soup, is a family secret of the owner’s, passed down from when his grandmother cooked for Cambodian royalty; mum’s the word on how it’s made or what mystical ingredients are tossed in to give it that extra kick. What we do know is that its “medicinal” quality comes from the blend of herbs and spices—lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, honey, lime, cilantro—that makes the murky red broth sweet, spicy, and sour all at once. With the addition of ramen noodles, chicken or shrimp, and shredded carrots, it’s essentially everything you could ever crave, served up in one big vat. Back before they had VapoRub, people sipped this soup to clear their sinuses, soothe their fevers, warm their bodies, and alleviate their hangovers. Forget Campbell’s Chicken Noodle; this will fix what ails you. The only way it could be better would be if they delivered it straight to your extra-long twin bed. —RR

    Best Restaurant Bathroom
    Ever had to pee in a restaurant, visited their facilities, and thought, “Wow, I wish that was more entertaining”? It seems that the creator of Julian’s on Broadway once thought that too. The bathroom experience of this funky Providence establishment, known for its arty alty atmosphere and a killer Sunday brunch, is worth a pit stop. From the impressive Pez collection framed in glass, to the looping Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on a small antennaed television positioned right in front of the toilet, it’ll have you chugging water just to go back. —JB

    Best Meat
    For those in search of meat, Red Stripe conveniently divides its entrées into categories that are denoted by simple graphics of the animal in question. There are some stand-up poultry options, including a shepherd’s pie—that rustic classic whose “crust” is not a crust at all, but rather a heap of mashed potatoes—of duck confit, as well as a simple half-chicken roasted with lemon and rosemary, as juicy and lovely a bird as you could ask for. But my favorites can be found under the cow graphic. Steak frites were put on this earth to be good no matter what, and that remains the case here, especially if you pick the gorgonzola butter to dip your frites in. Best of all, though, are the meat and potatoes (an ambiguous but star-crossed duo), which at first seems like no great shakes—haven’t you had meatloaf and mashed potatoes before? But the meatloaf is nothing like what you grew up eating. You get the idea someone woke up one day and said, “Today, I’m gonna make some f*ckin’ meatloaf,” and this was born and it was good. It’s the epitome of comfort food, but cloaked in roasted onion gravy (worth its weight in gold), it feels special. At $12.50, it also costs less than nearly every other main course. And perhaps best of all, there’s so much cow on the plate that you may just have enough leftover to make a damn fine reheated lunch the next day. Look at you, being all money savvy! —RR

    Best Food Truck
    Mama Kim’s. —JB

    Best Picnic Supplies
    Yes, it’s been a mild winter, but it’s been winter all the same. Spring will be a thing to celebrate, and there’s no more glorious way to fête its arrival than with a picnic. Did you know Pawtucket has a year-round farmer’s market? It’s just awesome that way. Don’t let the gray skies and leafless trees mislead you; instead, bop on over (or hop RIPTA #99) to the Wintertime Farmer’s Market, every Wednesday and Saturday until May. Veggies, cheese, bread, chocolate… the well-stocked picnic basket is the well-balanced one, so let loose. Across town, Tony’s Colonial Food Store on Federal Hill has a smorgasbord of imported Italian groceries as well as mobster-endorsed prepared foods. And may your last stop be Farmstead, mecca of curds. Their friendly (studly, flirty) cheesemongers will always jump in and help you find your cheese soulmate amid the Pandora’s box, but favorites include Midnight Moon (a goat milk gouda), Shelburne Farms’ two-year aged cheddar, and the creamy feta marinated with peppercorns in hoity-toity olive oil. Follow the instructions on the label and use the leftover sludge as a salad dressing…marinade…erotic prop. —RR

    Best Cheap Cocktails
    Let’s face it, the GCB isn’t a real bar. It’s like a pretend-play bar to introduce newly knighted 21-year-olds to the world of legal drinking. Bloody Marys are $4, a G and T is $3.25, and you can tell the bartender how to make a Dirty Shirley. Then you get into the real world. Put away the monopoly money, Mr. Moneybanks, ’cause that coke and rum is gonna take the shirt off your back. If you’re in the mood for something expensive, feminine, and delicious (and no, I’m not talking about myself), head to the Duck and Bunny. I like the Chamisa: pears, basil, and cane sugar muddled in prosecco. Supah classay. —JB

    Best Pizza
    Everybody knows Nice Slice is better than Antonio’s, and if they claim otherwise, they’re lying. Tortellini pizza is clearly: A) a mockery of your intelligence (possibly launched by extraterrestrials), B) an adolescent cry for attention, C) a gimmick by the Atkins marketing team to get your carb-overloaded self to jump on their bandwagon later, or D) all of the above. Nice Slice, meanwhile, has stickers by Shepard Fairey. And Cranberry Picnic. And Reed’s Ginger Beer. But several other worthy options beckon beyond the College Hill bubble, thanks to the omnipresence of Italian culture and food (shoutout to ma boyz in the Providence mafia!). Fellini’s combines the classics with some more novel pies like Sweet Heaven (bacon, ricotta, scallions, creamy parm) and Garden Vegetable (squash, scallions, tomato, onion, olive oil, black pepper—that’s it!). There’s even something for the carb-on-carb devotés: true to its name, the Kitchen Sink piles penne on the crust, along with a handful of other goodies. Since it’s on Wickenden, it’s close enough to be convenient but far enough to feel like an adventure, which may just be a non-issue at the end of the day because (cherry on top!) they deliver.
    Honorable mention: Al Forno. Not quite the same feel as the others, not quite as nice to your wallet (and they don’t deliver.) But they do make a supa-fly pizza which is by all accounts deserving of a spot on your Providence bucket list. The thin, chewy flatbread crust gets a nice char from the grill, and the toppings—which change seasonally, so no by-the-slice ordering or wacky ingredient combos—range from calamari to summer corn. You cannot go wrong. Eaten at the bar as a shared main course, it even borders on budget-friendly. —RR

