About lobstahs, chowdah and other RI foods

lobster rollI’ve been regularly going to Rhode Island since 1990, when I first visited my sister, who was attending Johnson and Wales University in Providence.  I met my husband there, got married there, and we share a lakeside home with his family and many other rentals there.  Now let me say, although I was born in Washington D.C., I am a West-Coast person.  I like the more laid back, tolerant, diverse, mobile and inquiring nature of the West Coast, rather than the east coast, which strikes me as more traditional, less intellectually curious, crowded, and less ec0-friendly.  But as the third-culture geographically-mobile kid that I am, I can find much to like about anywhere in the world, especially where food is concerned.

In Rhode Island, first and foremost, it has to be the lobsters.  We used to drive to the coastal town of Gallilee and buy them from the lobstermen right off of their boats. Back then, almost 20 years ago, they were going about $4 a pound.  This year, because of the down economy, they are affordable again($4.99 pound in the grocery stores).  When John and I got married, we had an informal New England “clambake” in his parent’s backyard on the lake.  We had six dozen lobsters (including one 3 pounder for his mom), quahogs they hand dug (hard shelled clams), salmon from Seattle (where we were living at the time), corn on the cob, etc.

Most of the time when we are back in town, we are working on our rental properties and don’t have time to pick up live lobsters and boil them at home, so the next best thing are the lobster sandwiches at D’Angelos (available only in the summer).  The lobster salad in them is nothing more than pieces of lobster held together with mayonnaise.  I usually have lettuce and tomato with them in  an Italian roll. Yum…. D’Angelos actually doesn’t have the best lobster sandwich, the best I’ve ever had was at the Daily Grill by TF Green airport – all tail meat, but at about $28 a sandwich, that’s too pricey.

New England clam chowder (the creamy kind) is easy to find and infinitely better than anything I can find on the West Coast (Seattle is one notable exception, thought their creamy chowder is a bit different).  It actually tastes like clams, is usually not very thick and doesn’t have too many potatoes.  Rhode Island clam chowder is different, it’s a clear chowder with no milk in it.  Many places will give you a choice of either.

Rhode Island has a large Italian population (including my husband’s family, which is so large I would swear they make up an entire town themselves).   Something I find there, that I haven’t found anywhere else (other than Italy) are pizza strips.  Soft pizza with tomato sauce but no cheese.  Every Christmas Eve the family has a modified traditional Italian Christmas dinner based on the “seven fishes” theme.  You can count on baccala soup (salt cod), anchovies with pickled peppers, anchovy-garlic angel-hair pasta, stuffed scrod, king crab legs simmered in a rosemary-tomato “gravy” among other things.

Other typical Rhode Island eats and drinks include spinach bread, squash pie, “stuffies” (stuffed quahogs), clamcakes ( too much bread for me, not enough clams), Del’s frozen lemonade, New York system wieners (little hot dogs with chili on them), coffee milk (coffee syrup in milk, again not my favorite in the land where Dunkin Donuts coffee reigns supreme-yes, I am a Pete’s coffee snob).  There is a good-sized Portuguese population too, and Portuguese sausages and sweet breads are also easy to find.

With Johnson and Wales University (Emeril Legasse’s alma mater) there, there are a lot of good restaurants in Providence, especially upon on Federal Hill, traditionally the Italian neighborhood.  I need to make more time for myself to check them out if I can ever put down the paint brush and caulking gun…

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