New England

The Up-and-Comers | Food Town Showdown

Could Boston vs. Portland one day become Burlington vs. Providence? We asked Providence Journal food editor Gail Ciampa and Vermont food writer Hannah Palmer Egan to map out the hot spots in their respective cities.

By Yankee Magazine

Feb 11 2019


Though Boston and Portland are front and center in the New England dining scene (see “Food Town Showdown“), we’ve also got our eye on the ambitious fare coming out of Providence, Rhode Island, and Burlington, Vermont. So we asked Providence Journal food editor Gail Ciampa and Vermont food writer Hannah Palmer Egan to map out the hot spots in their respective cities.

New England Food Town Showdown | The Up-And-Comers

Providence, Rhode Island
The Little Town That Could

Providence has a dining scene that surpasses all expectations for a city of its size. Its food offerings are boosted by the culinary school at Johnson & Wales and an overall sophistication that draws seekers of art and culture. Here you’ll find artisan bagels (most notably at Rebelle), top-notch Greek food, innovative Asian fusion, and Southern comfort. 

Let’s start with the obvious: the famed Italian food in the Federal Hill neighborhood (I love tiny Enoteca Umberto and its pasta with creamy chickpeas, Pecorino Romano, and chili flakes). But there’s so much more to explore on the other side of the hill, what locals call the West Side. There, you’ll find Big King, an Asian fusion spot with crisp tempura fish served by chef James Mark (whose North restaurant delights downtown diners with its dan dan noodles). Right around the corner, Bucktown serves the city’s best fried chicken. Thirsty? Head to Bayberry Beer Hall for New England brews and a killer weekend brunch, or Saint Monday for comfort food and comfort drinks (e.g., old-fashioneds and daiquiris).

The Valley Street area is home to Troop, beloved for its take on street food. Downtown, there’s top chef Ben Sukle at Oberlin, whose raw and cured seafood and local produce raise the bar on farm-to-table dining. Nearby Yoleni’s is leading the Greek revival with a restaurant-marketplace concept (consider it the Greek Eataly).

Durk’s Bar-B-Q in Providence, Rhode Island
Photo Credit : Angel Tucker

Heading toward the Providence River, you’ll find the Fox Point neighborhood, whose culinary riches include Persimmon, where chef-owner Champe Speidel brings a light hand to house-made pasta and seafood. At Milk Money, small plates are king, served in a cozy-rustic room that feels modern and intimate.

Want to relive your youth? College Hill, home to Brown University, boasts the winning barbecue of Durk’s Bar-B-Q [pictured]—think dry-rubbed ribs or pork belly with a side of pickled veg—and a bar loaded with more than 100 whiskeys from all over the country. —Gail Ciampa

Burlington, Vermont
Where Local Meets Global

Burlington is a city where everyone cares passionately about everything. And nowhere is that truer than in the food scene, where farm-to-table is a way of life. Here, local farms—many of them located within city limits—supply chefs with meat and produce year-round.

In the summer, a fleet of food trucks slings everything from crackling fried chicken to Thai noodle bowls and poutine, and in a state where the population is 95 percent white, the restaurant roster is rich in global fare. Head to Old North End for momo at Nepali Dumpling House and bowls of brothy soup at Pho Hong, or tuck into spiced chickpea stew at downtown’s Sherpa Kitchen.

Do yourself a favor and grab breakfast in the form of an egg-stuffed popover at Mirabelles Café, or stop in at Penny Cluse, where chef Maura O’Sullivan’s sourdough French toast and cheesy home fries draw lines out the door. On weekends, hit up the bohemian brunch at ¡Duino! (Duende), where the mostly organic menu includes savory tomato shakshuka and scallion latkes topped with butternut squash gravy.

House-Cured Coppa at Hen of the Wood in Burlington, Vermont
Photo Credit : Peter Cirili

When the weather’s warm, Honey Road’s patio is the place for cold beers and chicken wings glistening with honey and harissa. Burgers are best at hipster hot spot ArtsRiot, where chef George Lambertson stacks beef patties with house-made pickles, gooey cheese, and special sauce. Or you can class it up next door at Dedalus Wine Shop, Market & Wine Bar, which offers a smartly curated collection of natural and microbatch wines.

A worthy tasting tour for beer lovers would include stops at Foam Brewers for aromatic IPAs on the waterfront, Zero Gravity for rustic farmhouse ales, and Queen City Brewing for Old World–style ales and lagers. While you’re at it, swing by Switchback Brewing and sample its flagship amber ale.

For dinner, it’s hard to top the crispy fried rabbit or house-cured coppa at Hen of the Wood [pictured], capped off with a cocktail made with an aged gin or whiskey at Highball Social, the new bar from Stonecutter Spirits. Eat local, drink local, sleep well. —Hannah Palmer Egan