Providence may be the capital of the Union’s smallest state, but its food scene is plenty big. Home to the world’s largest culinary school, Johnson & Wales University, and to the greatest number of working artists per capita in the United States, Providence has a vibrant, progressive eating scene. The city’s small size works to its advantage, making it easy for farmers and cheesemakers to transport their produce to its bustling markets and restaurants. As a result, the community has long been at the head of the farm-to-table movement. Manifesting the state motto, “Hope,” with their entrepreneurial optimism, local food producers, retailers, and restaurateurs have made Providence a food destination that is altogether providential.
Tony’s Colonial Food Store
Locals who know the good stuff shop at this gem of a store on Federal Hill, Providence’s Little Italy. Tony DiCicco, who arrived as a refugee in 1955, boasts that over 90 percent of the food in his 40-year-old shop, including an impressive variety of high-quality Italian cheeses, comes directly from Italy. Now in his 70s and still working over 70 hours a week, Tony travels to Parma, Italy, every year to meet producers and handpick products for his loyal customers.
Tony’s Colonial Food Store 311 Atwells Avenue Providence, RI 401.621.8675
More than just pasta is for sale at this local institution, started over 30 years ago by Alan Costantino. In its greatly expanded cheese department, which only a decade ago had a mere ten cheeses, Venda Ravioli now has the largest and most varied selection on Federal Hill. You can find here the usual suspects from Italy, of very high quality, but also more unusual ones from across Europe, including Bergblume, a raw-milk mountain cheese from Switzerland. Tonie Lapierre, who runs the cheese department, aims to keep her regulars happy by always being able to offer them something unexpected.
Venda Ravioli 265 Atwells Avenue Providence, RI 401.421.9105
This relative newcomer to Providence has made a splash on the local food scene with its offerings of all things artisanal, especially cheese. Set up by the passionate husband-and-wife team of Kate and Matthew Jennings in 2003 on the historic East Side of Providence, Farmstead focuses on small-production cheeses from the United States and abroad. Not only can you come to this boutique shop to buy fine cheeses and gourmet accompaniments, but you can also cozy up to the cheese counter at lunch and stay awhile to enjoy a plate of cheeses or a hearty sandwich with larded chips and housemade pickles, washed down with a selection from their carefully assembled beer, wine, and cider list. Or you can sign up for a class to learn more about cheese, cocktails, butchering, and more.
Farmstead 186 Wayland Avenue Providence, RI 401.274.7177
Hope Street Farmers Market
People come from all over for this stellar market, the largest in the state, located on the grassy triangle where Hope Street meets shady Blackstone Boulevard. All sorts of local foods are available, including fresh and aged goat’s milk cheeses from Beltane Farms in Lebanon, Connecticut (Danse De La Lune is a favorite), and savory and sweet pastries from Olga’s Cup and Saucer in Providence. Live music, a playground, and a fountain make for a lively scene, not to mention the convenience of valet parking for bicycles. Open Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and Wednesdays, 3:30 to 6:00 p.m., from June through October.
Hope Street Farmers Market Lippitt Park, Hope Street and Blackstone Boulevard Providence, RI 310.395.8279
Armory Farmers Market
Popular yet relaxed, the Armory on the west side of Providence is a real neighborhood market that reflects the artsy vibe and the ethnic and social diversity of the city. Special events include live music and cooking demos by culinary students at Johnson & Wales. Open Thursdays, 3:30 to 7:00 p.m., from June through October.
Armory Farmers Market Cranston Armory, Parade Street and Hudson Street Providence, RI
Wintertime Farmers Market
Winter doesn’t spell the end of Providence’s farmers’ markets. Local foods and seasonal produce move indoors into an artsy renovated mill space just across the city line in Pawtucket. Reminiscent of markets in a much bigger European city, it is not only a place to pick up edibles from 65 local food vendors but also a space to linger—in a warm setting—and people-watch. Social and lively, the indoor market is the spot for many first dates and family outings. Open Wednesdays, 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., from November to May.