    Best Study Spot
    The new Tea in Sahara on Governor is an undiscovered gem for the café studier. From a selection of teas and coffees (a small coffee is $1.50, a low price for your studying tax!) to hookah and paninis, you’ll enjoy a treat while copping some valuable academic times with some quiet Morroccan ambience. As Jawad writes on the Tea in Sahara website, “The more relaxed atmosphere is ideal for chit chats while smoking a tasty hookah and sipping some mint iced tea.” Get there ASAP, before everyone else reads this article, and it turns out just like Blue State. —JB

    Best Burger
    In my imagination, there was once a burnout frat bro who, despite his vivid entrepreneurial sense, made a career out of smoking weed and drinking beer in his mom’s basement for a few months too many after he graduated from college. When he finally came to, he had an epiphany that birthed Harry’s Bar and Burger. There are other items on the menu—nachos, hot dogs, Harry’s mom’s chicken soup (yes, that is a thing)—but it’s all tomfoolery; if they wanted you to believe otherwise, they’d have called it Harry’s Bar and Nachos (not as much ring). These burgers are freshly ground, never frozen, and come in pairs as devourable little sliders. If you go during happy hour—3 p.m. to 5 p.m. everyday—everything’s half off, which means you can have your own Noah’s Ark of sliders, and how badass would that be? If you’re overwhelmed by the choices, though, the M.O.A.B., a cheeseburger with bacon, mushrooms, and onion strings, makes a noble standby, especially when washed down with one of the many beers on stock (68oz. Das Boot, anyone?). The alcoholic milkshakes (elbow nudge to every other restaurant in the world) will make a supersonic (wo)man outta you. —RR

    Best Finger Food
    Wickenden’s Abssyinia offers a great selection of flavorful Ethiopian fare, all served on top of the spongy sourdough injera bread. A handful of injera sopping with curried chickpeas makes for a fantastic meal and saves on a lot of cutlery (environmentally friendly!). I recommend the vegetarian sampler, a dish for two that gives a taste of all seven of their vegetarian dishes. Yeah, you heard right. YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO CHOOSE. —JB

    Best Sandwich
    There is no shortage of sandwiches on College Hill. Geoff’s is the most famous purveyor, and for good reason. Every Tuesday their marvelous charity  makes it possible for us to do half as much narrowing down of desired sandwiches. (I’ll take the Frigid Bitch AND the Providence Monthly, thankyouverymuch…) But y’all already knew all of this. What you may not know is the fact that Farmstead, in addition to a bangin’ assortment of cheeses and overpriced artisanal groceries, has a lunch menu to be eaten at the counter or taken back to the comfort and ambiance of your own Grad Center single. This stuff’s special—we’re talking kimchi-brined pork with fennel and Swiss or a Reuben embellished with avocado and black turnip remoulade. The cheesemonger’s grilled cheese combines a mélange of hand-picked cheeses with bourbon-melted onions. Do not ask questions. Find this sandwich (but resist the urge to ask it to marry you; sandwiches cannot talk). —RR

    Best Liquor Store
    I know people have strong ties to their liquor stores, from the free birthday champagne at Spiritus to the mom and pop feel of friendly Madeira’s. And who can forget the time at Darwin’s when you first used your real I.D. with the cashier? Although it doesn’t quite have the character of all these local establishments, Bottles next to East Side Market can hold its own when you want to find alcohol. Well-lit and inviting, it has a great selection of wine, beer, and liquor, plus fun events like wine tastings on Thursday evenings (That’s right, free booze!). Plus, they have a rewards program where you can earn $25 of store credit. Sure, you have to buy $500 worth of alcohol first, but here’s the trick: you can get your friends to buy it there under your rewards account. Think of all the alcohol you can get with that $25. —JB

    Best Dessert
    I don’t know about y’all, but my absolute ideal dessert place is equally informed by Willy Wonka’s factory and the cozy café in Chocolat. It’s a tall order, but I’ve spent my life seeking it out and have never come as close to finding it as at Pastiche. The European-style café, housed in a cornflower blue building with sweet yellow-striped awnings, feels like it was plucked off a cobblestone street in Provence. Inside is an intimate little dining room (complete with working fireplace and mural of Italian countryside) where you can sit, sipping a cappuccino or reading a book or batting your eyelashes, idly nibbling a slice of marscarpone torte. And that’s where the Willy Wonka bit comes in: you will want to eat everything. Every last crumb of the cakes and pies, cookies and brownies, tartlets and scones—everything is fair game. Whether banana cream tart or torta di cioccolata is more up your alley*, something is bound to make you feel like you’re in the midst of a cinematic romance. And there are few greater things in this world than their peanut butter chocolate brownie, which is so rich and so dense that you should get two, use them at the gym in lieu of weights, and proceed to eat them both in under five minutes.
    *If torta di cioccolata is not up your alley, something is wrong with you. —RR