February 12, 2018
Travel / New England / Westerly in Winter
Westerly in Winter
When most people think Westerly, they conjure iconic images of summer: the flying horses of Watch Hill carousel; sundowners on the terrace at Olympia Tea Room; the sea and surf at East Beach or Misquamicut; or, wine and cheese picnics watching Shakespeare in the park. Yet, even if elements of Westerly are seasonal, the town itself thrives year round with a concentration of culture and cuisine matched by few towns its size. As for notable bars, the list is long, led by Grey Sail taproom, Malted Barley, or the area’s only pinball bar, Flip Side. Many claim the region’s best burger may be found down a side street along the river at B&B Dockside. From Seagoose at Dunn’s Corners to Noodle Revolution up on top of Tower Street, inventive menus are found in every corner of town. For families, there’s sledding in Wilcox Park followed by hot chocolate at Savoy Bookshop and Cafe. Dogs are welcome on Napatree Beach, where you can park right at the entrance and stroll out to the end and explore abandoned Fort Mansfield. And here’s a hint to parents: The Washington Trust Community Ice Skating Rink just happens to be located next to Bridge bar and restaurant, so after you drop off the kids warm up inside where there are great taps, a changing selection of oysters, and a bar literally overlooking the Pawcatuck River. All in all, there’s just too much to mention in one place, but here are a few reasons alone that Westerly is worth a visit even when it’s not beach weather.
Ella’s Fine Food and Drink
Part of the charm of Ella’s, for those who remember, is the juxtaposition between what now resides at 2 Tower Street and some of its former inhabitants. For years, it was Capizzano’s, a beloved but dark and forbidding fiercely local place known for traditional Italian. Then it was Nicola’s Uptown Cafe, a short-lived, pan-global venture. So imagine the surprise, when award-winning chef Jeanie Roland and her husband James in 2012 set up shop across the street from the Westerly High School football field to produce what many consider to be one of the best restaurants between Providence and New York.
Asian influenced, with pronounced French elements, the closest reference would be Yam’Tcha in Paris. In the end, however, the dishes are singularly Jeanie’s. You like duck and duck fat. Jeanie likes duck and duck fat. In winter, the menu may include duck confit, duck risotto, or a Duck a Deux Facons with breast and leg. A sourcing philosophy ensures the menu reflects the season and region. How’s this for an entree: Miso infused salmon with toasted coconut “forbidden black rice.” Yet there are comfort classics too, including steak frites, burgers (with foie gras if you wish,) and fried chicken (of course, fried in duck fat.) Inventive cocktails. Dinner only. Reservations recommended although there is bar seating. The restaurants offers a weekday $25 per person prix fixe menu of two courses and two glasses of house wine for $10. Think of that: $35 for one of the best meals on the seaboard. Ella’s is special. There’s a reason Jeanie beat Bobby Flay in a cookoff and has been nominated seven times for a James Beard award. Oh, and speaking of awards, Taylor Swift has piles of Grammies. Guess who T-Swizzle asked for private cooking lessons?
2 Tower St, Westerly, RI
Image Courtesy of Ella’s: Duck Confit & Breast
Mention “Westerly” and “fashion” in the same sentence and people typically envision prep staples like seersucker and Lily Pulitzer or the requisite beachwear of flip-flops and swimsuits. That is not at all the case at Galapagos boutique. Albeit located just across the town line in Charlestown, Galapagos is close enough and more than cool enough to merit mention here, as owner Sandra Lanning has assembled a collection of clothes and accessories for the serious shopper. Where to begin? Shoes by Marc Fisher. Velvet pants by Avenue Montaigne. For the gents, a line of crisp, smart selections from London clothier Ted Baker. The list goes on and on. Yet, the charm and fun of the store is the enthusiasm and eye that Sandra and her staff bring to mixing and matching and creating ensembles, particularly on the fabulous second floor, which stocks daring styles one would expect to find in Boston or New York, not in a historic house out where coastal Rhode Island starts to get rural. But Galapagos isn’t just a store, it’s the mothership of craft coffee roaster Dave’s Coffee, which is sold along with other beverages and pastries in a cafe that exhibits the stones and beams of the building’s ancient interior. Galapagos: It’s isn’t near anything. Getting there involves curious U-turns. But once you’re there, it will take the jaws of life to get you out.
5193 Old Post Rd, Charlestown
It doesn’t take Calvin Trillin to know that the best Chinese restaurants are usually hidden away among nail salons and storefront churches in non-descript mini-malls. Such is the case for Golden Chopstix, located in a shopping plaza on the strip on Route 1, next to an abandoned lot and a Midas. Disregard the setting, and also brace yourself at the entrance, where advertised specials include pig intestine with hot pepper, because once inside this is the place for porky, shrimpy, salty, happy happy, yummy dim sum.