Wintertime Farmers Market Hope Artiste Village 1005 Main Street Pawtucket, RI
An urban creamery begun in 2007 by Louella Hill, a local foods advocate, and Mark Federico, a veteran cheesemaker. Narragansett Creamery distinguished itself by being the first artisan cheesemaker in the state and the recipient of awards for its Italian- and Dutchstyle cheeses. Fluffy and sweet Renaissance Ricotta won best in class at the 2008 World Championship Cheese Contest.
Narragansett Creamery Dearborn Street Providence, RI 401.272.4944
The Reynolds Barn Goat Cheese & Goat Milk Soaps
Makers of goat’s milk soap for 25 years, Reynolds Barn became the first certified goat dairy in Rhode Island a little over two years ago. The dairy, only a few miles from the University of Rhode Island, sells fresh goat cheese in seven different flavors, as well as a basket cheese, Tribute, named for their first goat, and a pressed wheel with a vein of Italian herbs, called Papa, a nod to co-founder Donnie Reynolds. Aged cheeses and ice cream are in the works and will keep the Reynolds family’s 27 goats busy.
The Reynolds Barn Goat Cheese & Goat Milk Soaps 1240 Tower Hill Road North Kingstown, RI 401.294.6972
Located on picturesque Aquidneck Island, this 120-acre organic farm has been continuously worked by the Simmons family for hundreds of years. Relative newcomers to making cheese, the Simmons family offers both goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses from their own herds. Most popular are their flavored chèvres. Three Jerseys is their new cow’s milk cheese, and there are plans for feta, mozzarella, fromage blanc, and cheddar.
Simmons Farm 1942 West Main Road Middletown, RI 401.848.9910
Not yet making cheese (but planning to soon!), Rhody Fresh is a pioneering co-op that has helped Rhode Island remain a dairy state. At one time there were 80 dairy farms in the state; now there are just 17. Since Rhody Fresh began in 2004, under the leadership of Jim Hines, that number has not declined, a record that only the state of Rhode Island can boast. Rhody Fresh buys milk from nine small dairy farms with herds of fewer than a 100 cows and distributes it to retail markets throughout the state. Rhode Islanders have been loyal customers, knowing they are doing their part to support the local economy and maintain open space in their small state.
Rhody Fresh PO Box 305 Tiverton, RI 401.490.0701
As soon as you enter this French inspired neighborhood restaurant, painted in warm Mediterranean colors, you encounter the “cheese hutch,” which displays that evening’s selection of cheeses, with handwritten descriptions of each. Owners Matt and Kristin Gennuso have aimed to create French dining that isn’t overly formal and expensive; the Bistro Menu, a three-course meal, is available for $35. Matt, an advocate of nose-to-tail cooking, also runs a food truck, Hewtin’s Dogs Mobile, with hot dogs from Hartford, Connecticut, and the restaurant’s own sausages and cured meats.
Chez Pascal 960 Hope Street Providence, RI, 401.421.4422
Cook & Brown Public House
Little more than a year old, Cook & Brown quickly established itself as the neighborhood restaurant that chef Nemo Bolin and his wife, Jenny, had hoped for. The menu fully captures New England seasonality. There is no cheese course per se, but it has a starring role in many dishes, including feathery gnocchi made with Narragansett Creamery’s Renaissance Ricotta. As a public house Cook & Brown has an impressive lineup of small-batch beers, as well as handcrafted cocktails and esoteric wines.
Cook & Brown Public House 959 Hope Street Providence, RI, 401.273.7275
Located near the Trinity Repertory Company, Gracie’s brings seasonal dining to new heights, so to speak, with its rooftop garden dining room. What truly sets Gracie’s apart, however, is its impeccable service and knowledgeable staff. A cheese selection is always the sixth plate of a seven-course tasting menu, served with accompaniments made from the rooftop’s bounty— huckleberry preserves for Hannahbells, a tiny cow’s milk cheese from Shy Brothers Farm in Westport, Massachusetts, or a green tomato relish for Cato Corner’s Womanchego, from Connecticut. A dinner meal in this sophisticated, candlelit space, owned by Ellen Gracyalny, signals a special evening.
