Review: Thornton's Grille

Giving people what they want
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 29, 2010

Restaurants are notoriously difficult businesses to start up, with survival rates not unlike those of small countries with larger, hostile neighbors. But some people know how to put them together so they'll stick around awhile.

Marty Thornton opened Thornton's Grille last November, but on two counts he looks likely to make a go of it. First, he already had a restaurant that did pretty well — Thornton's Fenway Grille, for 16 years the landmark near Boston's Fenway Park, until it burned down in January 2009.

Thornton's Grille | 401.270.5444 | 145 Spruce St, Providence | Open daily, 11 am -11 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access
The second reason is probably the most important: he has a menu that makes sense. Simple downscale American fare: burgers and club sandwiches, fish and chips, and pasta dishes. (Pasta is now regular American chow. The ghost of Marco Polo has learned to live with it.)

Give people what they really want and also surprise them seems to be the philosophy of the menu. So sides include french fries and onion rings and rice pilaf, but also small dishes of linguine with marinara sauce and penne with garlic butter and Parmesan ($7.95 and $5.95), and a soup or salad for a light lunch. In the same category, for folks on diets (or who just have a hankering for the stuff), you can have a scoop of cottage cheese to go with that salad.

Among nearly a dozen salads (most $8.95), ones with names like the Arboretum and Back Bay reveal the place's Boston origins. The one called the Isabella Gardner is not a cucumber sandwich on a Bibb leaf but, bafflingly, Cajun chicken sliced onto a Caesar; perhaps research into the eccentricities of the blue blood patron of the arts discovered a zydeco accordion player among her lovers.

In the spirit of giving customers what they want, among the appetizer must-haves like Buffalo wings ($5.95) are chicken tenders spiced-up as "Buffalo Fingers" ($7.95) and, smartly, buffalo shrimp ($7.95). Concluding the appetizers are "Lighter Choices," mostly veggie variations, stir-fried, sautéed, or as a melt ($7.95). Unusual in a category that includes nachos is baked Brie ($10.95), an upscale contrast to the more common cheese fries ($4.95).

Another appetizer is potstickers ($6.95), and I can just hear Marty Thornton mutter, "Where is it written that potstickers can only be enjoyed at Chinese restaurants?" I couldn't resist them, and a friend and I were well pleased with the half-dozen steamed treats, the minced pork nicely perked up with scallion. I also started with the soup of the day ($3.25 and$4.25), which was a corn chowder with crab, not overly spicy-hot, so the light flavors still came through.

The menu is quite heavy on chicken, so six sautés among the entrées are exclusively that in variations over linguine or penne ($11.95-$14.95). Similar but not in that category are several seafood offerings on pasta, such as shrimp and broccoli ($11.95) and shrimp and scallop alfredo ($14.95). My dining companion chose the chicken primavera sauté ($13.95) on penne, passing up the similar chicken stirfry on rice. It was bountiful, with what looked like equal amounts of pasta and vegetables, the latter as al dente as the penne. Scorch marks on the broccoli revealed grilling for extra flavor and doneness.

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