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Editors' Pick
Best Editors' picks: Food

Spark, Bliss, Pam's Pizza, Duffy's and more.

BRING YOUR APPETITe:Some of the phenomenal fare at Rodizio Steakhouse. 

Best trip to Parma via Pascoag
And via Croatia before that. Although Vlado Dukcevich studied curing meats in Germany and Italy for years, his Yugoslavian immigrant parents had been making sausage in Trieste long before he came to Rhode Island. He founded DANIELE,INC. in 1977, using Old World skills to manufacture Italian specialty meats at a time when no one without a vowel ending their name could correctly pronounce prosciutto, never mind appreciate it made right. Today the company also sells pancetta, mortadella, capicola, sopressata, and numerous kinds of salami around the country and as far as Asia. Visit their factory and take a tour, learning about the process as you walk through the enormous cold room where hundreds of dry-curing legs of ham turn into prosciutto over the course of a year or longer.

Daniele Inc. | Davis Drive, Pascoag | 401.568.6228

Best Asian nachos
Take a plate of crisp-fried wonton skins, douse them with sesame/peanut sauce and top them with slivered scallions and grilled shrimp. Voila! Nachos with an Asian twist (“KimSue” on the menu). Chef Sue Zinno gives that Eastern zing to many of her dishes at SPARK, aptly named for the bright taste of unusual herbs and spices she uses. For example: Thai pulled pork, with lime, ground chiles, ginger, lemongrass, and rice wine; littlenecks with a jalapeno, cilantro, ginger, and sake broth; and coconut green curry sauce over udon noodles, with shrimp and scallops. There are also many non-Asian “sparks,” and the menu changes seasonally since Zinno and partner Kim Comfort are dedicated to “fresh product, fresh ideas.” One of the latter was to partner with nearby Vickers Liquors to provide a limited wine list for Spark diners. Once ordered, the wine is delivered to your table from Vickers ($2.50 per person corkage fee).

Spark | 12 Broadway, Newport | 401.842.0023

Best place to feast your fill from Milan to Brazil
You know the slogan by now, recalling the instantly-recognizable mug of charismatic chef/owner Nick Iannuccilli giving a tour of his acclaimed RODIZIO STEAKHOUSE while filling his face on a late-night Channel 6 infomercial. The waitstaff or “Gauchos” make the rounds with 20 cuts of slow-roasted meats, from lamb and turkey to filet mignon, thin-sliced tableside off giant skewers, or Brazilian churrasco style. A wooden red and green stick on the table signals the gauchos — green side up means keep it coming. You may need to tackle the elusive gaucho guy with the phenomenal bacon-wrapped filet. A fixed price of $27, or $20 for the Antipasto Island buffet, a wide array featuring Chef Nick’s well-known Italian specialties (his lasagna and sausage and peppers are always there), with soups, salads and seafood. Three floors of dining (the Gaucho’s Loft is a great for private parties) along with the quieter Al Fresco Garden out back can handle the steady crowds. Open Mon-Sat at 4:30 p.m. and Sundays at noon.

Rodizio Steakhouse | 1195 Douglas Avenue, North Providence | 401.354.8411 |

Best reason to take the “backroad” to Bristol
The BACKROAD GRILLE hasn’t seen a Bristol summer yet, but rest assured they’ll be filling this welcome newcomer on Metacom Avenue (which was referred to as the backroad to Hope Street way back when), just a few minutes off the chaotic parade trail. Two wide-open rooms and a nice bar area provide plenty of space, and the menu offers plenty of apps (Juniper Hill mini-burgers and Bang Bang shrimp, please), BBQ (surprisingly tasty pulled pork and corn bread), and seafood and pasta options along with burgers and wraps aplenty, but it’s all about the beef — namely the Patriot Ribeye, a 22-ounce bone-in brontosaurus.

Backroad Grille | 549 Metacom Avenue, Bristol | 401.253.0553

Best humungous two-fers
There was a time when Rhode Islanders were much smaller. But eventually Roger and Anne and their pallorous Puritan brethren were supplanted by hardier immigrants from Mediterranean climes, who not only threw better parties but also served meatballs and pasta instead of maize. Thus our current demographics and the doggie bag were born. At  PAT ORLANDO’S RESTAURANT, the Sunday through Thursday $26.95 dinner for two doesn’t try to make up for the bargain by serving eentsy bistro portions. And no cheap bottle of wine — a hefty soup or salad is provided instead with your choice from a half-dozen entrées. Try the chicken Sorrento if the veal Parmigiana is too everyday for you. Since now you can afford an appetizer, get the funghi trifolati ($9.95), a medley of wild mushrooms that allows individual flavors to pop out.

