GUMBO at Dante's.
Southern cookery is unfairly denigrated, commonly, merely out of snooty Yankee disdain. At least that’s what I’ve been informed by Johnnie, whose Louisiana grandmother taught her to make biscuits that would float up to heaven like little clouds if they weren’t grabbed and scarfed down by yours truly.
Dante’s Kitchen, in the heart of East Greenwich, is a classy yet homey little eatery that declares it serves “American Fare with Southern Flair,” “peppered with Southern specialties.”
The three items on the sidewalk chalkboard spanned the range of offerings: a salmon Florentine benny for the breakfast sophisticates and a blueberry compote waffle for the traditionalists; for lunch a “3 Little Pigs Burger” with pulled pork, gouda, and bacon and ham, for the desperately carnivorous.
The ambiance inside was pleasant. Hip and classy décor, with a newsprint-pattern on some of the chairs, and photographs artfully complementing the black-and-white decor. The friendly owner, Lisa Altieri, has a portrait of the restaurant’s namesake, a long-haired dachshund, prominent among the photographs. She said that they have ongoing difficulty obtaining black paper napkins (cloth at dinnertime, of course); most restaurants don’t have such cool style sense.
This is the first executive chef gig for Jason “Jay” Nappa, a Johnson & Wales grad formerly of Bistro 9, and he works with an interesting menu. It starts with breakfast, since no restaurant calling itself Southern-influenced wants to cater to the toast-coffee-and-run crowd. There are biscuits and gravy ($10), of course. Pulled pork hash ($13) arrives over home fries, next to two poached eggs and a grilled buttermilk biscuit. Seeing fried chicken and waffles ($13) listed made me smile — and later noticing it top the dinner entrées made me grin.
On the evening menu, fried green tomatoes ($8) had to be among the appetizers, but they’re served in a bacon and goat cheese tower — a nifty surprise. Black bean soup ($5) is common enough, but having it garnished with jalapeño whipped cream in addition to cilantro is inventive. Main dishes include jambalaya ($17) over dirty rice; an oyster po boy ($13); and a Cajun rib eye ($27). Eight of the 11 entrées have Southern touches, but if you’re still muttering over the Civil War, you can dig into a pork loin with mushroom-and-asparagus hash ($17).
We came for lunch and had a couple of main courses that are also available on the dinner menu. Starting with soup is always a good idea for a hefty appetite. Dante’s gumbo ($6) is listed there, but it was served over rice and was too heavily flour-thickened, both for my taste and to be called soup. It was good, though, with bits of chicken and Andouille sausage.
My half-dozen seared shrimp ($16) were “fresh” enough to be tasty (freshly thawed, that is, coming from Thailand), and the dirty rice was chock-full of sausage and vegetables. Johnnie’s BBQ chicken ($15) was moist and not overpowered by the sauce and came with a corn kernel succotash next to a corn purée to adjust the spicy hotness. And she didn’t spit out her first bite of the accompanying buttermilk biscuit, no small accomplishment, considering her loyalty to her grandmother’s recipe. I also had a side of mac and cheese ($4), loving it enough to order a full-sized version ($12), which had pulled-pork and jalapeño cornbread on top, to take home.