Prateek Shewakramani may have gone to Providence to go bar-hopping with friends, but he found some of the best food he’s ever had — and that’s saying a lot from someone who lives in New York City.
“The wings at the Rosendale are some of the best I’ve ever eaten, even better than the hundreds here in NYC — tons of flavors and fried just right,” he said. “And the chicken and waffles I had the next day was an amazing brunch. Everything is so close-by you can walk and get a few different experiences and vibes — you still have the old family-run places, but there are all of these new places popping up with creative menus and twists on traditional cuisines.”
Among his favorites is Local 121, half restaurant, half “saloon-like” bar that after years of being used as a dining hall by Johnson & Wales University—whose culinary school has become a Providence talent incubator—was renovated to reveal beautiful original woodwork. Today, cafeteria trays are nowhere to be found, but the hideaway spotlights local beers, creative cocktails, and such inventive apps as pizza with a fried-dough crust.
Shewakramani is just one foodie singing this small city’s praises, which is also a favorite day trip for area chefs. Michael Schlow makes it a point to do at least one summer drive from his home in Boston for a lobster roll at Hemenway’s, and Rachel Klein, an alum of several Boston hot spots including Liquid Art House and Providence’s X.O. Café, thinks of her former home fondly.
Robert Sisca, another J&W grad who lives in nearby Cranston, R.I., commuted over an hour to Boston’s Bistro du Midi before deciding this winter to keep it as locally sourced as his produce. Now with a shortened commute as the corporate executive chef at the ProvidenceG, a historic building that includes swank Garde de la Mer, the all-seasons upscale bar Rooftop at the G and Providence GPub, he’s able to dedicate his time to inventive menus, training kitchen leaders, and working with local farmers and vendors. The results are apparent tableside: delicate Hamachi crudo with Asian pears, green garlic, and almonds (pictured), smoked white asparagus soup with a poached egg, prosciutto, and frisse, and layers of crispy-sweet French toast topped with duck confit, lingonberry, and a cured egg yolk all grace the menu.
But the creativity doesn’t stop on the plate, says ProvidenceG director of operations Jeff Mancinho. “Art is such a foundation here, just like the culinary scene. We’re trying to integrate it all and capture everything that is Rhode Island,” he said. Mancinho’s latest endeavor includes working with local artists on digital pieces for his renovated space that will transform over time, and reflect the city’s attitude of changing with the times.
Providence hosts outdoor arts festivals and music events almost each weekend from spring through fall and as home to the Rhode Island School of Design there’s a larger focus on integrating compelling media into the everyday (including painting murals on large brick building “canvases” downtown) says Christina Robbio of the city’s visitors bureau. The most famous art installation, the eighty bonfires installed on rivers running through the city center as part of the WaterFire sculpture by Barnaby Evans, are incorporated into several evenings of music and entertainment annually.