Eleven Forty Nine | 1149 Division St, Warwick | Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-3:30 pm + 5-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30 am-3:30 pm + 5-11 Pm; Sun, 3-10 Pm | Major credit cards | Full bar
Sidewalk-level access | 401.884.1149
For many years, a Rhode Island tradition has played out in which a prominent Warwick location has continually morphed into different restaurants, like in a fever dream of Walter Potenza. Mario’s Bravo, Paragon, Jason’s — on and on — back into DBA-license history. The place faces highway access to a cineplex next door, so sooner or later everybody south of Providence is aware of it. I don’t know if the business gods are smiling down on the current owners, but judging by a recent visit, the culinary ones seem to be. Eleven Forty Nine just might have smooth sailing.
Of course, that’s hardly a long shot considering that Jules Ramos is executive chef, helming the kitchen away from the shoals. Just consider the upscale Providence restaurants he’s put on the A-list: XO, Mill’s Tavern, Ten Prime Steak & Sushi, and Moda.
A reported $1 million renovation by the new owners has retro crystal chandeliers and modern drop lights reflected in rows of dangling glass teardrops, with a sheet of water animating a wall fountain and a gong signaling a fusion of tastes, as well as decor.
The place is enormous, with a large wraparound bar and several dining areas. It can be correspondingly noisy, high-energy design being all the rage these days. Even the restrooms are gorgeous, and guys who don’t have masculinity issues will be pleased that the men’s room has a variety of scented liquid soaps and lotions (including wasabi for those determined to be macho).
We were early enough to have our choice of a larger or smaller table for the two of us, an unusual option at a restaurant. The wine list is extensive, with more than two-dozen available by the glass. There is a raw bar to start your meal, and the list of appetizers with seafood choices outnumbers meat, seven to two. Ramos is known for his affinity for Rhode Island dishes, so there is fried calamari ($9) from Point Judith, with a chipotle and scallion mayo, pan-roasted local clams ($9), and even fried oysters ($12).
On traditional New England menus, I usually issue a sigh before deciding between chowder and corn chowder, liking them both. So there was additional reason to try what was listed as Chef Jules Signature Clam and Corn Chowder ($6). Who says you can’t have it all?
The corn kernels are an accent, with abundant clams the main feature, and while the broth is milky, it’s the clam flavor of the traditional broth version that comes through, with a bottom note of salt pork. The bowl is accompanied by two small clam cakes; grease is unavoidable, since the balls of batter have to cook through, but these are exceptionally flavorful.
Johnnie started with one of the half-dozen salads, choosing Asian ($6). She was pleased with the ginger dressing and accents of Fuji apple, peanuts, and fried wonton strips. All of the salads can be made into a light meal by adding one of seven options ($4-$9), from wood-oven roasted veggies to two kinds of steak.
We decided to turn this into a five-course meal by sharing some baked penne ($12), which was served in two smaller baking dishes at no extra charge. It’s my favorite version: pink vodka sauce, four cheeses, and baked in a shallow dish so that much of the pasta as well as the cheese are browned crisp for additional texture. There are two other pasta choices: lobster ravioli ($19) and linguine in red or white clam sauce ($16).
Our main courses were just as enjoyable. Johnnie’s yellow fin tuna ($23) was a thick steak that remained medium, as requested, under its teriyaki glaze and on its bed of sautéed baby spinach.
Mine was a special, pork loin ($22) wrapped in apple-wood-smoked bacon, served atop a potato and sweet potato hash, fenced in by a square of grilled asparagus spears. The flavors were nicely compatible, especially the drizzle of balsamic reduction for the pork. A side of herbed mixed mushrooms, finished with Madeira and butter, was an earthy complement. The sides ($4- $7) include such interesting offerings as grilled red onion with Roquefort, and a purée of candied sweet potato and mashed carrots.
Pastry chef Jason Vieira offers a number of regular desert choices, all $6, from the omnipresent molten chocolate cake to spiced pumpkin cheesecake. We had a delicious special, apple parfait ($7.50), a stack of baked slices accompanied by a scoop of rum raisin ice cream, with a tumble of spun sugar on top. It made a fine ending to a fine meal.