The 20-minute drive from Providence to Warren, Rhode Island, feels like an inland crossing. Passing through suburban Seekonk and Swansea, absent of water views beyond the Providence River, it’s easy to overlook your proximity to Narragansett Bay. But though it may not be gussied up with so many shingled Capes and hydrangeas, Warren is a fully coastal town, wrapped by the Warren River to the west and Mount Hope Bay to the east. Outsiders are just beginning to wake up to its potential as a seaside destination, as evidenced by a cluster of boutique and earnestly local/seasonal restaurants making inroads on the town’s east side, and the success of Joe Simone’s acclaimed namesake restaurant over on Child Street.
Coastal flavors, minus the hipster vibe, are what locals line up for at Amaral’s, located in a little cube of a building across from an auto-body shop on the north side, where pubs and triple-deckers outnumber boutiques. Fish and chips that hold their crunch long after they’ve lost their heat, served with your choice of tartar sauce or white or malt vinegar; three kinds of homemade chowder (clear Rhody-style, creamy white, and Manhattan red); and a from-scratch kale soup that reflects the Portuguese heritage of this region and of the family that has owned the restaurant since 1984.
Donald Amaral, who runs the restaurant with his brother, (at right, behind the register), stands behind a counter crowded with fresh loaves of the sweet, yeasty Portuguese bread that his 82-year-old mother, Zelia, bakes on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. A pair of regulars, Joan and Helen, are queuing up for their usual Thursday lunch. “I’ll get this, honey,” Joan says—she calls everyone “honey”—as Helen takes a booth by the window. “We’ll have two small fish and chips and three clam cakes,” she tells Donald.
A few minutes later, Donald’s nephew, Brian, comes out with plates of fried haddock and a small basket of the briny clam fritters that hit the perfect ratio of tenderness and crunch. Amaral’s specializes in fried seafood and grinders (not “subs”—this is southern New England), made with the traditional meatballs and chicken parm, but also chouriço and peppers, fried clams, and blade meat (marinated pork shoulder). Fish and chips may be the shop’s namesake, but even better are the delicate fried smelts, which come marinated, served with a zingy red sauce with little chunks of onion and garlic that Brian makes from scratch. Fried calamari is served with pickled banana peppers and drizzled with garlic butter.
Gilding the lily? Maybe, but they’re delicious. And if you’re in this deep, you might as well go all the way.
Joan and Helen have finished their food and caught up on their grandkids. They breathe their stories like oxygen. It’s the rhythm of the second-generation American: You eat a meal, then you tell stories about the old days. Now they’re on to the problem with the new generation. “Back then, you had problems just like everyone else, but you stayed together,” Helen says.
“You made your bed and lay in it,” Joan adds.
“We certainly enjoy our meals here, though, don’t we?” Helen asks.
“We sure do,” Joan replies.
“We do. God bless this place,” says Helen.
Amaral’s Fish & Chips. 4 Redmond St., Warren, RI. 410-247-0675; amaralsfishandchips.com.