Gracie’s 194 Washington Street Providence, RI, 401.272.7811
With a name that means “the dairy,” you’d expect an emphasis on cheese at this charming slip of a bistro, attached to Farmstead, both owned by Matt and Kate Jennings. And you wouldn’t be disappointed. But cheese isn’t the only draw. Winner of Cochon 555/Boston three times, Matt celebrates all things pork and has recently brought aboard someone to work full-time making charcuterie. Kate, meanwhile, makes deliciously rustic desserts. Other offerings on their frequently changing menu showcase the best produce, fish, and meat that Rhode Island has to offer.
La Laiterie 188 Wayland Avenue Providence, RI, 401.274.7177
At the forefront of the fine dining scene for 22 years, New Rivers is hardly new, but its global menu continues to be surprising and inspired. When Bruce Tillinghast and his late wife Pat opened this American bistro in 1990 in an 18thcentury warehouse at the foot of College Hill, they aimed for a new dining concept in a city that was accustomed to steak houses and French and Italian cuisines. Providence, which was just starting an urban revitalization, embraced New Rivers’ honest and fresh cooking, which even back then sourced local, seasonal ingredients. Almost everything is made in-house, including most of the bread; a plate of handmade cheeses can begin or end a memorable meal here.
New Rivers 7 Steeple Street Providence, RI, 401.751.0350
Eating on the Run
Serving up thin-crust whole wheat pizzas with such fresh, innovative toppings as butternut squash, Fellini Pizzeria captures the freethinking, artsy side of Providence. More than pizza is on offer here, with Louisiana inspired muffuletta sandwiches on homemade focaccia, seasonal soups, and generous made-to-order salads.
Fellini Pizzeria 166 Wickenden Street Providence, RI, 401.751.6737
Seven Stars Bakery
A city with fine food and cheese must have good bread, too. Seven Stars is the source. Lynn and Jim Williams have been baking bread for Providence locals since 2001, relying on long fermentation to coax flavor from their raw materials (not unlike cheesemakers!). Over the years Seven Stars has become equally known for its morning pastries and expertly prepared coffees, which have helped turn its three locations into popular neighborhood hangouts.
Haven Brothers Diner
Food trucks may be all the rage these days, but Haven Brothers has been serving street food in Providence since 1888, first from a horse-drawn wagon and now in a 1930s stainless steel trailer. Located outside Providence’s City Hall at Dorrance and Fulton streets every day from approximately 5:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., Haven Brothers is carrying on a Providence tradition that ultimately morphed into the American diner. Climb aboard, and you’ll find no cutting-edge fusion food, just the American classics of hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes.
Haven Brothers Diner 72 Spruce Street Providence, RI, 401.861.7777
A Providence institution, located right along the river by the hurricane barrier, the Hot Club is the perfect place to sit outside on the deck and soak in the charms of Providence. There are no pretensions at this bar, started by Tom Bates in 1983 and now run by his son Eben and daughter-in-law Sarah. Instead you’ll find regulars, good conversation, and generous drinks. The food menu is limited, but everything’s fresh and prepared on an indoor charcoal grill, a method of cooking that’s fitting for a place named for its start as a boiler room.
Hot Club 575 South Water Street Providence, RI, 401.861.9007
The Red Fez
A downtown bar, located a block from the river and an expanse of parking lots, the Red Fez has a special vibe. Each night at this unpretentious, twofloor bar, started by Sara Kilguss and Ed Reposa in 2000, is wonderfully unpredictable. You never know what or whom you’ll encounter. The eclectic selection of music and seasonal food draw a young crowd as well as chefs from well-established restaurants on their nights off. Eat downstairs or come upstairs to enjoy the distinctively cool Providence scene.
The Red Fez 49 Peck Street Providence, RI, 401.272.1212
The city’s only independent brewpub, Trinity has brewed over 40 different types of beer since it started in 1994. There are usually eight to ten different offerings on tap and always a hearty selection of pub-food classics, as well as a few chef-y dishes. Located in the heart of downtown, Trinity has a hip yet welcoming feel. Sit at the long bar or in a cozy booth for a meal, or go downstairs to play pool or video games. You can also fill up a growler of Trinity’s own beer to go.
Trinity Brewhouse 186 Fountain Street Providence, RI, 401.453.2337