East Coast Art, Food, and Culture
It’s not New York; it’s Rhode Island.
Downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
Rhode Island might be the smallest U.S. state, but inside its borders are some of the most active farm-to-fork and art communities on the Eastern seaboard. You might think of New York City or Boston as food- and art-scene hot spots, but Providence, Rhode Island’s capital, is every bit as forward-thinking and diverse as its big-city neighbors, without the crowds or traffic. Imagine strolling the walkways and bridges of scenic, Providence River-spanning Waterplace Park; climbing seven urban hills studded with skyscrapers and colonial-style brick buildings; and taking in everything else a nearly 400-year-old American metropolis has to offer—at a slower, more leisurely pace than you’ll find anywhere else.
One of the biggest surprises in Providence is the Culinary Arts Museum on the campus of Johnson & Wales University, where a major field of study is food preparation. Filled with everything from antique kitchen tools and a real 1950s-era diner to an incredible display of decorated cakes made by JWU students, this celebration of the history of cooking provides an in-depth look into the evolution of the modern-day culinary landscape. Achievements of noted JWU grads, such as celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, are also celebrated in the museum’s dozens of revolving displays.
The Culinary Arts Museum.
Founded in 1985, and having since then breathed life back into the downtown area and into the heart of Providence’s arts community, the AS220 nonprofit community arts center was established to give Rhode Island artists of every type the freedom to perform and exhibit their work. Begun as an unofficial one-room office space in a historic brick building with storefronts that sport striped awnings, AS220 has since expanded into a sprawling complex of galleries, stages, labs, performing venues, live/work studios, a true farm-to-fork restaurant, and much more.
Established in 1877 and now hailed as one of the nation’s best university art museums by Architectural Digest magazine, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum augments the famous college. It’s even more famous alumni include Gus Van Sant, Roz Chast, Shepard Fairey, James Franco, Seth MacFarlane, and David Byrne. Housed in a sleek modernistic glass-and-brick building that complements its dazzling array of collections, the museum houses 100,000 objects, including contemporary works, ancient Egyptian artifacts, and the largest historic Japanese wooden sculpture in the United States, along with works of such superstars as Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Vincent van Gogh.
Providence is an easy town to walk, with numerous restaurants just steps from downtown hotels. For a great start to your day, try Ellie’s Bakery; this airy, Paris-inspired spot serves freshly baked breads, sandwiches, and desserts—multiflavored macarons are a house specialty—along with an excellent selection of coffee drinks. If you’re up for a short drive, the locally famous Allie’s Donuts in North Kingstown, baking its own doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and other breakfasty pastries daily since 1968, is the place to get your sweet morning fix.
Rhode Island School of Design Museum.
For dinner, the varied menu at Gracie’s in downtown Providence features fresh vegetables and herbs from the chef’s rooftop garden, along with locally sourced meat and other items.
Having served the seaside city of Newport since it opened in 1673, the White Horse Tavern features colonial-style architecture, giant beams, a gambrel roof, and cavernous fireplaces that make you feel as if you’re stepping back in time. The wide plank floors in the original tavern area are the same ones that felt the steps of our founding fathers, Hessian mercenaries, pirates, and all sorts of colonial folk: You can almost hear the echoes of their long-ago voices while sitting at the bar. The White Horse’s restaurant serves a delightful menu full of local farm products and seafood from nearby Narragansett Bay.
Birthed in 2011 with a mission to distill seasonal whiskeys (yes, including Pumpkin Spice, made with Rhode Island pumpkins) and single-malt whiskeys from its founders’ beloved beers, the Sons of Liberty Spirits Company is also making waves in the spirits community with its patriotic-sounding American Whiskey. Its True Born Gin and its American Single Malts won gold and silver medals in this year’s International Whiskey Competition. Taste SOL’s brews over a few games of foosball or billiards at its South Kingstown distillery, which is outfitted with not one but two bar areas and offers tasting tours.
Graced with mansions, parks, vineyards, and historic farms where visitors can relish hay rides and sample local cider, honey, and fresh fruit, its windswept, rocky coastline studded with nearly two dozen lighthouses, tiny Rhode Island packs more into its 1,212 square miles than you’d ever expect.
Where to Go
Culinary Arts Museum: 315 Harborside Blvd., Providence, 401-598-2805, www.Culinary.org
Rhode Island School of Design Museum: 20 North Main St., Providence, 401-454-6500, www.RISDmuseum.org
AS220: 115 Empire St., Providence, 401-831-9327, www.as220.org
Ellie’s Bakery: 61 Washington St., Providence, 401-228-8118, www.ElliesBakery.com
Sons of Liberty Spirits Company: 1425 Kingstown Road, South Kingstown, 401-284-4006, www.SOLspirits.com
Published online on Dec. 22, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.