Feasting on Providence

food exploration in rhode island

Seafood by the Sea Shore

Okay, so maybe this post isn’t quite Providence-specific. Or even Rhode Island-specific, really. But as I prepare for another hours-long car journey from NYC to PVD, I thought it’d be worth sharing one of my favorite roadside food stops along the route.

Sea View Snack Bar is just off the highway in Mystic, Connecticut. The shack itself is quite small, with a simple two-window order/pick-up system and a menu laden with deep-fried fishy delights. The menu also has several photos, in case you need reassurance that your fried fish strips will, indeed, be breaded and fried. And the Bar proudly highlights that they serve “100 PERCENT FRESH SEA FOOD,” that extra space irritating only the most word-nerdy among us (guilty as charged).

If you settle for no less than the comforts of restaurant dining, you’re in the wrong place – a spotty PA system alerts you to pick up your food, and crooked picnic tables are the only seating. But such minor details are forgotten when you hold a hand to the sun and see this:

A picturesque blue sky, cute sailing boats, gravel stones crunching beneath your feet. Peering jealously across the bay at those pretty seaside dwellings, I almost forgot about the fried clams I ordered. Well, until the musky aroma of hot oil and salt started wafting from a neighbor’s table. I spied eagerly – lobster roll, fried fish strips, crab cakes. It all looked delicious and steaming hot. (At another table, some fool had ordered a hot dog. No comment.)

Our number was impatiently announced, so I went and grabbed these guys:

The holy trinity – fried clam strips, french fries, coleslaw. The ‘slaw was good, tart enough to balance the fried half of the plate. (Okay, perhaps more than half the food on this plate was fried.) The clams, while strips and not full bellies, were briny and delicious, and we couldn’t stop popping them in our mouths. There was some passive-agressive offering of the last clam – you know the situation: no one wants to take the last morsel, but cold shoulder awaits the one to grab it. (In the end, my brother got the clam. Ah, to be young.)

Greasy hands are not best-suited for getting behind the wheel, but it’s not like our beat-up Honda Civic doesn’t have worse things to complain about. We drove away with full bellies, salty lips, the view of the water quickly receding and Providence on the horizon.

Sea View Snack Bar
145 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic CT
(860) 572-0096

Noah Fulmer of Farm Fresh Rhode Island Nominated for National Award

Chef’s Collaborative is a non-profit that works to link farmers and chefs, and work towards a more sustainable edible future. This year, their national summit in October will feature brilliant speakers and acknowledge the work of three particularly accomplished movers and shakers in the world of food. According to critic Gail Ciampa over at the Providence Journal’s food blog, Farm Fresh’s executive director Noah Fulmer has been nominated for one of CC’s annual awards.

Called the Foodshed Champion award, the title is ostensibly supposed to go to a food producer, which Fulmer is not. But he certainly fits the bill of someone who has formed strong relationships with chefs and believes that “good food begins with unpolluted air, land, and water, environmentally sustainable farming and fishing, and humane animal husbandry.” FFRI’s accomplishments are evident across the state, and their influence continues to grow.

Way to go, Noah. His passion is evident, and I hope he gets the credit he deserves at the national summit!

Healthy Corner Store Initiative Launches in Providence

One of the most pressing issues in food policy is the inaccessibility of fresh food for low-income families and individuals. Well, the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island has set out to improve food access in two neighborhoods in Providence.

After months of preparation, including surveying the locals and working with local students to build a successful plan, the EJL carried out its first Corner Store Makeover on Tuesday, August 10th. The makeover was a success, and now New Battambang market greets its patrons with veggies instead of unhealthy snacks.

Check out a great news clip featuring volunteers at the makeover on NBC:

Market Makeover

Update! Check out this piece I wrote for Serious Eats about the corner store make overs. Also, see some more lovely pictures from the event over at this gallery. Thanks for being awesome, EJL!

Senate Passes Child Nutrition Bill

Last Thursday, the Senate approved its version of the child nutrition bill that is currently working its way through Congress. Titled the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the legislation increases funding to child-oriented nutrition programs by $4.5 over ten years.

Among the improvements listed in the Act is a six-cent increase in reimbursement for every school lunch. While seemingly a small amount, this money could improve the nutritional quality of food available to children (if used wisely). Additionally, the Act requires the USDA to develop nutritional guidelines for all foods available in schools – not just cafeteria meals. That means “competitive foods” such as snacks and sodas would also be subject to nutritional consideration by a federal body.

