Downcity with a Paddle

It's as easy as going to the mall to replace your teenager's outgrown khakis (again), but a whole lot more fun.

I had planned on going kayaking downtown since Providence Kayak Company opened in May, but between other things going on and too-hot forecasts, I hadn't gotten to it. Yesterday's too-hot forecast was a lie, and it looked like the perfect day for trying the city's newest bit of awesomeness. I texted my friend A and sprung the plan on her. 

The next thing I knew, we were jumping into kayaks and being pushed out into the river. The entire operation is two fabulous young people on a dock, with an umbrella, doing business using just an iPhone. We were life-jacketed, lives-signed-away, and into the Woonasquatucket River in minutes. 

And this is what we saw.

Gondolas (one with a driver singing "Santa Lucia" in Italian, to his passengers);  a tour boat; art;  peregrine falcons, circling and swooping around the tops of the Superman and Textron buildings. Bridges, hanging flowers, a group of ducklings swimming under a bridge. 

I am a city dweller with a shameful lack of knowledge of nature. I didn't even realize that the bottom of the river was so tidal. This is low tide, and the difference is dramatic. 

At mid-tide, kayakers can paddle up the river, underneath the mall, and out of the city's center--but at high tide, the water rises so much that a boat cannot fit under the bridge. 

There is a well-publicized family of peregrine falcons living at the top of the Superman Building (check out the link--you can watch them on in real time!)--but we rarely see them, because we're driving, cycling, hurrying, not looking up. From the river, you can let your kayak idle and just watch them for awhile.



If you have not yet tried this downcity paddle, do it as soon as possible. Go at mid-tide, when the water is higher--so that you can head up the river, into a beautiful surprise, just beyond the mall. 

It is amazing. It is not a big production. It is a RI Summer must-do.


How Do You Get There?

Providence Kayak Company is at 10 Memorial Blvd.

For $2, you can park in the Providence Place Mall garage (which continues to be a clusterf&%K, but do not be daunted) and walk to the stairway near the entrance to the Capital Grille. Or, you can park in Kennedy Plaza and enter the kayak dock from the OLD Capital Grille location, by walking under Memorial Blvd. 

Kayak rentals are $20 for 45 minutes and $30 for 90 minutes. Choice of single or tandem kayaks. Best to reserve ahead of time (online or by phone), as they are regularly selling out. 





Today's Soundtrack

Go Westerly, Young Blogger

Seen in Wilcox Park. Made entirely out of knitting, and with carousel music coming from within. Don't tell me Westerly's not cool.

Seen in Wilcox Park. Made entirely out of knitting, and with carousel music coming from within. Don't tell me Westerly's not cool.

And then it was time to go to Westerly. I did not pack an overnight bag, or even a lunch, as continuing RI Food Fights Burger Blowout activities were part of the plan. I had less than half of a tank of gas when I left home--a Rhode Islander living on the edge.

One of the things that makes Rhode Island natives seem wacky to others (not the only thing, make no mistake) is that in a state is so tiny, many of us have not been to a lot of the places within it. West Bay people don’t know from Tiverton. East Bay people have never been to Scituate. Have you ever been to Greene? My own child claims that he had never heard of Little Effing Compton until fairly recently (I am not proud of this, and he is mistaken--he has been there). Many, many Rhode Islanders have not been to Westerly, and they certainly don’t go there regularly.

This is because Westerly is, objectively speaking, Way the Hell Down There, on the CT border (the state line runs right through the middle of town, and the downtown is a combination of Westerly and Stonington). Because of it being almost-CT, some of those people like the Yankees (if I was from the south, a bless their hearts would work here). Because people don’t go there much, they don’t know what is going on down there, and they don’t know what they’re missing. And I think Westerly likes it that way.

But I’m onto them.

The thing about Westerly is that Westerly does not need any of your shit. It is a beautiful, self-contained oasis of awesome, where soppressata was being made in basements long before it was available at at Whole Foods (or anywhere outside Italy and Westerly). Between the low-key wealthy (who view the Newport wealthy as kind of crass) and the overwhelming Calabrese-ness of the town, it’s a whole community, with thriving food and art scenes, and all that is good about life in a small town. Sure, everyone knows your business, even before you do. But even that has its upsides. It is not a bigger town’s second rate little sibling or a wannabe anything--it is everything.