Pat Orlando's Restaurant | 175 Putnam Pike, Johnston | 401.231.6053 |

Best kabob bargain
Nouveau cuisine has witnessed many kabob inventions that a Syrian-American like chef Mark Awad might never have dreamed of.What he’s offering instead are terrific versions of home-style Middle Eastern ones at MARKOS KABOB AND MORE. There are beef chunks marinated in a special sauce (the requisite shish kabob), chicken with veggies (jaj kabob), lamb loin seasoned with cumin and pepper, chicken with a Caribbean twist, kabob halabi (ground sirloin packed into tiny balls with shredded onion and pine nuts — don’t ask how they cling to the stick), and vegetable kabob (onions, peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant cubes). Markos’ kabob sampler includes one skewer from each of four kabobs, with rice and fries, and it feeds two people quite handily for $12.50. Markos also has a dozen wraps with five falafel variations, three kabob choices, and bab touma — French fries in a wrap with lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, and pickles. Hold the burger, but stick those fries in there!

Markos Kabob and More | 126 Boon Street, Narragansett | 401.783.9083

Best baked stuffed mushrooms. Period
From calamari to clams casino, we uber-opinionated Rhode Islanders take our appetizers seriously. Stuffed mushrooms are usually hit or miss, with either a bland and dry stuffing or a soggy mushroom (or both). The search is officially over — here’s a nod to the renowned GOVERNOR FRANCIS INN in Warwick. A whole baby scallop is enveloped in a creamy, buttery shrimp and crab cracker dressing atop six meaty mushrooms full of wine-infused flavor. The throng of regulars certainly won’t thank us, but the GFI menu is loaded with standouts, from the French onion soup to the Governor Burger (with bleu cheese and bacon) to the Land and Sea special, a sirloin accompanied by a stuffed lobster tail and a side of crack-addictive butternut squash. The Guvna’s is always packed and always worth the wait.

Governor Francis Inn | 1251 Warwick Avenue, Warwick | 401.463.8227

Best imaginary carnivorishness
Vegetarians and vegans try to be good people. They avert their eyes politely if they notice you chomping into a slab of cow corpse dripping with special sauce. If you don’t remind them that Adolf Hitler was a carrot-muncher, they probably won’t point out that if reincarnation is a fact, you might be consuming your clumsy brother-in-law Bruce, who fell down the well. It’s for vegetable-huggers that the Portabella Big Mac at MARIO’S RESTAURANT was born. For $8.95 they get a pile of thick grilled eggplant slices, summer squash, and red onion, with the title component perched on top like a dashing brown beret splashed with a saucy balsamic vinaigrette. It’s more like a Big Stack than a burger, actually, since there’s no nasty carb-packed bun. Eat hearty, vegetarians. Uh, unless that reminds you of organ meats.

Mario's Restaurant | 20 Haven Street, Cranston | 401.942.1009

Best Nicoise this side of Nice
Strictly authentic? Maybe not. Delicious? Definitely! The Niçoise salad at BLISS is wonderfully bountiful, with a whole can of quality tuna, hard-boiled eggs, terrific kalamata olives, marinated potato chunks, marinated green beans with red onion — all of this over mixed mesclun greens with a balsamic vinaigrette. And there are many other great foods at this combination café/whole-foods market. The Black Forest ham, brie, and caramelized onion sandwich on a fresh-baked ciabatta vies with the marinated and grilled feta with avocado and lemon sauce for a yummy lunch. For supper, grab something from Bliss’s deli case: organic roasted chicken breasts, lasagne, sesame noodles, peapod/tomato salad — the offerings rotate daily. On the market side, there are frozen meals and pizzas, organic produce and dairy products, and a few aisles of organic cookies, chips, dried fruit, cereals, etc. So, whether you stop in quickly or hang out over coffee, this is surely a place to make you blissful.

Bliss | 311 Broadway, Newport | 401.608.2322

Best frooty beer
We know you don’t drink frooty beers, tough guy, but this one is different. NEWPORT STORM RHODE ISLAND BLUEBERRY is a recent addition to their roster, and arguably the best yet from the Middletown-based brewery. Newport Storm Blue is subtly addictive; imagine Boo Berry in a bottle. And for those of us who now make a mission out of finding the next best blueberry beer, this blue is smoother than the Sea Dog version and less expensive than the overpriced Bar Harbor brand. It has been available year-round, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll finally find it on tap this summer. Newport Storm has continued to raise the bar since hitting beer shelves back in ’99. Stop by for the free tour every Friday at 6 pm ($10 for a 64-ounce growler and $5 refills).

Newport Storm | 307 Oliphant Lane, Middletown | 401.849.5232 |

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Adamonis Jr. [second from left] and the crew at Neo Pizza.

Best white pizza with medal to prove it
Everyone has a strong opinion about whose pizzas are the best. Someone insists that it has to be New York-style from the Bessemer heat of a coal-fired oven, and the next person is swooning over a slice with dollops of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter. At NEO PIZZA they went for an objective judgment, entering their Gian pizza in the Northeast Region Pizza Challenge in Atlantic City last fall. And son of a gun, Charlie Adamonis Jr. and wife Peggy won. Twelve food industry judges considered “taste, appearance, creativity, marketability, practicality, etc.” as they bit into the thin crust topped with pancetta, spinach, and a three-cheese medley, finished with herbs and garlic fried in olive oil. Pretty good. Stiff competition is their signature Neo pizza, with halved grape tomatoes studding the marvelously balanced red sauce.

