Outdoor Ambience and Good Food? Yes Indeed

Al fresco dining — it’s something we New Englanders pine for all winter long. We relish swatting away flies and mosquitoes while enjoying our Bolognese. We love overpaying for mediocre food so we can soak in some fresh air and atmosphere. We dream about dipping steamers in butter while watching the sunset. Too bad we missed the sunset because the wait was so long for a table.  Sigh …

I apologize for sounding like a curmudgeon and ruining the fantasy, but let’s be real: Too often dining outdoors comes with lousy food and long wait times. Fortunately for you, I’ve compiled a list of places I love where both the food and ambiance are stellar, and the wait times, if any, are tolerable.

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The Charlestown Rathskeller

Best place to take the kids (or to feel like a kid): The Charlestown Rathskeller, Charlestown. This is my new favorite spot. One rainy Sunday when the weather cleared, my husband and I threw the kids in the car and headed down to Charlestown. He was grouchy and my kids were less than thrilled at the prospect of going out to dinner, so expectations for a fun family outing were low. Within moments of walking outside, everyone’s attitude did a 180. The Rathskeller is an old tavern that sits on a gorgeous acre-plus property, and the owners have created everyone’s dream backyard. There are several horseshoe pits, a bocce court, games of cornhole, a volleyball net and a small stage that features various bands and musical acts on the weekends. You can sit on the patio and order some food, or hit one of the two walk-up bars and drink while you play. The food is tavern-fare, but far from boring. We had loaded fries and crispy Brussels sprouts with green apples and sesame-soy sauce. The menu also features such delectables as crispy confit duck leg, little necks over linguine and mussels frites. We had a fantastic family afternoon … at a restaurant … with children! As we left, my 9-year-old asked, “Every time we go out to eat, can we come HERE?” Why yes we can, son, yes we can.

Ocean House Menu

Ocean House Menu

Best place to feel like the 1%: The Ocean House, Watch Hill. This year for our anniversary, my husband and I dined at Seasons, the uber expensive but truly spectacular fine dining restaurant at the Ocean House. For the cost of this meal, we probably could have flown somewhere for the weekend — it’s one of those special occasion/once-in-a-lifetime type places. That said, the hotel does offer more casual fare on their deck, where you can soak in the views of the sweeping Atlantic, glancing to your right every now and then in hopes of snaring a peek of Taylor Swift standing on her balcony. It’s a great spot for lunch or dinner and an even better place for drinks due to the exciting cocktail menu and free bar snacks. I highly recommend “In the Weeds” – a ridiculously refreshing and tart gin drink.

Best place to see and be seen: 210 Oyster Bar, South Kingstown. Move over Matunuck, there’s a new oyster bar in town. Ok, it’s not that new, but it just might be taking over as the South County summer hot spot.  The outdoor area is impressive, so you won’t mind the hour-plus wait: crushed seashells underfoot, fire pits, Adirondack chairs and an outdoor bar serving an array of interesting drinks. The restaurant sits on Salt Pond so most tables have water views, both inside and out. The menu is fairly simple with a handful of unique items, but the seafood is fresh and meticulously prepared. The service is friendly and unpretentious. So don your Nantucket reds, raise that collar and head on over to 210.

Best place to feel transported to the boot: DePasquale Square, Providence. I’ve been to Italy. I’ve also been to the North End of Boston, San Francisco’s North Beach and New York’s Little Italy. Those towns on our side of the ocean have nothing on Providence when it comes to Italian food. If you truly want to feel like you’re in a piazza in Florence, DePasquale Square in Federal Hill is the place to go. In the summer, there’s often a trio playing gentle music by the fountain, and people of all ages bustle through the square soaking in the ambience. I’ve been more times than I can count and every time I’m blown away. There’s a plethora of restaurants here; it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, as the food is fantastic at all of them. Venda is my personal favorite, and they take reservations.

Best neighborhood bar: The Trap Brew Pub and Grill, Potowomut. The Trap is the site of a former biker bar on the way to Goddard Park. This place got a major remodel and is now this awesome rustic, modern industrial bar with a fun food menu. Last summer, there were a few outdoor seats – always full – on their sad little patio.  This spring, however, the owners elevated their outdoor dining from sad to spectacular. They included an outdoor bar, two fireplaces and outdoor television viewing.  Next time you’re spending the day at Goddard, stop here for one of their many craft beers on tap and try their homemade potato chips or assortment of spicy wings. And don’t worry about having to leave your four-legged friends in the car; their patio is pet-friendly.

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Los Andes

Best food: Los Andes, Providence. Los Andes is the only RI restaurant to make Yelp’s top 100 places to eat in the country. I went for the first time last October and fell in love with assortment of ethnic dishes from Bolivia and Peru, where spice and potatoes rule the day. I had no idea, on that cool fall night, that just outside sat an expansive patio. Given the restaurant’s location wedged between Roger Williams Hospital and a funeral home, the size of this patio was the biggest surprise. Then there’s the ambiance:  heat lamps, fire pits, greenery and comfortable tables. This patio alone is reason to go, never mind the amazing food and creative drinks. If you haven’t been, get a reservation and go – immediately.

Best Girls’ Night Out: Besos, East Greenwich. I live in East Greenwich and love the ease of going out on Main Street (a long walk or a short Uber ride home). The street, however, lacks outdoor dining because alcohol can’t be served on the sidewalk. Besos has the perfect solution. Besos sits in a converted Victorian home whose interior décor is both eclectic and comfortable. That same level of comfort extends to the outdoor patio area, which is lit by lanterns and fire pits to make a cozy night out. The menu boasts tons of small plates, so it’s the perfect spot to share some food with friends. The drinks are unmatched, as the bartenders at Besos are known for their craft cocktails. Last winter they concocted a play on Butter Beer; their version is warm, spicy and heavy on the booze – divine. I can’t wait to see what they’ve created for the summer.

Best place by the beach: George’s, Narragansett. I know it’s as old as the hills, and the food isn’t the greatest, and the crowd can get a bit salty, but I LOVE George’s. It’s my favorite spot in the Ocean State. The small state beach, now known as Salty Brine, will always be known to me as Galilee. I spent countless summer days there as a kid, gazing across the inlet at Jerusalem. Now I avoid the state beach because it gets too crowded; instead I prefer the stretch of beach owned by George’s. On weekends their servers roam the beach with menus and will bring you chowder and clamcakes or a burger and fries. After a long day in the sun, their deck is the perfect place for steamers and a beer while you watch the Block Island Ferry head out to sea. On Sundays they have live entertainment, and the crowds and music create a lively vibe. George’s also has a take-out window so you can eat at the picnic tables by their new-ish outdoor bar. And if you’re just plain tired of George’s food, the state-run pavilion at Salty Brine has surprisingly delicious fish and chips.

This summer I will venture across the inlet to Jerusalem and try Jim’s Dock. I can’t yet vouch for the food, but the tables are right there on the dock and there’s a tiny stretch of sand for the kids to play on while you wait for a table. And it’s BYOB – my favorite way to ensure a great glass of wine.

 

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