Westerly is the RI of RI. Small, but mighty

The main attraction of Westerly is my college bestie, known here as Wipeout (if she still speaks to me after this), for reasons I will never disclose. She is not a RI native, but at this point, she may as well be. She married into multi-generational, Westerly-Italian awesomeness (props to Mrs. M, and her wicked eggplant parm, the best I've ever had, no offense, Auntie Jean) and has made a great life there. Every time I talk to her, there is always something legitimately cool going on in Westerly that doesn’t get onto the PVD radar. 

There is theater and so much art. Beaches, and even an old-school amusement park. The beautifully restored Ocean House, and lots and lots of fantastic restaurants.

Westerly is a destination and everyone should go there.

B & B Dockside is on the Westerly side of a very narrow part of the Pawcatuck River (Pawcatuck, CT is on the other side). With four or five outdoor tables, a crushed clam shell parking lot, and a handful of docked boats, it’s a very peaceful, not-on-the-main-drag kind of place. The restaurant was pretty crowded--we waited about fifteen minutes for a table at 12:30 for lunch. The day brought two surprises: one, the great weather, when a total washout was forecasted; and two, the Burger Blowout passport was only good on weekdays. I had neglected to read the entire coupon, and I was SOL when the server told us that there were no exceptions.

Wipeout has been my Voice of Reason since our college move-in day, 1985. Except for a handful of times, like when we met at the gym one summer Saturday morning, as scheduled, got all the way into the locker room and were just about ready to rise above that hangover and work out, and she suggested that we go to a nearby Baskin Robbins instead.

But I digress. She is the best of our friends in so many ways, which I won't start carrying on about here--and Making Good Decisions is just one of them. On this day, she was doing the same 30-day diet that I was doing. She didn’t tell me what to do, but her presence made me feel too guilty for any sort of rule-bending--so there was no day-drinking, cheese, or B & B Dockside’s homemade chips.

“The salad is really good here,” she said--so the side salad it would be. I had substituted quite a few salads for fries during this month’s burger festivities, and the Oak St. Salad was easily the best of them--with kalamata olives, bleu cheese, crunchy soy nuts, dried cranberries...I kind of wish I had gotten a full sized salad with the burger on top.

Wipeout and I ordered identical salads and burgers--the Fun Guy (get it? with mushrooms and Oak Sauce), add bacon, no cheese, no roll. Perfectly cooked, juice running everywhere, getting into the salad, thyme-addled mushrooms--these were some of the best burgers of the Burger Blowout. I didn’t even miss the cheese. I can't tell you exactly what Oak Sauce is, but it is something special. And according to Wipeout, the Bellaporto burger (portobella, baby spinach, gorgonzola, white bean hummus) is also extremely good. 

B & B Dockside is a place where you want to sit outside for hours--but because there was still a lunch wait, and because we had other plans in the day, we took off. We parked easily in downtown Westerly and checked out the art sale in Wilcox Park. The Kinkadesque, the quirky and the beautiful were all well represented, and I picked up something cool, which is waiting to be framed.

Next up: I see what all the fuss is about at this one place I’ve been hearing and hearing about. Spoiler: believe the hype.

The Fun Guy, with side of fab salad.

The Fun Guy, with side of fab salad.

How Do You get There?

B & B Dockside is at 19 Margin St, Westerly...take 95 south, go to your best friend's house, and let her drive you around from there. Alternatively, use your GPS, which will take you into CT, then back into RI, but it's fine, you'll get there.

Soundtrack for the day. Says it all.

Written in the Rhode

This year, I waited a full 48 hours after the last final exam to look up the summer reading lists for Kid #2’s school, and to start on him about it. He wouldn’t be Kid #2 if he had an ounce of interest in this (whose kid is he? I ask)--and I wouldn't be his mother if I didn't print the list on June 10 and post it in a conspicuous place in the house.

For many years, my summer reading has followed a theme. One year, it was High School re-reads (The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby…). Another year, Books I Had Been Assigned, But Had Only Skimmed. Another year, Books I had Weirdly Never Been Assigned. For a few summers, I exclusively read food-related writing (vacations with MFK Fisher and Julia Child, and with my family being subjected to my rants about the history of Cod). Most summers, I read Books from the High School Summer Reading Lists. The high school lists are a gold mine, because they include books we remember from our own youth and great books that were written since we were last in school.

