For a small State like Rhode Island, it’s hard to believe that when it comes to food, the Ocean State has distinct regional dishes that are like no other. So if you thought that the cuisine here is part of one big conglomeration lumped in with Boston and the rest of Southern New England, you need to get out and do some tasting!
Cabinets – No these aren’t the type that you store socks in. These are thick milkshakes actually limited to 2 ingredients: milk and ice cream. How about that? The most popular flavor being the “coffee cab”. The trademark Rhode Island based chain, Newport Creamery offers the “Drink 3, Get One Free Challenge”. Not many are known to make it to that coveted #4 in one sitting but it’s certainly worth trying.
Strip Pizza – Cold strip pizza aka party or sheet pizza baked on a large pan. The rectangular slices have a thick chewy crust, slathered in olive oil and generously seasoned tomato sauce. Slices are usually served at room temperature, bought in boxes at small local bakeries or in cellophane-sealed singles at convenience stores. When ordering, either ask for the “ends” (where the crust is located) or “middles” (no crust). Calvitto’s Pizza and Bakery in Narragansett is a great place to start.
Spinach Pies – Pizza dough here isn’t merely an ingredient but the glue of life. And Rhode Islanders have an endless number of ways of using it up. One involves shaping it into a half-moon shaped shell, filling it with spinach, and baking it like a calzone. Eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or for a snack on the beach, recipes vary depending on Greek or Italian influences. In addition to the spinach, it’s typically mixed with black olives and garlic, pepperoni, mozzarella, soaked in olive oil and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Jonnycakes – They may look like pancakes but that’s where the similarities end. Legend has it that the Narragansett natives taught South County Colonial settlers how to make pocket “journey cakes” out of corn meal. By State law, these griddle cakes must be made using Rhode Island stone-ground white-cap flint corn in order to be called jonnycakes. Other varieties, using different strains of corn must add an “h” to their spelling.
When it comes to serving preferences, they’re roughly demarcated by the Narragansett Bay. Over on the Newport side, folks like them thin. In South County, people eat them thick. Don’t even think about topping with maple syrup because butter is the only way. For the best, give Common’s Lunch a try in Little Compton.
Stuffies – Being that quahogs are the official State shellfish, it’s only natural that they be baked and served in their native half shell. The key is the stuffing which is the source of many secret…and tasty recipes. All use minced quahogs, breadcrumbs, bacon or chourico sausage and a variety of minced vegetables, herbs, and spices including cayenne. Lemon wedges and Tabasco sauce add the crowning touch. Try some at Uncle Jeff’s Homemade.