“Look at the history in this street,” said chef Jake Rojas, as he looked out the front window of his restaurant, Tallulah on Thames. Even as he admired the scene, he did so with a certain amount of trepidation. Lower Thames Street in Newport was undergoing a repaving operation and like his colleagues from Memorial Boulevard to Wellington Avenue, Rojas was casting a wary eye on the craters and potholes in the pavement before him.
Restaurateurs are at the mercy of the environment. An eatery can have the best menu, appealing décor, perfect location, convivial waiters, great chef and rave reviews. But a small variation, indeed the slightest blip, in the weather forecast, traffic conditions, or the alignment of the planets can turn a full reservation list and the promise of a packed house into an off-night. This time of year, the gremlins are on board orange construction trucks as municipalities take advantage of the good weather to catch up on infrastructure repair projects before the summer season arrives.
Word about such projects and the delays and detours they can create spread like wildfire. Savvy operators have learned to be philosophical about such vagaries.
Outside Tallulah on Thames, Newport‘s Department of Public Services was working on providing a new asphalt roadway surface on lower Thames Street. Rojas was surveying the preparation work which had uncovered the street’s original cobblestone surface. “Imagine if they could find a way to bring back those cobblestones,” he mused.
The chef has great sensitivity to his environment. The restaurant has gained a reputation in town and in the national press for Rojas’ locally sourced menu, which changes almost daily depending upon what fresh ingredients are available.
Back in January, USA Today reviewed his pasta dish known as gnudi, a type of gnocchi made with ricotta cheese and a bit of flour. At Tallulah, the creamy fare was made with locally produced ricotta, chestnuts and roasted apple.