SAVORY Seared tuna at Speakeasy.
There are plenty of reasons why the Speakeasy Bar and Grill has become a year-round hit in the heart of Newport. Sure, there’s the prime locale on Thames Street, but it’s the creative menu offerings and outstanding overall value that keep the locals (and capital city landlubbers) coming back for more. Founded by a local trio of industry veterans and backed by a talented executive chef, the Speakeasy hoists the “casual fine dining” banner above the occasionally chaotic atmosphere.
The husband-and-wife team of Michelle Carter and Josh Miles are front-of-house pros dating back to their tenure at the nearby West Deck, where they met (and eventually recruited) chef (and JWU grad) Rob Biela. Co-owner Kevin “Sully” Sullivan made his indelible mark as the former owner of craft beer mecca Pour Judgement. You’ll often find Josh behind the bar slinging drinks and talking up his Pittsburgh Steelers (ugh) while Michelle flies around the dining room resetting tables and expediting entrees.
A narrow walkway leads to the hostess stand just inside and can make for a hectic scene, with patrons debating whether to wait for a table or attempt to squeeze in at the lengthy bar which extends to the outdoor area, while yet another bachelorette party bus unloads out front. The fleet-footed waitstaff may be better off trading in their all-black uniforms for fluorescent colors and a megaphone to pardon their way through the crowd.
The rich, dark wood interior is complemented by tables adorned in white linens. On our most recent visit, my fiancée Jill and I scored a table for two in back, slightly perched above the bustling main floor. Our busy server Melissa had her head on a swivel but we never felt rushed as she reviewed the evening’s specials. Chef Biela’s two-page menu (all items available for lunch and dinner) soars above and beyond the “bar and grill” genre, which always makes for some tough decisions among the 18 or so appetizers. The Escargots & Portobello Mushroom ($9.50) is a must-have every time I visit. The plump shelled snails arrive in a small casserole dish, bathing in a garlic and red wine sauce along with hearty slices of mushrooms. I will pit this dish against any escargot recipe in the state. The same applies for the Portuguese Mac & Cheese ($8.50), with savory bits of chorizo mingling with perfectly al dente pasta. I may have found a new menu favorite — the Mussels Catalan ($14), with white wine, garlic, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives in a light cream sauce. Simply outstanding. The Bermuda fish chowder ($8) trumps their New England clam chowder, and those in need of a unique calamari preparation should take note of the Chinese Five Spice style, sautéed in brown butter with almonds, black currants, spicy hummus, and pita chips.
A full wine list is available (plus standard and local brews on draft and bottle), though we know to always start with a pint of bartender (and chef Rob’s brother) Michael’s red sangria. It is a refreshing and potent kick in the pants.