Neo Pizza | 2244 Plainfield Pike, Cranston | 401.942.4636 |

Best compensation for eating badly
We’re talking CLARKE COOKE HOUSE, so “badly” in this case means starting off with the foie gras “au torchon” instead of the carpaccio of yellow fin tuna and proceeding to the New York sirloin steak au poivre with caramelized sweet potato, potato/turnip gratin, and apple and banana purée instead of the wood-grilled Narragansett Bay swordfish. Bad according to your cardiologist, not your appetite. The compensation in question is something they provide as a public service, an assurance that once your cholesterol accumulates to the tipping point, things won’t be so terrible in the afterlife. Their signature Snowball In Hell dessert ($6.95) is a chocolate roulade topped with vanilla ice cream in a chocolate-coated goblet, covered with Callebault chocolate. And sprinkled with coconut. You may see obese diners weeping as they consume one knowing they are hopeless sinners. Be forgiving.

Clarke Cooke House | Bannister’s Wharf, Newport | 401.849.2900 |

Best dessert meeting of East and West
Asian tastes and components in restaurant dishes were the first off-the-beaten-menu experiments in the food trend that became known as fusion. Pork chop meet pomegranate; Arugula and radicchio salad, meet Chinese gooseberry. But such things can get out of hand. Durian ice cream, anyone? The Asian apple crisp ($7.95) at TWENTY-TWO BOWEN’S goes for cultural culinary comity with good sense rather than gimmickry. You can’t get any more Western than Granny Smith, but those slices get a five-spice treatment, which may start with nutmeg but travels around the world before it’s through. Three crisp squares of fried wonton dough separate the apple layers. Most interesting of all, the brown sauce beneath this is not simply chocolate syrup but rather a reduction of sweetened soy sauce, for an additional tang far more inventive than merely bittersweet.

Twenty-Two Bowen's | 22 Bowen’s Wharf, Newport | 401.841.8884 |

Best dish you’ll be eating alone
There are acquired tastes, and then there are tastes that you can’t really experience in the first place unless you get over an aversion. The former is like learning to appreciate cilantro or even garlic. An extreme example of the latter is the above-mentioned durian, a Southeast Asian fruit that has a pleasant taste, but only if you can get over its awful odor. You won’t find a better dish of tripe than at CAFÉ ANDIAMO. The $9.99 appetizer is a platter of small, fork-tender honeycomb squares in tomato sauce. From the lining of the cow’s stomach. When prepared badly, each bite is overly chewy and usually fatty. Here chef Pietro Senes uses only Black Angus, doesn’t shortchange the time-consuming preparation, and uses a flavorful marinara. Delicious. Really.

Cafe Andiamo | 235 Greenville Avenue, Johnston | 401.349.4333

Best reason to head to Apponaug
Since the Berek brothers opened the REMINGTON HOUSE INN in Apponaug in 2002, it has blossomed into one of the best restaurants in Rhode Island. The interior and atmosphere are equally lively and romantic, along with their renowned bar and lounge area. The original structure dates back to the Revolutionary War, but the fare is contemporary American with a discernible flair. Start things off with the Clams Remington over crostini, stuffed portabellas, or the must-have Shrimp Remington, oven-roasted and wrapped in prosciutto and roasted peppers atop fresh mozzarella. The Southwest, New Orleans and, Mediterranean pasta dishes are all recommended, along with winter favorite Beef Stroganoff (garlicky sautéed beef tips in a savory portabella sour cream sauce served over toast points). The grilled balsamic pork chop, chicken, and shrimp in pink basil sauce, pork and clams over white rice, and the Remington House steak all demand repeat visits.

Remington House Inn | 3376 Post Road, Warwick | 401.736.8388 |

Best blast from the past
It’s not just that the Fantastic Umbrella Factory started as an artists’ colony in 1968 and that strolling through its gardens and shops is a magical mystery tour of retro-hippie clothing and Bob Marley CDs. It’s that when you finally reach NEW BEGINNINGS CAFÉ, lured by the aroma of fresh-baked focaccia and the cheerfulness of tiny colored lights around the door, you step into a time long past but never forgotten: the ’60s/early ’70s. Remember furniture painted in bright psychedelic colors with swirls and dots? Two very funky stools at New Beginnings bring that all back, and wasn’t carrot cake the iconic dessert of that era? This homemade one is scrumptious, chockful of nuts and spice, with thick cream cheese frosting. Not everything’s from the ’60s, however — thank heavens for panini with focaccia, cilantro pesto, chipotle mayo, and even a ham ’n’ cheese with glazed pears!