Full bar. Bubble tea. Friendly and efficient service. Hopefully a defibrillator. And, best of all, nearly fifty dim sum choices, including dumplings, steams rolls, spare ribs, and scallion pancakes, which can be supplemented with classic offerings from the appetizer menu, including salted crispy squid. Food writers always talk about the healing effects of Chinese cuisine. Well, with Golden Chopstix there is most certainly some truth to that, as there could be no better hangover cure on earth than getting together a big group to sample sticky rice in lotus leaf or stuffed hot peppers, while you have a few Tsingtao beers, and then take a short ride over to Watch Hill to walk it all off with one of the best ocean views around. As an added bonus, Golden Chopstix is located next door to a tiny Asian market, so if you get inspired you can pick up all the noodles, produce, and seasoning and spices you need to try your own hand at Chinese cooking.
62 Franklin St, Westerly, RI
Here’s a hint to parents when cabin fever and all sorts of other winter grippes set in: The Washington Trust Community Ice Skating Rink (which offers lessons, free skate, and skate rentals) just happens to be located next to Bridge bar and restaurant. So after you drop off the kids, warm up inside where there’s a fun and varied menu, veteran bartenders, a rotating selection of oysters and craft beer, and, best of all, window seats situated directly over the rushing waters of the Pawcatuck River. Modern Dishes that Capture the Flavors of the Season, is how Bridge advertises itself. Rightly so. A night out may feature a starter of grilled sardines. Brunch, served Sundays, includes classics alongside hybrids, such as the Cod Cake Benedict or house-cured salmon. Vegetarians will find numerous choices, including the much beloved and life-affirming Buddha Bowl. The wings are some of the region’s best: baked and broiled, never fried. The burrito, about the size of the backpack you would take to hike the Pacific Crest, is lunch and dinner in one. There’s a customer loyalty program worth joining because it pays off. And, weekdays 4-6 p.m., the bar offers its “Gathering Menu,” an affordable and satisfying selection of small plates that include deviled eggs, sliders, shrimp tacos, and mac and cheese with chorizo. No, you can’t have a seat on the riverfront patio for a couple more months. But in the meantime there are more than enough reasons to visit Bridge in winter.
37 Main Street.
High Tide Juice Co.
Check out the surf cams. Matunuck. Misquamicut. The Ocean State hardcore ride the waves year-round, any weather. If you don’t feel like a dip in the frigid Atlantic, however, endless summer can be found nearby at High Tide Juice Co. Decorated like a traditional surf shack, the shop’s mission statement explains that the menu and philosophy of the juicery were inspired by the surf lifestyle in Rhode Island and Hawaii. Surfboards and memorabilia adorn the shop, along with local art, rustic wood tables, and comfy lounge chairs. Overall, it’s a bright clean space, which reflects the menu, but also enlivens the back corner of a shopping plaza between downtown and the beaches. A favorite of those attending the barre and yoga classes at adjacent Barre Coast, High Tide offers fresh juices and smoothies, smoothie bowls, including the popular Acai bowl, salads, sandwiches, and wraps. Recommended: Buffalo Chickpea, with chickpea salad, cheddar, vinegar peppers, onion and greens, all in buffalo sauce. An additional house specialty is Nitro Cart’s Nitro Cold Brew, served on tap, in which iced coffee is infused with nitrogen to produce a creamy frothy beverage without the need for milk or sugar.
55 Beach Street, Westerly
image courtesy of High Tide Juice Co.
For generations, it would have been unthinkable to utter the words “arugula,” “brioche,” or, most startling of all, “philharmonic,” in the same sentence as “The Knick.” You think Knickerbocker Cafe, you think dive bar, shots, and the blues, all of it down and dirty. But even clubs that have hosted legends such as Count Basie and Stevie Ray Vaughan cannot pay the bills on history alone. So it was that a few years back, a team came together committed to see the Knick not only survive but thrive. And thrive it has, by becoming a non-profit and partnering with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School to become not only a live music venue but a center for music education.
A $1.5 million renovation modernized the club, preserved art-deco elements, and added a taproom and a full menu. Don’t worry, the blues still rule at the Knick, with national touring acts alongside favorites such as Johnny and the East Coast Rockers or Eight to the Bar. But the lineup has diversified and so have the options in the dark bar, where the bartenders also play deejay and spin vinyl. Now, there are signature cocktails, craft beer, salads, and sliders. Wednesday night there are free dance lessons. The Knick plays host to nearly all the shows in the forward-thinking Westerly Sound concert series, which includes soul, gypsy guitar, indie, country, and an upcoming February 17 show by Josiah Johnson of superstar group The Head and The Heart. Not long ago, Providence’s critically-acclaimed alt-rock band Deer Tick, who can fill theatres nationwide, packed the house. And if a trip to the modern Knick gets you nostalgic for a dive bar, don’t worry, you can go a few doors down Railroad Avenue to locals’ favorite, Danny’s.
35 Railroad Ave., Westerly.
by Dan Pearson