Providence has a reputation for fine dining and restaurants that grow old and increasingly beloved. Le tout foodie Prov is mourning the announced closure, on Aug. 9, of the Rue de L’Espoir. But as GoLocalProv.com’s story “Restaurants That Are Sadly Gone” points out this morning, a whole lot of restaurants fail. I ate at all but one of the dozen restaurants we are bid to recall: They are: Rue de L’Espoir, Eddy & Son Diner, Blue Grotto, Taza Caffe, RiRa, Ruth’s Chris, Downcity Food & Spirits, McFadden’s, Tini, Cuban Revolution, $3 Bar and LJ’s BBQ.
The one where I never dined was $3 Bar on Federal Hill, but it only existed for several months. Why it is on that list, who knows? Could you get a real meal there, besides a knuckle sandwich?
GoLocal might also have added: 3 Steeple St., New Japan, Empire, the Blue Grotto on Federal Hill, Napa Valley Grille in Providence Place, Adesso off Thayer Street (not the same in two subsequent locations), the Barnsider on South Main (not the same as the recently opened Mile-and-a-Quarter), and maybe Guido’s, on Hope Street. Does it still exist?
I have comments on most of them but will limit myself to mentioning that Downcity Food & Spirits used to be the Downcity (no upper-case C, please!) Diner, which I recall so fondly, and which burned and then moved down Weybosset to where Circe is today. Its post-fire relocation took it from the second-to-the-last extant downtown building by Thomas Tefft (originally the Second Universalist Church) to what then became the last remaining extant downtown building by Tefft (originally the Bank of North America).
Here are a few restaurants that have been around a long time: Pot au Feu, Hemenways, Capital Grille, New Rivers, Café Nuovo, Al Forno, Capriccio, Andreas, Pakarang, CAV, Pizzico, Chez Pascal, Pastiche, Haven Bros., Geoff’s, Wes’s Rib House, and a host of places on Atwells Avenue, including Angelo’s, Camille’s, and the Old Canteen – there are about three dozen others on Federal Hill, including many of almost equally long standing.
And finally, here’s a list of restaurants that disappeared a long time ago (but since 1984, when I got here). Anthony’s, now Rhode Island Housing; L’Apogee, atop the Biltmore Hotel; Winkler’s Steak House, in the Biltmore garage, where Buff Chace has opened several eateries; the IHOP on Thayer Street; Alfredo’s, also on Thayer; Panache, whose location on College Hill eludes me [see below]; Periwinkles, a comedy club in the Arcade; Scotland Yard, a restaurant on the Arcade’s second story (or third?); Amsterdam’s, on South Main Street, notable for its rude encounter with Buddy Cianci; InProv, facing Kennedy Plaza from the lobby of the Fleet Center, a restaurant with extraordinarily high-concept restroom design; Raphael’s, on Pine Street; City Lights, a café in the old Davol Square mall; the Atomic Grille, under the former Route 195, where Leo’s used to be (a Rhode Islandism within a Rhode Islandism!); Davio’s, in the Biltmore; the Plaza Café in what is now the police substation in the bus station that arose from the Kennedy Plaza comfort station; Ming Garden, the second place I ever ate out in Providence (L’Apogee was the first); Luke’s Luau Hut, on the first floor and in the basement of the Smith Building, long before I lived there for 11 years.
Most restaurants come and go, and those of Providence are no exception. But where the restaurant scenes of most cities, including some much bigger than La Prov, involve extensive cannibalization, here restaurants seem to last longer and new ones pop up frequently, with relatively little fratricidal blowback. The culinary school at Johnson & Wales is certainly responsible for our unnaturally robust foodie culture, as is the creativity that flows naturally from RISD, fueled by the money that flows naturally from Brown.
In these lists I have favored places favored by me. I hope readers will refresh my frazzled and over-strained memory with places I have omitted.
And by the way, here is a fascinating look at Providence on its 350th birthday (1986), “R.I. Offers a Capital Rooted in Tolerances,” that was written for the Philadelphia Inquirer. And here is another great retrospective piece from the old Phoenix, “Almanack Redux,” by Ted Widmer, written in 2003 about Providence in the late 1970s.