For those who knew Ben Lloyd as a younger man, his career as the owner/chef of Providence’s warm and welcoming Salted Slate may come as a bit of a surprise. It’s not the occupation most would predict for a University of Scranton grad who dual majored in biology and chemistry. Yet while simultaneously working for Liberty Mutual Insurance and coaching the women’s crew team at Lesley College following his time at the University of Scranton, he decided to indulge a passion that went back to his undergrad days.
“I always cooked, and brewed a lot of beer in college,” he recalled before making the connection to his collegiate course of study. “The science of it always fascinated me.”
After asking around and offering free labor in exchange for a crash course in restaurant basics, he began working at the Pillar House in Newton, a locale known for its prominent visibility from Interstate 95. It was a hectic, year-long internship of sorts.
“I’d leave my house at 4 in the morning to get the girls out rowing from Watertown, and then I’d work an 8 to 4 shift at Liberty Mutual in Natick,” he recounts a schedule only a recent college graduate would have tackled. “Then I’d get home around 11:30 or midnight and do it again.”
This crash course set the wheels in motion for Lloyd. Next stop: the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. From there he secured his first professional sous chef position in Raleigh, NC, where he explored Asian-French fusion in a 45-seat boutique-style restaurant. A desire to return to his New England roots brought him to Providence.
His Carolina experience landed him his first Ocean State job at Neath’s before moving downtown to Empire. He was then offered a position at Ten Prime Steak and Sushi before taking over at XO Cafe for nearly 10 years. He followed this with three years at Tazza Caffe, and with his Rhode Island bonafides established, he purchased the space previously occupied by Farmstead in 2014.
“One of the things I had gotten into was the idea of buying whole animals from local farmers,” Lloyd said when asked what he envisioned for Salted Slate. A large combination meat locker/butcher’s table (housing plump sausages reserved for restaurant week dishes during our visit) speaks to the culmination of this vision, and his focus on locally sourced goods has been achieved as well.
“I wanted to be investing my money into the local economy,” he said before affectionately listing some of his regional sources: Blackbird Farms (Smithfield) for cattle, Pat’s Pastured (East Greenwich) for hogs and Hopkins Southdowns (Scituate) for lambs. This ethos extends to four taps of draft beer selections, which, with the exception of a classic Belgian, are all brewed within 100 miles of the restaurant. Revival Brewing Company (Cranston) is a favorite and Buttonwoods (also brewed in Cranston) is making a debut, and the oyster offerings — primarily from American Mussel Harvesters (North Kingstown) and Walrus and Carpenter (Charlestown and Jamestown) — are exclusively from Rhode Island.
“We serve thoughtful American cuisine,” Lloyd says of a menu that reaches East Side undergrads for brunch while entertaining a mostly 30s and older crowd that might include faculty for dinner. “We make the menu around the animals we’re getting. As a dish gets old, we replace the dish rather than me making seasonal menu changes.”
This focus on controlling the sources and dishes being served has extended to Salted Slate’s sister location, the Mercer Deli.
“We wanted to handcraft a product, and we wanted to make a New York style deli sandwich,” he said of handcrafting American classics before acknowledging with a laugh the challenges in making everything. “I mean when you’re making your own mustards…”
One classic that has found a home in both locales is Lloyd’s take on an American standard, the meatball sandwich. Here’s what sets his apart.
Ben Lloyd’s Meatball Recipe:
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl that you can hand mix in) combine all at once:
1 pound ground beef (80% lean 20% fat is a good ratio for this application)
½ pound ground pork
1.5 oz ground pancetta or prosciutto
2 whole eggs
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp ground fennel seeds
¼ tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
2 ounces ground bread mixed with 2 ounces heavy cream to make a paste
Mix all ingredients thoroughly with the paddle attachment on speed 1 (or mix by hand for 2 minutes).
Form the meat into 1.5-ounce balls. You can freeze the meatballs for later use or simmer them in your favorite pasta sauce for 10 minutes.
The Salted Slate: 186 Wayland Ave, PVD. thesaltedlate.com
Mercer Deli: 485 Angell St, PVD. mercersdeli.com