New Beginnings Cafe | 4820 Old Post Road, Charlestown | 401.364.9240

Best al dente noodle bowl
There was a time when the typical vegetarian dish served in this country was not unlike an assortment of flavorless, steamed TV dinner sides without the aluminum tray. Asian ethnic influences have pumped up the spice component, but things can still get a little limp for appreciators of texture. Without those mung bean sprouts, the thin vermicelli noodles in a bowl of Vietnamese pho would slide down your throat in one gulp. To the rescue: the dukbokgi ($8.99) at SOLOMON KOREAN RESTAURANT. Order it with potato noodles for an extra $3 and you get pleasant resistance instead of soggy mass, accompanied by the even firmer rice cakes that look and feel like stubby pieces of mozzarella sticks. The dish’s hot and sweet sauce is quite delicious and you also get what look like thin triangles of tofu but are actually fish cake.

Solomon Korean Restaurant | 404 Benefit Street, Providence | 401.621.9749

Best secret menu
It’s not as if there aren’t enough items on the regular eight-page menu at MUMU CUISINE to keep the most voracious diners at bay — 10 soups, 12 appetizers, six dim sum, 39 meat and seafood dishes, 22 noodle, fried rice, or vegetable options, and even four desserts! But you’d still be missing 33 unusual dishes and 15 dim sum from the restaurant’s “authentic” Chinese menu, if you don’t know to ask for it. Judging by the terrific dumplings, fantastic scallion pancakes, delectable tea-smoked duck, melt-in-your-mouth tofu, and delicious prawns on the regular menu, you could probably trust anything on that “authentic” list: glassy noodles with tofu skin, sautéed peapod leaves, shredded potato with chili pepper, or fish stew with preserved mustard greens. (Preserved how?) And what about that jellyfish with Chinese radish? These things need not remain secret, if you just keep asking for that menu.

Mumu Cuisine | 220 Atwells Avenue, Providence | 401.369.7040

Best turnaround for tofu-phobes
Pity the poor tofu! So maligned for so many years by so many otherwise discerning gourmands. The “golden triangles” — deep-fried tofu triangles, that is — at THAI PEPPER could convert the most entrenched tofu-phobe. The outside of these triangles is crispy and the inside melts in your mouth faster than cotton candy. And that’s just the beginning. After that appetizer, you could have tofu in coconut milk/chicken broth soup; in a stir-fried entrée such as a spicy one with veggies, cashews, and pineapple; in a massaman curry with potatoes, carrots, onions, and peanuts; in the traditional pad Thai noodles; or in fried rice. In each dish, this silky soybean curd would take on the wonderful tastes of ginger, lemongrass, lime juice, and other herbs and spices. And the savage tofu-hater would be tamed. Unless, perhaps, he or she chose more than a two-pepper spiciness (three = “mouth explosion”; four = “hot as hell”).

Thai Pepper | 15 Railroad Avenue, Westerly | 401.348.0511

Best mom-and-pop Armenian pizza shop
Shout-out to Mount Ararat! Apparently it’s not just about the Italians and Greeks knowing their way around a vintage pizza oven, proof positive courtesy of PAM’S PIZZA in the Greenwood section of Warwick. It’s easy to miss this small house on Post Road, but one stop and you’re hooked. No need to tear up the junk drawer searching for coupons — this mom-and-pop operation has low prices, consistently delicious pizza, and free delivery. Grab a large pepperoni for $8.95 or a four-way loaded combo for under $12. There are also giant calzones under $6 and spinach pies for only $2.30. The subs are fantastic as well; where else can you score a large steak and cheese for only $5? From the meatball and mushroom to the Italian to the simple and delicious tuna salad (love it when an old-time pizza shop asks “hot or cold?” on the tuna sub), you’re in good hands at Pam’s.

Pam's Pizza | 2739 Post Road, Warwick | 401.732.3193

Best bar for sports fan foodies
Couch potatoes get no respect, but that pastime may be turned to advantage, even camaraderie, by simply joining forces at a sports bar. Instant permission. Who maligns a stool potato? Yet a decent list of brews on tap will not get you far in repairing your reputation as a sentient popcorn bowl. So go to FAT BELLY’S PUB for Sunday afternoon football and pretend it’s for the first-rate food. On your second visit, it will be. Chef and co-owner Scott Parker used to be the chef/proprietor of Sophia’s Tuscan Grille in Warwick, so the menu is terrific. Black Angus beef burgers with caramelized onions below and fried onion strips on top. Lobster ravioli, cappellini aglio e olio. And get this: a dessert pizza with Bosc pears, almonds, and crème fraîche. How ’bout them Sox, eh?

Fat Belly's Pub | 254 Old Forge Road, Warwick | 401.884.2112

Best temporal tempura
It may be a restaurant devoted to Chinese dishes, but FORTUNE HOUSE also makes the most delectable melt-in-your-mouth tempura, gone in an instant! Slices of sweet potato, Asian eggplant, broccoli, string beans, and green pepper still have some bite to them; the batter is light, crispy, not oily. The same care is taken in the kitchen that owner Stephanie Juan shows each customer whom she greets by name at the door. It’s as if she’s feeding one big family in the northern corner of the state. One frequent diner is working his way through the entire menu. A plus for veg-heads is the vegetarian fried rice — often hard to come by in other Chinese-American restaurants. The freshest ingredients make everything delicious at Fortune House, and if you’re lucky enough to hit asparagus season, you’ll hit the jackpot with those special dishes.

