Once dubbed the “Beehive of Industry” and “The Renaissance City,” Providence now calls itself the “Creative Capital,” and with good reason. There’s a lot more than just Fire Water brewing in this little state by the sea.
From innovations as quintessential Rhode Island as dropping the “r” in “chowdah,” to the city’s new queen bees of culture, here’s oM’s walkable path to some of the best Providence, RI attractions.
Much of Providence’s creative juices are flowing in the kitchen. Travel + Leisure named it one of the country’s top three foodie cities. The city’s green food scene could satisfy the most demanding sustainable diner (and get others to hop on the eco-wagon).
Narragansett Creamery | 33 Dearborn St.
Rhode Island’s only cheese producer, Narragansett Creamery makes their cheeses and spreads in Providence, using fresh, hormone- and antibiotic-free cow’s milk from local farms. The creamery gives its seaside home a nod with names like Renaissance Ricotta (a kettle-heated, hand-dipped ricotta), Pirate Spread (a spicy-sweet spread made from their Salty Sea Feta) and the gouda-style Divine Providence.
Their kitchen’s not open for tours, but you can catch them at the Hope Street (Saturday) and Newport (Wednesday) summer farmers’ markets, the winter farmer’s market at Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village and these Providence shops (Wednesday and Saturday). NC’s cheeses also grace the plates of many local restaurants, including Pane E Vino, Cook & Browne Public House and Duck & Bunny.
Cook & Brown Public House | 959 Hope St.
A New Englander’s gastropub, Cook & Brown Public House brings “microseasonal” food to Providence’s East Side. Pair your pick from the daily menu (be it mushroom and leek bread pudding or hand-rolled cavatelli with crispy pork belly, fresh red chilies and braised escarole) with one of C & B’s celebrated cocktails, handcrafted with small batch spirits.
The Dorrance | 60 Dorrance St.
Serving modern food in a retrofitted bank, the newly opened Dorrance sets the bar high in both atmosphere and cuisine. Take your pre-dinner cocktail into the open vault, or soak up the 1920’s grandeur at the bar. Chef Ben Suckle works with the mentality, “If it grows together, it goes together,” so diners can bank on a healthy mix of locally grown flavors.
Pane e Vino | 365 Atwells Ave.
Focusing on four or five ingredients in each dish, Pane e Vino keeps things rustic, simple, local and fresh. It’s a combination that works for locals, who keep coming back for another taste of the Campagna-inspired cuisine. The Trattoria Menu (three courses for $19.95) has something for everyone, including gluten-free eaters, who can request Pane e Vino’s entirely gluten-free menu.
Julians | 318 Broadway
This quirky-hip hangout draws art and tofu lovers with loads of vegetarian/vegan specialties and floor-to-ceiling art and kitsch (note the bathroom’s Pez display). There’s plenty of wackiness for carnivores to chew on as well, from a pomegranate braised lamb pot roast, to bacon fat popcorn and New England Thanksgiving pizza (cider pulled turkey, dried cranberries, country gravy and Swiss on naan). Look out for Julians’ Beer Dinners, which generally pair craft brews and a pre-fixe meal with live music.
FLICKERS: Rhode Island Film Festival
Unlike Newport’s beloved Folk Festival, Providence’s summer arts apex often means discounts on hotels and travel. The August festival screens some 200 cinematic works (selected from 4,500+ submissions) over six days. Attendees are often privy to Sundance winners before they hit Sundance and short-film Oscar nominees before they make it to the Academy Awards. Get the VIP experience and join the opening and closing celebrations, or spend just $15-25 for a night or day pass.
Fête | 103 Dike St.
Rhode Island’s new music mecca, Fête marries Moroccan style and New England funk to create a truly vibrant space. The boutique live music venue hosts local and emerging acts (like the What? Cheer Brigade and Hot 8 Brass Band) and established artists (like Mos Def and Cowboy Junkie) alike. Their mission is “to rejuvenate the relationship between music and revelry; create a haven where both artists and audiences engage in a unique and gratifying cultural experience and actively participate in the revitalization of Olneyville, a unique and historic Providence neighborhood.” We can get behind that.
New Urban Arts | 705 Westminster St.
Want to feel inspired? Check out New Urban Arts, a veritable circuit of creativity. NUA provides studio, exhibition space, and mentoring for young artists. These high school students and young artists delve into the visual, performing, and literary arts through free out-of-school workshops. They even have a teaching program, through which emerging artists take part in a yearlong residency and learn how to work with the youth. Then, they pass the inspiration on (many have become local educators and leaders in community arts). Drop by NUA to meet some of the artists and see what’s on exhibit.