This summer, it's RI Authors. This happened by accident, when I found out that a fellow soccer parent had published a book--and then it gathered momentum. Here is my not-exhaustive, incomplete, summer book list for Rhody reading (or for bringing a bit of RI with you when you travel):

  • Fillet to Finish: An Awkward Journey to the Ironman (Trent Theroux). I stumbled upon this book last week, completely by accident--realizing a few clicks later that the author and I were at the same college at the same time. It’s a story of a regular guy, who goes out on a regular row in his kayak, when disaster strikes. I have read just an excerpt, and it was harrowing--but it seems like the majority of the book is about the aftermath of/recovery from his injuries and his eventual participation in the Iron Man Triathlon (plus other crazy swim feats). I don’t know where this kind of motivation and grit comes from, and I look forward to finding out.

  • The Book that Matters Most (Ann Hood). Published last August, this is Hood’s latest, and next up on my to-read list. I have read a handful of her other books--it’s telling that I first read one, and then immediately read three more, back to back--but haven't read one in awhile. Ann Hood makes it look easy. She gets the balance of depth and accessibility just right, and weaves believable stories that I can’t put down. Set in Providence, this novel is about a book club, but not about a book club at all. Can’t wait to get into it.

  • Finding (Kim Fuller). The author and her husband (and their two teenagers) adopt a son. Calamity ensues. They are tested, and tested again, by their new son’s challenging behavior. They do not give up. Seems like a simple story, but there is so much more. Through her personal narrative, Fuller shares some experiences and practices which transcend just one family situation, and she does so in a voice that both stirs and settles the reader. I read this book in one day (refusing to go out or do anything). Cannot recommend it enough.

  • At Home in the Studio (Laura Prieto). Did you know that the Providence Art Club is the only such club in the US that has never excluded women, but has included them (as artists and members) from its formation (Go RI!)? I discovered this when I was walking my dog and ran into a neighbor for the first time in awhile. The Art Club came up, and by extension, this book. Women have always made art--but this well-researched, substantial-but-readable cultural history is about their transition into art as a profession, and the barriers that they overcame in creating a place for themselves in the art world.

  • Down City (Leah Carroll). There was a lot of buzz around this title when it hit the shelves. Coinciding with the wildly popular Crimetown podcast (if you have not listened to this, binge-listen on your next beach day--it is as good as any beach book, and all true), it’s the memoir of a girl who was personally affected by some of the darker aspects of RI culture, and how she went back to make sense of it all. This has been in my summer queue for months.

I’m realizing now that these books have a common thread--resilience. Whether it is quiet strength, persistence, or all out bad-assery, the people in these stories (in one case, the fictional characters) fight through, or get around, or carry on in spite of their obstacles. Life-threatening or career-threatening or sanity-threatening obstacles. I think this is a fitting theme for a bunch of books by RI authors.

Book reports are due at the end of August.



matters most.jpg

The Franklin's Tale

As a friend commented recently, this Burger Blowout journey really is like The Canterbury Tales, but with burgers. And while the obvious choice of narrator for the next leg of our burger pilgrimage would be the FRIAR, the Franklin is more fitting. He is an optimist, a lover of great food and wine, and is neither too bougie or too lowbrow--like yours truly. Also, Chaucer’s Friar is kind of a corrupt asshole. 

Any excuse to say Go Friars.

Any excuse to say Go Friars.

My weeknight trip to Warwick’s Arooga’s was, sadly, photo-less, but here are the highlights: a Wall of TVs, with ESPN and various sports matches on every one; a huge selection of chicken wings; a light, airy, high-ceilinged interior; a very nice waiter; a limited burger selection for Burger Blowout participants (so--no Burger on a Donut for us); a bunless burger with an Egg on Top.

I had not seen my friend, M, in far too long, outside of overlapping by fifteen minutes on soccer sidelines. We have been friends since before any of our six collective children came on the scene, and we worked together for ten years (during which all of these children came on the scene). A 20+ year veteran advocate for RI's children, she is as smart and compassionate and effective as they come.

