It might be nation’s smallest state, but Rhode Island easily holds its own when it comes to culinary specialties. Take coffee, for instance, a popular drink down the Eastern Seaboard. In Rhode Island, they’ve given the old favorite a new twist, from coffee cabinets (coffee ice cream blended with milk and coffee syrup), also known as an “Awful Awful”, to coffee milk (milk with coffee syrup), the official state beverage, good with a plate of johnnycakes (unleavened cornmeal cakes) and syrup or a delicious doughboy.
Even chowder gets a remake in these parts, here, the Rhode Island version is clear, as opposed to cream-based chowders or Manhattan chowder, dependent on the clams and vegetables for its flavor, which works well because this is true clam country. Look for these tasty mollusks at a clam bake near you, along with lobster, muscles, corn potatoes and miscellaneous fish, or “steamers”, little-neck clams, or even stuffed quahaugs, the state’s official shellfish.
And just when it all starts to make sense, you go out in search of a hot dog. And learn that the curiously named New York System is what you really want, the Rhode Island version of this iconic American food, here chopped from a long sausage into a bun-length piece, then smothered with a savory meat sauce and a sprinkle of celery salt. In warmer months, wash your wiener or your “grinder” (sub sandwich, meaty and toasted) with a Del’s Lemonade or, one of the aforementioned coffee cabinets.
Off the beaten track find other unusual foods to explore like Irish moss, a seaweed that washes up on Block Island beaches after big storms and the basis for blancmange as the early islanders used to make it. For a taste of Rhode Island as few outsiders know it, detour through the Blackstone River Valley and track down a chicken family-style, an inexpensive, all-in meal that typically includes fresh bread, salad, pasta and all you can eat chicken.
Finally, should the schedule allow for a tipple stronger than lemonade or coffee milk, consider a tour of the state’s four wineries, stopping to sample Samson brut at Sakonnet Vineyards and Winery and the vidal blanc at Greenvale Vineyards.