Fortune House | 1800 Mendon Road, Cumberland | 401.333.9976

Best eclectic dining in . . . East Providence?
A memorable, elegant night out in East Provy? Yes, it’s true, thanks to CATTAILS CITY GRILL on Waterman Avenue (over near Route 44 where the road kinda splits, in Rhode Islandese). The centrally located hot spot has been the talk of the town since its inception last year, with owners from Mediterraneo and the Spain (Cranston) teaming up to bring an eclectic (and excellent) menu and decidedly handsome interior, the entrance leading to a lively bar scene and a large adjacent dining room designed to handle the weekend rush. Cattails’ menu offers worldly flavors to usual suspects like a chicken quesadilla kicked up with a black bean, cucumber, and mango salsa, portobello mushrooms topped with Brie, and coconut shrimp with plantains over an addictive Thai peanut banana sauce. And that’s just for starters; unique and flavorful presentations of the standard salads, steaks, seafood, chops, and pasta offer plenty of reasons to return.

Cattails City Grill | 315 Waterman Avenue, East Providence | 401.434-2288 |

Best “cool” cocktails
Experimenting with new flavors has become a signature at the gelato shop COLD FUSION. Though there’s only space for 34, the total number of gelato and sorbet flavors owner Torrance Kopfer has come up with approaches 200. His inventiveness seems endless, with bay leaf and lavender vanilla variations; a dozen coffee flavors, including mocha crunch with bits of coffee beans; dark chocolate mixed with banana and coconut (“monkey business”). Traditional Italian flavors include ricotta, mascarpone, and tiramisu; among the herb and spice options, there are cardamom, lemongrass, or rose petal; and from the almost 40 fruit flavors, the unusual black currant and fig are the tip of the iceberg. But the really “cool” flavors are the sorbets laced with liquor or liqueur: mojito, with lime, rum, and mint; tequila with lime; Calvados and green apple; Campari and pear; limoncello. And don’t forget the mint julep and Bailey’s Irish cream gelatos!

Cold Fusion | 389 Thames Street, Newport | 401.849.6777 |

NOW HE’S COOKIN’ Executive chef Matt Holmes at the Red Stripe. 

Best variations on a mollusk theme
There was a day when mussels could hardly be given away, when most diners thought of them as akin to barnacles, fit to encrust pier pilings but hardly welcome gaping and steaming on a dinner table. Once they came to be appreciated, the default preparation at most restaurants was simply to steam them with white wine so that the resulting broth would be worth dipping bread into. Well, the Wayland Square restaurant RED STRIPE does it that way, but also offers eight other preparations of fat Prince Edward Island mollusks. The Monclade contains curry as well as white wine. The Normande has bacon and mushrooms and is finished with calvados and cream. The Grecque has coriander, fennel, lemon juice, and olive oil. Two sizes are offered, $7.50 and $12.50, the larger with a cone of tasty French fries.

Red Stripe | 465 Angell St., Providence | 401.437.6950

Best Post Road pub grub
Owner John Cioli is onto something good with his TAVERN 12 sports pub on Post Road, where the RE-Bar long languished and long before that the surely missed late ’80s madness at Challenges Sports Bar (with the regulation hoop in the corner). Tavern 12 (the walls are covered with #12 jerseys, but we didn’t spot Jerry Sichting) focuses on the televised sports (at least two dozen TVs here) and the food, with an advanced pub menu and stellar service throughout. The $2 stuffies are a must, as is the signature Buffalo Scallops; salads, wraps
(the spicy tuna wrap with hot pepper rings and chipotle mayo), grinders (the turkey Reuben), and half-pound burgers are all tempting, along with impressive dinners like the steak and portabello penne, fish and chips ,and Chicken Scampi, to name a few.

Tavern 12 | 2299 Post Road, Warwick | 401.490.2340

Best bonding with Bowser
It’s a curious sight. Not as curious as the pet owners howling at the moon afterwards with their hound, but almost. On Mutt Martini Mondays on the patio of the CANFIELD HOUSE, you and your dog — on a leash, please — can join in as pets lap up the libations below and their owners sip identical drinks above. The eponymous Mutt Martini is your basic dirty martini, with Ketel One vodka and olive juice, but the rest of the offerings get cuter. There’s the Chocolate Labratini and the Chihuahua Cosmopolitan, the Plug Pucker, and Lassie’s Lemonade. Kaya’s Kool Aid has Soco, amaretto, and orange, cranberry, and pineapple juices. Eight bucks per bowl or glass, starting mid-May. Be a pal and toss Fluffy a jumbo shrimp from your other cocktail once in a while.