We sipped vodka gimlets and caught up over a period of four hours. We always joked that our very close in age babies would be friends as they grew up, and as it turns out, they do sort of know each other. We traded CIA-level investigation tactics (lots of data triangulation techniques worthy of a Homeland episode), swapped photos and stories and hopes.

All was quiet in The Office Kitchen & Bar when Kid #1 and I stopped in for a Sunday afternoon lunch. The Office is where the Carvel Ice Cream near the airport used to be. You know, across the street from the long-gone Burger Chef, just a bit down from the Ann & Hope (the Target store of 1970s Warwick).

We chose the place because of Kid #1’s longtime, rabid fanhood for the TV show. When we arrived, we saw not Jim and Pam, but a huge banner, advertising televised UFC fight matches, hanging on the fence, and she didn’t want to go in. But go in we did. Inside, we found all high tables with barstools, a handful of people at the bar, day-drinking while playing Keno and watching the Red Sox, and one of the sweetest waitresses ever. We could choose from among three burgers--I stayed pretty basic, and Kid #1 ordered a Buffalo/blue cheese burger.

From our table, we could see down Airport Rd., and the old part of the airport which is now the takeoff place for private and cargo planes. Kid #1 humored me as I recalled having come to this very spot SO MANY times as a kid, for every ice cream cake. I unsuccessfully evaded questions about fake IDs of the 1980s, and college drinking habits. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out together and having nowhere to rush off to, no reason to hurry.

Soon, soon. 

Soon, soon. 

[Here is where we pause for a moment of silence for Stanley’s (no, don’t worry--Stanley’s is alive and well!). I had a post-work date with Kid #2 (a big Stanley’s fan) planned, but the restaurant was closed for renovations (or vacation?) and reopening on May 31. We bounced straight to Rasoi and had a delicious dinner together. But I digress. Kid #2 was sick on May 31, so we did not make it to Stanley’s--we will get there soon either way.]

And then there was Bricco Comfort Food.

I kicked off a Memorial Day weekend all by my not-lonesome by canceling a burger date with my friend P, and deciding to stay in. And then suddenly deciding to go out after all, and heading to Lincoln in the pouring rain for a solo dinner.

It is not often that I have no clue where I am in RI--and I never get lost. That feeling of Literally Where Am I is something that rarely happens in the Ocean State (my exception being that way-west part of Coventry, where I did say, Literally, where am I?). Even if you don’t know where you are, you figure it out pretty quickly, right? But there I was, relying on GPS, no idea that this part of Lincoln existed (it’s Albion, and it’s probably obvious to those who live around there). I crossed a few little bridges and got glimpses of the Blackstone river (a waterfall, even) that I had never seen, before arriving at a little brick building that had to have been a little medical office or something, before it was a restaurant.

I grabbed a high table for one in the bar area, with a book, and that’s when the surprises started.

First came the best vodka gimlet that I have had in recent memory. Shit you not. The very fab server brought me what was basically a martini glass filled with vodka and vodka, with some lemon and lime wedges, a gratuitous splash of lime juice, and a highball glass of ice on the side. Oh, how I appreciated this ice on the side, and also the little basket of addictive, homemade potato chips, sprinkled with sea salt and some blend of herbs.

I don't always take photos of cocktails, but when I do, it's because they are perfect.

I don't always take photos of cocktails, but when I do, it's because they are perfect.

Before the bun was reluctantly removed.

Before the bun was reluctantly removed.

The Bricco burger was one hell of a burger. I was surprised again by the metric ton of bacon (more bacon than any of this month’s burgers), and by the shiitake mushrooms smothering the patty, which would have been fantastic without any of the bells and whistles. The fries were even better than expected, with the same sea salt/herb sprinkles that the chips had. I wished that P had been with me after all, because we could have argued about whether or not  this burger was better than our mutual frontrunner.

I heard the sound of a guitar being tuned, and I became antsy to leave. I couldn’t see where it was coming from, and that sound is all too often a sign of cheesiness to come. But I was surprised again, when a single musician broke into one of my favorite songs. He sang it John Mayer-style, not hitting the high note, but it was good. I left just as the song ended, not wanting to wreck a good thing.

I’ll be getting back to Bricco early and often.

How do you get there??

Arooga's: Rt. 5 in Warwick, in that plaza next to where Apex used to be.

The Office Kitchen & Bar: 1795 Post Rd., Warwick, formerly Carvel Ice Cream.

