There is not the level of drama on Restaurant Row to capture media attention as there is coming out of Washington, D.C., the Statehouse or City Hall. But there is an important story to tell about the food-service industry hereabouts.
The restaurant industry in Rhode Island is similar to the amusement-park industry in central Florida. Both depend upon patronage from outside the immediate area as well as local trade. Both are vital to their area’s economic health, and both tend to stay under the radar of economic indicators.
A look at the restaurant landscape in the state readily tells the story. Pick the Restaurant Row in your town and you will see numbers of new eateries just opening next to successful restaurants of long tenure.
Start out in Coventry, which is host to a new location of the popular Irish-themed pub Fat Belly’s just opening on Tiogue Avenue. A mile or so west of town, where Route 3 changes to Nooseneck Hill Road is the recently opened Andiamo restaurant owned by a former principal of the successful Atwood Grille in Johnston.
Barrington is the home of the new local favorite Billy’s, which has hosted some visiting celebrities. Recently, members of the famed Alioto family of San Francisco restaurant and political fame dropped in after a round of golf at Barrington Country Club. Proprietor Bill Dessel returned the favor and visited Alioto’s on a subsequent business trip out West.
Billy’s has spawned another food truck on the Rhode Island scene. Little Billy’s launched earlier this fall. From the truck are served breakfast sandwiches, burgers and a Caprese grilled cheese on the streets of Providence and the East Bay and is a popular stop in the Thayer Street neighborhood at lunchtime.
Also in town, well-known Rhode Island chef and restaurateur Champe Speidel’s fledgling venture Persimmon Provisions is bringing back the old-time butcher shop to County Road. And baker Carmine Borelli is planning to open another location of Borrelli’s Bakery soon after the new year. Borrelli’s Johnston operation opened this past summer and has become a must-stop for pastries, breads and Italian baked specialties.
Hopscotching the state to Westerly, in the shadow of the elegant Ocean House – celebrating its own first anniversary – construction is under way to refurbish the stately Weekapaug Inn into an equally posh hotel and restaurant complex.
Cranston is about to see the curtain raised on what may just be the restaurant success story of 2012. Chapel Grille is literally just opening its doors in the Chapel development near Garden City. I was given a tour of the new restaurant and function facility in late November. Having broadcast my radio show from Garden City restaurants numerous times over the years, I’m no stranger to the panoramic view of Providence that can be seen from the shopping area. I wondered many times why no one had captured that view in a restaurant setting.