As the second most densely populated state in America, it’s hard for anywhere in Rhode Island to be “in the middle of nowhere.” But I’ll be damned if Sly Fox Den Too doesn’t get close.
Down Route 2, out in Narragansett country — past farmlands, timberlands and swamplands — sits the unassuming red restaurant. ‘Round front, there’s a dirt parking strip and a charming garden with picnic tables and market lights.
Inside, through the entryway, there’s about nine tables, tightly packed — probably full of locals yammering about whatever idle gossip floats their fancy. “Sit wherever you’d like!” a server will call in classic diner fashion. It smells like my grandma’s kitchen.
On the surface, Sly Fox Den Too looks like any other hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot in New England. This is not a slight – it’s in praise of just how many great hole-in-the-wall breakfast spots we have. Rhode Islander’s are spoiled with good eats. Providence frequently makes lists of great food cities. But there’s great places to eat all over the Ocean State. And Sherry Pocknett, the chef tucked away in South County’s Sly Fox Den Too, is the latest to receive the James Beard Award for “Best Chef” in the Northeastern United States.
And for some reason, this is a distinction shared by only one other Rhode Island restaurant: Al Forno in Providence (though in 2014, the James Beard Awards recognized Olneyville New York System in the “American Classics” category). That’s peanuts compared to Boston’s near-dozens of awards in the past decade alone.
But “unassuming” seems to be how Rhode Islander’s like it. To this day, I contend that one of the best eateries in Providence was actually on Broad Street in Cranston. JP Spoonem’s, a claustrophobic, cash-only breakfast spot, closed during the pandemic. But fortunately, I think I have a new favorite breakfast spot.
Served up on those green-rimmed, oblong diner platters, the food at Sly Fox Den Too takes its inspiration from indigenous cuisine (Sherry Pocknett identifies as Mashpee Wampanoag). Fry bread is a traditional food of indigenous folks all over North America (and it is addictively good). Nausamp is essentially Wampanoag grits. And Slyvester the cat’s suckerin’ succotash (a corn and bean medley) finds its etymological roots in the Narragansett language.
But you don’t have to be a culinary anthropologist to enjoy the food here. Indigenous culture is not isolated in the past — preserved in amber for fedora-clad archaeologists to marvel at. It influences (and is influenced by) the many centuries of colonial contact.
So Sly Fox Den Too’s nausamp looks a lot like classic shrimp & grits — a dish often attributed to the Gullah people of the Carolinas. And the diner offers its dinners with sides of mac n’ cheese — a dish developed by the British and perfected by Black Americans. And dessert couldn’t be anything other than Indian pudding — basically Bristish hasty pudding but made from native cornmeal and molasses obtained through the slave trade.
We, the people, are a lot of things. And therefore, so is our food. Sociopolitically, it has created centuries of suffering continuing to this day. But culinarily, it’s fucking delicious.
You should know, Sly Fox Den Too doesn’t only serve breakfast. They have dinner too. Three sisters rice, venison steak tips (the burnt up bits are bangin’), smoked mussels, fig-and-pork sliders, mashed squash, and of course more of that delicious fry bread.
If you’re spice-averse, don’t worry. The food here is flavorful, but none too hot. And personally, I found the portions to be a bit inconsistent. So take a look at other tables before you make your choices—or ask your server. They are very knowledgeable, as the show seems to be a group effort.
To wash it all down, I would recommend the strawberry lemonade which is, straight up, the greatest strawberry-flavored beverage I’ve ever consumed. But the sassafras iced tea is pretty good, too. I don’t drink, but if you do, the restaurant is BYOB with a reasonable corkage fee.
Also, purple napkins. How classy is that?
If you’re wondering why there’s a “Too” in the name, well that’s because the Sly Fox Den Restaurant and Cultural Center hasn’t opened yet — Pocknett plans to open in 2024. And isn’t it delightfully appropriate that Sly Fox Den Too would open before Sly Fox Den in a state called Rhode Island — which is most certainly not an island?
Folks will sometimes complain that Award winner restaurants rarely represent their city or region. But what is authentic Rhode Island food? Is it red sauce branded with felonious mayors? Is it two wieners, all the way, with fries and a coffee milk? Or is it fry bread, venison tips, and some sweet suckerin’ succotash?
Providence hipsters will wait in line chasing trends of overpriced doughnuts and ice cream smothered in stale cereal. And students from California will complain that we don’t have any good Mexican food. But, I say, Good. Let them complain. We know where the good stuff is. It’s unassuming, because it’s made by our grandmas. It’s made by our neighbors. It’s made by our friends. Keep Rhode Island little. •
Sly Fox Den Too is located at 4349 S County Trail, Charlestown.
Check out slyfoxdenrestaurant.com.