The Taste of Block Island: Gluttony by the Sea

Whether it is Aldo’s ice cream, Wine Tasting, Rhode Island clam chowder or the Bacon Fest, Block Island has the food you’re craving.

biLured by the idea of free chowder, cheap drinks, and a festival devoted to bacon, I asked an all-too-willing friend to accompany me to the Taste of Block Island over the May 30 weekend. We made a day trip on Saturday, arriving with an itinerary that would keep us busy from the moment we landed on BI until the moment the last ferry departed. The weather forecast did not seem promising — morning showers followed by mostly cloudy skies and a peak temperature of 63 degrees — so I dressed in layers and assumed the worst.

I was, for the first time, happily proven wrong. The sun was shining and it turned out to be a beautiful day. This allowed the first item on my agenda, making a sundae at Aldo’s Bakery, more inviting. (Eating dessert before lunch seemed like a wise choice.) For $4 we got to choose two flavors of ice cream and add as many toppings as we wanted. My plan was nearly dismantled when I realized Aldo’s also sells gelato, but my friend convinced me to embrace the ice cream sundae, and after several samples of flavors, we decided on a scoop of Mud Pie and one of Maple Walnut, topped with hot fudge, chopped nuts, Oreos, and whipped cream. It was the perfect boost of energy for the next item on the agenda: looking for a glass orb.

The Glass Float Project began three years ago and speaks to the scavenger hunt inside every human being. This summer, 550 uniquely numbered glass orbs will be hidden along the Greenway Trails, and I had my heart set on finding one. But the island isn’t so small when one is looking into every crevice for a grapefruit-sized transparent object, and having only an hour to do so proved to be unsuccessful. We did, however, discover a hidden garden. Behind Ballard’s, up on a hill, a stone staircase leads to a gazebo with birdfeeders, benches that overlook the ocean, and a walkway that ascends through a mini-Irish-looking countryside. It was a charming accidental find.

From 1:30 to 3pm I was slave to Bacon Fest. Hosted by The Poor People’s Pub, the outdoor patio was teeming with chefs, beer drinkers and bacon lovers. After purchasing an entry ticket, we took our complementary PBR, grabbed a plate and visited the contestants, one of whom was dressed in a bacon suit. (It was his co-worker’s Halloween costume — affixed with a “Kevin” nametag. Get it? Kevin Bacon.) There were a total of nine dishes, each with varying amounts of creatively used bacon. The promised chocolate-covered bacon did not disappoint, but it also appealed to me because it tasted predominately of gourmet chocolate. There were two sushi entries, one of which tasted like a sweet BLT — bacon surrounded with peanut butter, herb goat cheese, figs, red pepper, and rice paper topped with an apple slice. The National Hotel was the first to run out of its dish: a made-while-you-watch bacon, scallop, and shrimp crab cake topped with a bacon sriracha aioli. One of my favorites that I should not have eaten seconds of (but did) was The Poor People Pub’s maple beignets: powdered-sugar coated fried rolls of dough layered with a sweet cream that had undetectable, but delectable, bacon bits. They were dangerously good.

The winner in my mind, however, was a simply made, bite-sized sample of awesomeness: a perfectly cooked smoked pork belly topped with corn relish, bacon cornbread crumble and pickled mustard seeds. It was difficult to hold — a little flimsy — but that delicate nature allowed it to melt in your mouth with a mix of flavors that made one think, “This is the essence of Bacon Fest.” Not surprisingly, Eli’s won the contest and earned a flaming pig trophy.

From there we walked to The Beachhead for our preregistered event, a $10 wine tasting with $1 oysters. I didn’t realize that in addition to the five wines, we’d also get snacks. I was still full from my second round of “tie-breaker” bacon samples, but I found room to sample their richly flavored crab cake and bruschetta, a refreshing burst of tomato and balsamic vinegar atop a crostini. Our first bartender, Michael, was the best. With his warm welcome, friendly demeanor and generous pour size, we relaxed before a picturesque ocean view and discussed baby names for Michael’s soon-to-be son. The white wines paired best with the oysters, but my favorite was the red Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of espresso and chocolate.

The day progressed from borderline indulgence to completely sinful gluttony. We hopped around, beginning with live music at The Old Island Pub and Rhode Island clam chowder (I had no idea there was such a thing!), $5 Bloody Marys and jalapeño margaritas from the Yellow Kittens, and a delicious chocolate banana mudslide to chase down not one, but two (because it was so delicious), New England clam chowders from The National Hotel. There may have also been a gelato thrown in there, too.

Needless to say, I slept quite well on the ferry ride home.

If you’re interested in experiencing the next Taste of Block Island, plan to attend in the fall, Sept 26 – 28, 2014! Also, mark your calendars for Block Island’s Restaurant Week beginning June 16.

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