Local Profile: Fill ‘er Up: Elevated comfort food abounds at Huck’s Filling Station

I was mindlessly watching Instagram stories when @getyourfill crossed my view, and I had to press my finger to the screen to keep the image from disappearing. It showed someone’s tattoo, a creative rendering of one of my life’s mottos: IF NOTTWHEN. They had my attention. I lifted my finger and allowed the story to continue. The images that followed show this tattoo-bearing arm pouring beautiful cocktails, and since Huck’s Filling Station is now open (as of the last Friday the 13th!) I knew it was time to visit.

My friend Jen and I had our semi-annual “Night of the Jens” on the last Monday of October. I double-checked that Huck’s would be open because — standard Rhode Island — restaurants seem to be closed that day, but co-owner Jared Melei, assured me they were. “Seven days a week,” he said. “And brunch Friday through Sunday.”

The first thing I noticed about this corner restaurant on Division Street and Post Road, where Warwick and East Greenwich intertwine, is the back patio. It’s illuminated with string lights, and I’m tempted to grab a table underneath a heater or a couch seat beside a fire pit. But then I realize I’m a native New Mexican, and not even the blankets Melei has are enough to keep me outside on cold night, so I drift inside. The outdoor setup, however, is charming.

Huck’s Filling Station is named for its former life as an Exxon station. Melei always wanted to build a restaurant into an old gas station, and the re-design is a lovely tribute to the past without actually looking like a gas station. Melei and co-owners Ed Brady, Jeff Quinlan and Justin Erickson wanted to pay homage to what was there without having too many gimmicks, so it maintains an industrial touch with a modern New England vibe. Three glass garage doors provide floor-to-ceiling windows. “Can you imagine how beautiful it’ll be with 180 degrees of snow falling?” Melei asks.

I hate winter, generally, but I imagine this view, and my heart defrosts a little.

My heart fully defrosts when I see the cocktail list. And even with my high expectations, thanks to those Instagram posts, bartender Ryan Draine — of tattoo fame — exceeds them all.

I ask what the most popular cocktail is, and I’m told NSFW (which is the name of the drink, and not something explicit I’ve removed in case you’re reading this at work). I see ingredients like pineapple and guava, but I also see tequila and mezcal. I’m not a fan of tequila, so I’m afraid these ingredients together will be overpowering. 

Melei tells me if I don’t like it, he’ll drink it. Meanwhile, Jen is eyeing Music Video — pineapple rum and gin, kiwi and banana, but she’s wary of rum, so I offer to drink hers if she doesn’t like it. A foolproof system.

Neither of us needs to call in reinforcements. NSFW is one of the best cocktails of my life. After my first sip, I want to order a second (I do show some restraint, but I eventually order Not Televised, which is as beautiful as it is delicious, garnished with rosemary and sliced orange). The tequila in NSFW is impossible to detect, and the mezcal leaves only a hint of smokiness. What comes through is the pineapple and coconut, like a refined version of a piña colada. There was a subtle foamy finish, like the world’s best latte. Even as I write this article, I’m wishing I had another.  

Onto the food, which is “elevated comfort food.” Think grits made with gruyere, mushrooms and hazelnut gremolata. Since the menu is market-driven, it changes regularly. Despite the fact it will all be different by the time you read this, Jen and I ate enough to verify there’s no wrong choice. 

The Kale Caesar is my new favorite salad: topped with fried oysters lightly dressed, and just the right amount of Parmesan *kisses fingers the Italian way.*

Speaking of Italy, I told myself after returning from Tuscany that I wouldn’t eat pasta until 2020 — I think I had one ravioli too many. But I see the homemade pasta with sweet Italian sausage-ricotta filling, roasted tomatoes and calabrian chili, and I cave. There are only three per serving. I have no regrets.

As for the aforementioned grits, they are heavenly, and the perfect side dish for our main meals: the cauliflower steak and Arctic char. The cauliflower steak, like my NSFW cocktail, contains harissa, a red pepper and chili paste with hint of smokiness. Served with bok choi, chickpeas and a pistachio-mint pesto, this dish is earthy and, indeed, comforting. The Artic char is a pink fish, similar to salmon, and Melei encourages eating its skin (you’ll be buoyed into health from those omega 3s). My favorite touch on this dish was the pickled beets and grapefruit, a combination of sweet and tartness, that complemented the fish well.

So, why the name Huck? “Jeff [Quinlan]’s son is named Huckleberry. I knew if I suggested naming the restaurant Ed’s Filling Station [after co-owner, Ed], he wouldn’t go for it. But to name it Huck’s … that’s different.” And the tribute extends beyond the name. Ten artists have been commissioned to render their interpretation of a photo of taken of Huckleberry Quin[lan] as a toddler, wearing a baseball cap and carrying a stick — not unlike the restaurant’s logo, or his namesake, Huckleberry Finn. And at 3 years old, Huck even took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Huck’s Filling Station is a neighborhood locale for both familiar and refined tastes, so be adventurous and get your fill. If not now, then when?

Brunch Fri – Sunday, 9am-2:30pm and dinner 7 days a week. 4654 Post Rd, Warwick, hucksfillingstation.com  @getyourfill  

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