My wife is from Rhode Island. Consequently, I have had the opportunity to spend some quality time in the good ol’ Ocean State. This trip is no exception. Although it is the smallest of the fifty states (it takes less than an hour to drive from one end of the state to the other) Rhode Island has some quirky characteristics that keep me intrigued. The State of Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams (no, not the pitcher, that is Roger Clemons), it has the longest name of any state – The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Providence is the largest city in the state, and the most famous Rhode Islander is Pauly D from the Jersey Shore.
Other details that are uniquely Rhode Island include the appearance of a Dunkin Donuts on every corner (BTW – the Pumpkin Latte is a definite must), Del’s Frozen Lemonade is a favorite summer drink (which, in my opinion, is much better with a bit of Vodka), there is a thing called NY System Wieners (which are not from NY and, as I would learn on this trip, do not taste anything like a NY hot dog), Federal Hill is the Italian restaurant capital of the world with seemingly more than 100 Italian eateries on one street, milk shakes are called cabinets and the best milkshake is some thing ironically called and Awful Awful, a water fountain is referred to as a bubbler (kind of makes sense) and the Rhode Island accent can only be described as a cross between Joe Pesci and Ben Affleck. During this trip, I had the opportunity to experience some of these Rhode Island oddities first hand.
Wednesday, we felt like some Italian food so off we went to Federal Hill (Rhode Island’s Little Italy). My sister-in-law suggested a Rhode Island staple Angelo’s Civita Farnese. Angelo’s is a cafeteria style Italian diner that sells local Italian favorites including braciole and gravy (served here with french fries), veal and peppers, and pastina soup (red or white). The pastina soup was my favorite of the dishes we tried. Pastina is tiny pasta. In the white version of the soup (the one we had) the pastina is cooked in a chicken broth. You eat it with a healthy serving of parmesan cheeses. I am told that the red version has a tomato base which tastes a bit like watered down tomato sauce. I guess it is a Rhode Island thing.
On Friday, it was the famous (or infamous) New York System Wieners that I sampled. Although they did not sound too appetizing — small hot dogs with lots of onion and some type of secret meat based sauce — my father-in-law raved about them. Despite the name New York System, these dogs are not like any type of New York hot dog that I have ever seen and, apparently, have nothing at all to do with New York. They are uniquely Rhode Island. So where did the name come from? I tried to get some clarification from the man behind the counter but he was less than helpful and I am even now more confused than I was before. Nonetheless, I ordered two wieners and some cheese fries. The wieners were the smallest hot dog that I have ever seen and they were cooked on a rolling oven(like at Seven Eleven across the
street). The man making the dogs lined them up on his arm (filthy) and dressed them with mustard and the “famous” meat sauce. I asked him to hold the onion and bit into my firs NY System Weiner. They were OK. Not the amazing experience that I expected but I could definitely see the draw if I was half in the bag and on my way home from a bar at 3AM. Although I am happy for giving this RI thing the old college try, it is not something that I need to experience twice.
Til next time — you stay classy Rhode Island…