Now, the House must pass their own version of the legislation before the bill’s expiration date of September 30th. The August recess will interrupt the momentum of the Act, so it is in everyone’s best interest that the House act quickly. First Lady Michelle Obama spoke out to commend the Senate on their good work, but also to encourage the House to push this reform through before the end of the session. Let’s hope they listen.

Providence Intel from Serious Eats!

Here are some fun articles I’ve written for Serious Eats about everyone’s favorite city – Providence, Rhode Island!

Farm Fresh Rhode Island has done wonders for the agricultural scene of Rhode Island. Read this great interview with executive director Noah Fulmer to get even more inspired by their work.

If you’ve been in Rhode Island for any amount of time, you know that coffee milk is the state’s favorite beverage (and that its delicious). Not sure what coffee milk is? Well then, read this taste test to know where to begin your life-long enjoyment of this regional beverage.

In the winter, it sometimes seems like even as agricultural a state as Rhode Island runs out of fresh produce. The Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market created a haven for fresh foodies from across the state (and beyond) to enjoy delicious foods, local music, and a sense of community even in the coldest months.

College students are always looking for good eats. On College Hill, the options sometimes seem sparse – but here’s a good guide to know where you can find food that is at least decent, and sometimes outstanding.

Tortilla Flats

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Some seriously delicious nachos. [Photographs: Leah Douglas]

According to its website, Tortilla Flats, a Mexican/Southwestern/Cajun restaurant in Providence, is “an unapologetically unexpected uncommon commonplace.” Though wordy, this phrase aptly describes a place that prides itself on providing a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere for everyone from families to young professionals to long-time regulars. While generally identified as a “Mexican” restaurant, the menu is by no means authentic, and is indeed a mishmash of cultures. But traditional Mexican food is not the point here; rather, it is the creation of a great environment that is emphasized. A diverse menu, well-stocked bar, and kitschy decor make dining at “the Flats”, as it’s called, a truly memorable experience for those not expecting the genuine flavors of Mexican cuisine.

The most eye-catching appetizer was the Gringo Nachos, a heaping plate of hearty chips, olives, lettuce, cheese, beans, and jalapenos. The nachos also feature plentiful portions of fresh salsa and bright, citrus-y guacamole. It can easily serve four, though my girlfriends and I have been known to polish them off in parties of half that size. Amusingly, the tagline of this dish is: “Far but authentic, but very good!” An apt description of many items on the restaurant’s extensive menu.

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For a main, you can’t go wrong with the Harvest Burrito (at right). Served with well-seasoned rice and simple, tasty beans, the Burrito is enormous. It is filled with seasonal vegetables (upon my last visits corn, zucchini, squash, and onions) and Boursin cheese – an almost humorous application of the cross-cultural theme of the menu. The Burrito is grilled, and truly delicious. I really can’t restrain myself from finishing it when it is placed before me. I might have a problem.

Also delicious are the Enchiladas, available with a variety of fillings including beans, beef, and the interesting combinations of chicken, raisins, and cinnamon. Slathered in cheese and served with the same rice and beans, the portion is huge. Such is true of most things on the Flats’ menu – finishing the entire platter is near impossible. Or at least, not advisable.

I have yet to try the dinner menu at the Flats, but it features many more interesting items, notably those pulling from the chef’s experience in southern and Cajun cooking (see Louisiana Alligator, or Bayou Crawdad Cakes). The restaurant also prides itself on a long list of varied specials each weekend. In the past, the chef has featured items such as tripe, tongue, duck, and other experimental ingredients that tests the flavor palates of its clientele. Many of these specials are being incorporated into a new menu, set to launch in just a few weeks’ time.
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A very extensive bar.

At the Flats, customers are made into regulars. All members of the staff smile and chuckle when asked about their loyal patrons, saying that many have been coming to the Flats every week for twenty years. And I can see why. First of all, the bar is stocked with nearly 40 kinds of Tequila – sampling those alone could keep you busy for a while. But a smiling waitress, a heaping plate of soul-filling food, and very affordable prices also make this place infectious. I’m already looking forward to my next visit, where a girlfriend and I are planning to sample the dinner and dessert menu and the nighttime scene. No matter who you are, the Flats is the place to come for relaxation, unassuming dining, and shamelessly fusion cuisine.

Tortilla Flats: 355 Hope Street, Providence RI; 401.751.6777.