Canfield House | 5 Memorial Boulevard, Newport | 401.847.0416 |

Best crumby food
Devotees of dry-crumbed fried seafood unite! And get thee hence to the COMMONS LUNCH for terrific fried clams, scallops, and calamari. Owner George Crowther does a thick English beer batter for regulars who want that for their fish ’n’ chips. But for those who prefer the crispness of a cracker-crumb dip on fish and seafood, this is the place to come. Of course, the crumb-vs.-beer batter debate rages as steady as the East-West tug about Rhode Island jonnycakes, which are also uncommonly good at the Commons. West Bay-style, they’re light and lacey on the edges, and each one is saucer-sized — five to an order. The quahog and seafood chowders are delish, with plenty of the goods. And there are sandwiches, soups, salads, and Italian faves, such as veal or eggplant parmesan, or spaghetti and meatballs. Especially out-of-the-ordinary at the Commons are the New England pies and puddings, grapenut and Indian, made by Crowther’s wife Barbara. Don’t miss ’em.

Commons Lunch | 48 Commons, Little Compton | 401.635.4388

Best new deli south of Paulie Penta
We long ago proclaimed our man Paulie Penta king of the Italian deli up there in North Providence, but ANDY’S ITALIAN DELI & CAFÉ in Cranston has caught our attention with excellent grinders, wraps, pasta specialties, and much more (including an infinite catering menu). Sibling team Andy and Brianne Vigeant opened last July and this charming spot has become a favorite amongst the locals. The menu covers the culinary bases, from a Thanksgiving Special sub to loaded cheesesteaks, sausage and peppers by the pound to penne with pink vodka sauce. Andy’s is also home to some of the best Italian tuna we’ve encountered, along with plenty of homemade sides (from cucumber salad to snail salad). Daily sandwich combos under $7 are worth checking out Monday through Saturday.

Andy's Italian Deli & Cafe | 1366 Plainfield Street, Cranston | 401.228.7969

Best fresh caffeine
Coffeehouses that roast their own start with pretty much the same product — sacks of green beans from the same importers. Where they differentiate themselves is in how well they do the roasting and — here’s where it gets tricky — how frequently. You can make your own assessment of whether they burn the beans and make them bitter or under-roast and don’t pull out all the flavor. CUSTOM COFFEE HOUSE makes a point of roasting small batches frequently, so you’re more likely to purchase beans at their peak of flavor. And when you order a cup of coffee there, you know it’s been ground to order rather than standing around in a Thermos carafe. They also offer a Coffees of the World gift service, with monthly mailings of two pounds of fresh arabica beans ($80 for three months).

Custom Coffee House | 796 Aquidneck Avenue, Middletown | 401.842.0008 | 600 Clock Tower Square, Portsmouth | 401.682.2600

Best bowl for broth
Did you have an Aunt Marian who taught you not to tip a soup bowl toward you but away from you? If you did, then you know how hard it is to resist tipping when there’s broth from clams or mussels that would be so good to dip bread into. At NICOLA’S, they’ve solved this issue by giving you a bowl that’s already tilted! That way the mussels steamed with garlic, jalapenos, Italian sausage, and white wine are good to the very last drop . . . er, sop. And the sauce with the clam/linguine dish (redolent with cilantro) won’t be left behind. Indeed, there isn’t much at Nicola’s that you’d want to leave behind, from soup to dessert (the mango-passion fruit crème brulée was a winner). Owner Peter Bellone describes his menu as “Mediterranean with a twist,” referring to Asian influences among the entrées, a good selection of pastas, and Tex-Mex quesadillas and nachos on the pub menu.

Nicola's | 2 Tower Street, Westerly | 401.315.2922 |

WELCOME TO PARADISE: Chinh Duong at Pho.

Best rural recipes
You’d expect the dishes labeled “specialties of Vietnamese rural” to be good at a spot that touts itself as PHO PARADISE. And indeed they are. The house specialty hot and sour soup can be ordered with salmon, catfish, chicken, tofu, or shrimp but requisite ingredients are fresh tomatoes, pineapple chunks, Asian basil, bean sprouts, and tiny chili peppers. Yippee! Other “rural” items include four variations on “fire pots,” whereby you cook beef, pork, seafood, or a combo of these in a simmering rice vinegar/lemongrass broth right at your table. Then you wrap the meat in softened rice paper with veggies and enjoy. Other rural recipes at Pho Paradise are stir-fries or soups that have unusual ingredients, such as abalone and fish maws (dried air bladders used to thicken soup). And that’s just one page of the eight-page menu! Don’t miss the fruit shakes, the pho noodle soups, the vermicelli dishes, and the Saigon ravioli.

Pho Paradise | 337 Broad Street, Providence | 401.369.7990

Best East Bay bodega
From lawyers to laborers, everyone in Bristol has long frequented GOGLIA’S MARKET for their massive subs — “2 lbs. average” boasts the old-school signage — along with their famed chourico, linguica, and blade meat available by the pound. The usual variety of sliced meats and cheeses are also available by the pound, but a measly $6 lands you a ridiculous behemoth grinder that could easily satisfy lunch for two. Goglia’s is the perfect pit stop for an impromptu picnic at the adjacent
Bristol Common. And come summertime Goglia’s resembles an Old World bodega with carts out front selling fresh produce, the perfect complement while enjoying a lazy day along the red, white, and blue trail.