Bricco Comfort Food: 48 School St., Albion. Use your GPS.


Today's Soundtrack.

A G Thang

Rooftop view.

Rooftop view.

It started as a nice, ladylike burger outing, and it ended with a last-call round of water at a neighborhood bar.  

Here’s what happened in between. 

The RI Food Fights Burger Blowout has been all kinds of fun. On this warm, beautiful Friday night, P and I wanted to get some burgers and then head outside somewhere for drinks. We had never been to G Pub, but we had heard that the burgers were very good. The place was quiet when wet met at about 6pm--likely a lull between the work and going out crowds. 

We decided to have drinks and split the Brussels and (Beans) Bacon appetizer before our burgers, and there was much drama as we salivated over them and wished we had ordered double. Heavy on the bacon, and with a spiced honey glaze, these Brussels sprouts are reason alone to go back to G Pub. 

Burger Blowout customers could choose from among two or three burger choices--but when I asked about adding a thing or substituting a thing, the bartender just said, No problem--order whatever you want--it’s all good for the Blowout. I ordered an Eiffel Tower burger. With mushrooms, carmelized onions, truffle mayo, gruyere, and yes, an Egg on Top, this selection includes everything that I like on a burger. I reluctantly asked them to hold the cheese and the bun. P got distracted by something or another (probably the little area with the jail-like bars) and the bartender took the liberty of deciding what she was going to get. This was okay, as he was like family by now. He ordered her the OG Burger--basic, with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Between the Brussels sprouts and me reading that G Pub burgers are made with a 50/50 mix of short rib and brisket, our expectations were high.  

The OG, eating the OG.

The OG, eating the OG.

The burgers arrived before too long, and we got down to business. My Eiffel included the truffle mayo on the side. I liked it--the short rib/brisket blend made the meat stand out, and the burger was cooked medium rare, just as ordered.  P thought the beef was a bit “gamey” tasting. I don’t think she is going to love any burger ever, as much as she loved the ones we had on our first trip out.  

Eiffel Tower Burger, nekkid.

Eiffel Tower Burger, nekkid.

Antsy to get out of the basement and be outside, we left right after dinner. We checked out the G Pub’s rooftop bar, (entrance on the next block, into what looks like an office building, with a dress code sign near the elevator to the roof) where we found an adorable and unpretentious hostess and another terrific bartender. The views of the city from the rooftop are really beautiful, and it’s nice to have a rooftop hangout in our city. But it did not feel like home. It was all a bit young, and a bit posturing--possibly a Friday night thing.

This night had developed into a true G(eriatric) Thang. 

After one drink I suggested that we head to the Wild Colonial. I had not been there for over twenty years, since that fateful night when a woman punched my friend CG. It was TOTALLY UNPROVOKED. Or maybe it was a little bit provoked. Maybe the intoxicated woman didn’t receive his innocent joke about her lost keys in the spirit with which he meant it.

But I digress.

I have great memories of jam-packed nights and Halloween parties and all sorts of shenanigans there--but when we got there, we found things a little bit quiet. P and I argued about whether we should stay, about whether we should play darts, about the rules of darts, and possibly also about Pizza-gate.

I tried to tell P, and also two young men who could have been our children, that I do not have any Darts Skills. They harangued me like the damned Cat in the Hat harangued those children, and they found out soon enough that I don’t lie about the lack of skills. Still, the young men and their partners indulged our steep learning curve and coached us well. These kids were truly lovely, and playing darts laughing with them was weirdly (or not weirdly) the highlight of my night.

Tired and homesick, we needed to stop at our neighborhood bar before going home. Like a favorite security blanket. I won’t share the name, lest it be unjustly associated with an elderly clientele. But it rhymes with The Ides. We arrived about thirty minutes before last call. All we wanted was some water and familiarity. The kitchen was closed, but our bartender was happy to bring P some kind of dessert (the second time this evening that a food decision was made for her).

Not  done by me.

Not done by me.

Sometimes, burger quests lead you on unexpected journeys. It wasn’t exactly Heart of Darkness, but it was our journey nonetheless.

It was a G Thang.


G Pub’s rooftop bar entrance is on Dorrance St., and the basement pub entrance is on Orange St., just around the corner from where Challenges used to be.

Soundtrack for the evening.