Created in RI
Rhode Islanders have been innovating since long before the Griffins made quahog part of the common American lexicon. Though not exhaustive (it would need Awful Awfuls, Jonnycakes and Doughboys), the following list will give you a hefty dose of Ocean State standbys.
Del’s Frozen Lemonade | 199 Weybosset Ave.
Great Grandfather DeLucia made the first batch of Del’s Frozen Lemonade in his home of Naples, Italy in 1840. Mixing snow he stored in caves over the winter with the fresh juice of summer lemons and sugar, DeLucia created a family tradition. Great Grandfather’s son brought the recipe over to America, and his son made a frozen lemonade machine. By 1948, Del’s Frozen Lemonade was a thriving stand in Cranston, RI. Today, the stands are at most every RI beach, with storefronts dotting the state and make-at-home products sold in shops and online. Del’s is the essential summer treat: refreshing, super-lemony, just sweet enough and totally worth the brain freeze to come.
Rhode Islanders love their coffee (the state’s home to the most Dunkin’ Donuts per capita in the country). They love it so much, they found a way to make their milk taste like it: coffee syrup. They’ve been drinking some version of coffee milk—the official state drink—since the 20’s, with some pledging allegiance to Eclipse, others Autocrat, Coffee Time or the now-defunct Silmo. Eclipse was the Rhode Island pioneer, but the syrup war simmered down in 1991, when Autocrat acquired Eclipse and Coffee Time (formerly owned by Eclipse). Autocrat still produces all three brands; diner-hop and sample all three to decide which is best for yourself (and then buy a few bottles for the road).
Hot dog! The hot weiner is Rhode Island’s of-the-land fast food staple. They’re also known as New York System wieners, named so by the Greek immigrants who arrived in RI by way of Ellis and Coney Island in the 1920s. The name was a marketing tactic; you won’t find this style weiner in New York. The thin frankfurters, usually made of veal and pork, are topped with a spicy meat sauce, chopped onions, yellow mustard and celery salt and served in steamed buns. Eat like a regular and order three (or four. . . they’re smaller than your average dog) “all the way” (as opposed to without the onions), along with a side of vinegar, ketchup and salt-sprinkled fries, and some coffee milk to wash it all down. The battle for the title of original and best hot weiner is as heated as that for the title of NYC’s real Ray. Stick to the old timers’ favorite and head to Olneyville New York System (20 Plainfield Street). Pick up a few spice packets on your way out.
Sure, you can simply grill, steam or sauté them, but the home of the quahog prefers these bad boys minced, fried, stuffed and baked. Get the full effect with a clamåsbord of chowder (RI tradition calls for clear broth, but you’ll find plenty of creamy New England style and Rhode Island red—a precursor to “Manhattan Clam Chowder”—around town), fried clams, stuffed quahogs (aka “stuffies”), clams casino (broiled or grilled clams, typically buttered up and topped with bacon, parmesan, garlic and wine) and the beignet-esque puff of mollusc-studded magic known as clam cakes. Get all of the above (some of the state’s best) and a casual clam shack experience right in the city at East Providence institution Horton’s Seafood (809 Broadway).
Steel Yard | 27 Sims Ave.
The Steel Yard looks how it sounds: open space, heavy on the metal. With aims to revitalize Providence’s industrial valley district and strengthen community through creative experimentation, The Steel Yard is both education center and industrial arts facility. The Steel Yard hosts affordable and free youth programs, like summer “Camp Metalhead,” in glass, ceramics, jewelry, blacksmithing and more. Adults get to play too; check out The Steel Yard’s one-day workshops for a chance to get your hands dirty and maybe even twist some metal over the weekend.
City Farm | 109 Somerset St.
Looking to create something sustainable? Venture out into Southside Community Land Trust’s yard, aka City Farm. With only ¾ acre of land and dedicated volunteers, City Farm generates a whole lot of food (1,539 pounds in 2010). The 20 year-old Children’s Garden program brings 200 elementary and middle school students for a summer of hands-on gardening and education, and volunteers of all ages are also welcome to dig in from 8am-3pm, spring and summer weekdays. If you’d be more interested in eating than harvesting on your trip, you can find City Farm produce at these local markets.
For more ideas on things to do and where to stay in the Creative Capital, read The Rhode Less Traveled: A Weekend Getaway to Providence and Good Things Come in Small States: Providence’s Eco East Side, and Enjoy the Outdoors in Providence This Summer.
How to get there: Consult oM’s public transportation guide to Providence
Photo: The Dorrance