Goglia's | 374 Wood Street, Bristol | 401.253.9876

Best lunch with history
The Seamen’s Church Institute, founded in 1919, is a great place to know about in Newport. It houses public restrooms (plus showers and lodging for weary mariners); a library for quiet reading or journaling; the Chapel By the Sea, nestled into a corner on the second floor; and a welcoming breakfast and lunch spot, the ALOHA CAFÉ. The tiny chapel is definitely worth a look, with its nautical and marine motifs throughout and with murals from the Arts and Crafts revival (1933, Durr Freedley). Downstairs, at the counter or in the more formal dining room, enjoy one of Gary Jenkins’s soups (sweet, herby clam chowder or densely tomatoey vegetarian chili) or generous sandwiches on fat French rolls (his homemade chicken salad flies out the door). His three-egg omelets will feed you for two meals, especially “the Great Western,” with onions, peppers, ham, and potatoes, and “the classic Greek,” with tons of feta and kalamata olives.

Aloha Cafe | 18 Market Square, Newport | 401.846.7038 |

Best “house of pizza”
We’ll put up PAWTUCKET HOUSE OF PIZZA against your neighborhood “(insert city here) House of Pizza” any day of the week. This place is consistently bananas, yet the veteran staff is a model of efficiency; and while you’re elbowing your way in the doorway, take notice of the empty Papa John’s parking lot across the street. Enough said. There is no delivery available and no gimmicks at the P-HOP, just generous toppings, a subtle yet delicious homemade sauce, and a second-to-none crust accentuating some of the best Greek-inspired pizza around. Sharing top billing here is their famous fork-worthy steak and cheese grinder, listed by number on the menu, which goes great with a giant bag of fries for a mere $1.95. Get in line and get ready for some great fare.

Pawtucket House of Pizza | 398 Smithfield Avenue, Pawtucket | 401.728.7330

Best warnings about wine hype
Enough with marketing strategies that are more interested in the cute animal on the label than the wine in the bottle. Check out the skinny at a place like WAKEFIELD LIQUORS and get some advice you can trust. Sally Donahue and Howard Mahady are the main wine experts and they’ve made a point of focusing on the best buys for $15 and under. Howard’s longest expertise is with French vintages, so the shop is particularly strong there. Of particular concern is what he calls “typicity,” wines being true to their place of origin. “That’s our big, big thing,” Mahady declares. Another specialty of theirs is naturally-made wines from organically-grown grapes — they have the largest selection of such in the area. Their finds are shared at wine tastings on Fridays from 4 to 7 pm and on Saturdays from 2 to 5 pm.

Wakefield Liquors | 667 Kingstown Road, Wakefield | 401.783.4555 |

Best bonuses on the plate
It’s always great to find upscale meals at mid-range prices: carefully prepared dishes, using terrific ingredients and giving you the bonus of “a little something extra” accompanying the entrées. At VALUNA, that policy flows through the menu, from the signature pizza plentifully topped with caramelized onions, kalamata olives, wild mushrooms, and a drizzle of roasted garlic oil, all the way to the dark-chocolate bread pudding with dried cranberries and almonds. The standouts are with the main courses: a potato, fennel, and chèvre gratin with the roasted chicken (not just mashed potatoes); a stacked Napoleon of eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and truffled goat cheese with the filet mignon (not just mashed); whipped turnips with cream cheese and herbs with the grilled salmon (not just mashed). Even the frisée salad has balls of bacon-flecked mascarpone. No, this is not too good to be true — just a great cook who wants you to come back!

Valuna | 1814 Boston Neck Road (Route 1A), Saunderstown | 401.667.4999

Best new and improved wiener joint
Dare we say there’s a mini-renaissance going on in the Artic (yes, Artic) section of West Warwick, and if so FERRUCCI’S NEW YORK SYSTEM is leading the way since relocating a few blocks down Main Street (a one-way street local yahoos call “downtown”). Located across from the wretched DMV, Ferrucci’s new digs is the first retail space built in the village in 20 years, and while the immaculate and charming interior doesn’t resemble a beloved, filthy NY System, the wieners ($1.25 each) here are damn good, with a simple meat sauce that is just greasy enough to help choke ’em down. Top-notch breakfast, clubs and subs, and fish and chips, too. Crush four all da way and an order of curly cheese fries ($4), then breathe the dragon all over the crabby DMV staff.

Ferrucci's New York System | 1246 Main Street, West Warwick | 401.821.9849

Best sandwich by the pound
You know how it is when you order a deli sandwich to go? You're asked for all your preferences but not how much ham or provolone or veggies. That's up to the server. At the CHARLESTOWN MINI-SUPER, you can have it your way. In addition to a soup pot and a salad bar, there's a sandwich bar, with fresh bread, house-made salads (ham, chicken, tuna or seafood), cold cuts and cheese, lettuce and tomato, mayo, and mustard at the ready. Just grab a plastic container, fill it with your choices, and take it to the cash register to be weighed. If you're in the mood for something heftier, take a look at the daily specials in the warming trays — i.e., roasted Italian chicken, sausage and peppers, macaroni and cheese. The in-house bakery turns out pies, cakes, small pastries, calzones, and pizza. And, in warm weather, there are picnic tables right outside!

