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.
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.
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.