Eat Drink RI: Bring Your Appetite for a Spring Weekend of Sampling Our Local Food
What better way to spend a raw and rainy weekend in April than at a food festival? About 1,000 locavores did just that at the fourth annual Eat Drink RI Festival last spring and none of them left hungry. This year’s festival will be held the first weekend in May and, rain or not, it’s sure to be another delicious weekend for sampling some of the best from Rhode Island’s vibrant food scene.
Last year in the Grand Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, happy foodies strolled while sipping and sampling offerings from 35 of the state’s restaurateurs and purveyors of fine food and drink. There was a comfortable ebb and flow and no one had to wait on line to try the lemon tarts and maple s’mores from Humble Pie Company, the selection of cheeses from Narragansett Creamery or fresh oysters from Matunuck Oyster Bar. Using only a sharp knife, Kyle Pothier of the wildly popular South County restaurant was prepared to shuck 750 oysters—and by the end of the afternoon they were, indeed, all gone.
Five folks from the Los Andes Restaurant station worked feverishly to keep ahead of the demand for their crescent-shaped chicken pies and causa limena, an artful creation of whipped potato and avocado purée topped with chicken salad and two Peruvian sauces.
These tasty bites were washed down with local craft beers, wines from Sage Cellars, Greenvale Vineyards, Gifford Liqueurs and others. New Harvest coffee and “astonishingly delicious” Granny Squibb’s Iced Teas were available for thirsty noshers.
David Dadekian is the entrepreneur who served up the four-day eating extravaganza that began Thursday night with a sit-down dinner for 40 people. On Friday evening 15 local food trucks dished out their specialties in the downtown skating rink. The “Truck Stop” event raised over $100,000 for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
An enthusiastic promoter of the local culinary scene, Dadekian began planning the festival six months earlier, and says it may need more space in 2015.
“Inviting people to sip and taste helps local food producers grow their market,” he says.
Ann and Mark Higgins came up from Kingston for the Saturday tasting. The couple won their tickets in a silent auction and tried everything as they worked their way around the room. Candied jalapeño, the fresh ricotta from Narragansett Creamery—they agreed it was delicious, as were all the other nibbles and bites they sampled.
It was a nostalgic return for Mary and Frank Mainella of East Providence, who met at the Biltmore 25 years ago. They enjoyed crab cakes and oysters from Sedna Seafoods while chatting with friends. And what would they do for dinner? “I think this is pretty much it,” said Mary as she headed over to the Los Andes table.
Television personality Alison Bologna bubbled over with the same ebullience she brings to Channel 10 newscasts. She was there to introduce Shribark, a new, “karma-packed snack” developed through Shri-Studio, a yoga studio she owns in Pawtucket. Part of the proceeds from the nut-free fruit squares help fund free yoga programs in schools, shelters and community centers.
There were seminars by local chefs and farmers for people who want to learn from experts. Roughly 50 enthusiastic home cooks watched Anne Marie Bouthillette make breakfast sausage. “You can do this at home,” she assured them as she filled casings with pork from her family’s Blackbird Farm in Smithfield.
“This is a learning experience for a lot of people,” said Anne Marie, “and I love being out meeting all of our farm’s supporters.”
There was still more to eat and drink at the Sunday brunch, beginning with three signature cocktails from Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails in Providence. The most popular, according to owner Willa Van Nostrand, was the Indie Sour featuring Square One Basil Vodka, Giffard Ginger of the Indies liqueur, Rio Red Grapefruit Fruitations syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and garnished with bright blue borage blossoms from Bristol’s Indie Growers.
The brunchers sat at round tables surrounded by bakers and chefs whose confections had diners returning for seconds and even thirds while the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Jazz program played American songbook favorites.
Jackie Price and Alexa Appelman are fans of Seven Stars Bakery and Julian’s on Broadway. The Johnson & Wales students discovered a new favorite—honey glazed grilled cheese served with a pea shoot salad from Wildwood Catering in South Kingstown. Plus Tavern on Canal in Westerly’s breakfast terrine and mozzarella and herb salad with pickled celery root.
Cynthia Samoorian of Warwick admitted that she doesn’t eat out much in Providence. She came to the brunch armed with a list of must-try suggestions from her daughter. But next year she’s coming to all four events because, “I had such a wonderful time.”