Charlestown Mini-Super | 4071 Old Post Road, Charlestown | 401.364.6600

Best spot for a cuppa
If you walk to the end of Bannister’s Wharf, the smell of fresh-ground coffee beans will pull you right into the COFFEE GRINDER. Affectionately called Alyssa’s by the locals, after its owner/pastry chef Alyssa Gladchun, this is an Italian-style espresso bar with homemade snacks and light lunches. Carry your cuppa morning latte or hot chocolate (a croissant or biscotti on the saucer) to the wide arm of an Adirondack chair on the outside deck and take in maritime Newport all around you. Muscular lobstermen unload at a neighboring dock; a morning kayaker downs his coffee, zips up and paddles off. You could just settle in for the day, read the paper, watch the sunset and, every now and again, nibble at Alyssa’s homemade quiche, a slice of herbed pizza bread, or a hefty sandwich, while sipping a frozen cappuccino or an Italian soda (San Pellegrino with Italian syrup).

Coffee Grinder | 33 Bannister’s Wharf, Newport | 401.849.4325 |

TREAT YOURSELF: Elizabeth Krause [third from left] and the staff at Elizabeth of Portofino. 

Best elegance renaissance
There it is in giant script on an enormous tan awning; Portofino in Warwick is now officially ELIZABETH OF PORTOFINO, and if you haven’t been there lately, you need to go back ASAP. Since buying the shop six months ago, Elizabeth Krause has given this local legend a facelift, with a stunning interior and the continued (if not improved) tradition of great food and excellent service. For starters, the antipasto is a masterpiece (a steal at $12), the house clams with chorizo is incredible, while the entrees are outstanding (most under $20), like Gnocchi Sorrentino, Linguine Pescatore, and Veal Saltimbocca, to name a few. End the evening with the best $9 espresso martini in town.

Elizabeth of Portofino | 897 Post Road, Warwick | 401.461.8920

Best eats in Quahog County
Call it North Kingstown, Wickford, or “Quahog County” as down-south foodies say, but be sure to stop by DUFFY’S TAVERN & RESTAURANT for some of their legendary clear chowder, stuffies, and lobster rolls. Rhody native Stu Tucker has hand-crafted a handsome family pub without losing the original salty charm. The mussels and steamers combo is worth the trip, as well as the quahog chili (another Tucker family recipe) and fried coconut shrimp with their outstanding house bourbon sauce. Of course, it’s even tastier with a few pops, and Sox fans can soak up some nostalgia as Duffy’s was a favored watering hole of Ted Williams.

Duffy's Tavern & Restaurant | 235 Tower Hill Road, Wickford | 401.295.0073

Best Thursday night two-fer
is yet another excellent Italian joint in the suburbs of Warwick, of all places. Owner Chris Capobianco has stumbled onto a small goldmine on the outskirts of Warwick Neck, with authentic offerings within a warm, inviting atmosphere. Sinatra croons while you start with the In-Law Special, a classic balsamic tomato and mozzarella salad over focaccia. Move on to an array of excellent entrees, namely the Aunt Chris (a delicious chicken pesto dish), the Papa Joe (a thick sirloin with portabellas and roasted peppers), and the phenomenal Andy special, a helping of shellfish swimming in a deliciously smoky and hearty take on classic Arrabiatta sauce. Frankie’s 2-for-$30 deal on Thursdays is one of many reasons to stop by, another being a giant wedge of homemade Amaretto-soaked Tiramisu — unbelievable.

Frankie's Italian Family Restaurant | 1690 West Shore Road, Warwick | 401.739.7299

Best destination dinner
serves eclectic bistro fare with a European flair, fun but elegant. Pull up at the bar and enjoy the fantastic house burger, or relax al fresco for Sunday brunch (overlooking Independence Park and Bristol Harbor). Tantalizing appetizers include grilled gravlax, classic mussels Mariniere, fried oysters, and the Beef Rouladen — tender sirloin strips stuffed with Dijon, bacon, onion, and pickles. The entrees are equally intriguing; wiener schnitzel with warm German potato salad, rack of lamb with mushroom risotto, pecan-crusted pork with corn bread salad and carmelized apples, portabella tortellini with bacon-wrapped scallops, and a tender porterhouse veal chop with fried onions and white bean ragout. Redlefsen’s signature Passport dinners ($100 per head, all-inclusive, and tickets go fast) are a decadent monthly hit, including recent delicious destinations to Stockholm and Athens. May brings culinary creations from Bern, Switzerland and June showcases Budapest, Hungary. Call for details.

Redlefsen's Rotisserie & Grill | 444 Thames Street, Bristol | 401.254.1118 |

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