Eat Your Veggies: Plant City X takes root on Aquidneck Island

Plant City, the popular 100% plant-based food hall and marketplace on South Water Street that opened in 2019, now has a sister “fast food” franchise churning out quick and healthy eats in the corporate-dominated gauntlet of West Main Road in Middletown. 

And according to patrons, many of whom waited months in enthusiastic anticipation of its January opening, Plant City X is living up to the hype.

Inside a refurbished 2,600-square-foot brick building that formerly housed a Papa Gino’s franchise, a site situated among a Taco Bell, a vacant Ruby Tuesday’s and a Burger King, the mid-January soft opening included hundreds of customers snaking through the drive-thru, ordering from a simple but eclectic menu, none of which has any meat or dairy-based ingredients. Even the to-go packaging comes from recycled plant-based materials. 

The inside dining area currently has seating for 85 customers, though current Department of Health regulations have limited allowable indoor capacity by half. An outdoor patio provides additional seating.

But there is no limit to its drive-thru operation, the first of its kind on the East Coast. The restaurant is now open daily from 8am to 11pm. Customers keen on the fast-food experience can get their burger (try the truffle) and shake (chocolate or vanilla) fix without the guilt. Also on offer are breaded tofu chicken nuggets, chili (cashew) cheese fries, and three types of macaroni and cheese dishes (try the buffalo), among a host of other items.

Co-owner Kim Anderson, who has partnered with world renowned chef and entrepreneur Mattew Kenney under the Plant City moniker, said she is not necessarily out to proselytize to folks on the positive outcomes of a plant-based diet, which run from better personal health to decreased environmental impact. To her, the numbers [and the food] speak for themselves: Approximately 18% of carbon-based emissions come from the agricultural economy. And the cost of healthcare due to preventable diseases exacerbated by unhealthy eating hovers around 75% of total healthcare spending in the US annually. 

“I say let the food bring the message,” Anderson said. 

Throughout the year, the two Plant City operations employ between 90 and 140 people. Many of the employees from the Providence location travelled to Middletown to get the shop up and running, training the new hires, many of whom are Aquidneck Island locals. The concept is to take some of the bestsellers from the Providence location across the bridge to Middletown, offered at a lower price point to compete with the surrounding establishments whose business model relies more on the convenience of take-out. 

“We are 100% mission based,” said Anderson, who is also the co-founder and managing partner of Ever Hope Capital, a private venture capital firm that “invests in entrepreneurs and businesses displacing animals from the supply chain … by supporting innovative and scalable alternatives to animal-based products,” according to its mission statement.

Anderson said her culinary and sustainability ventures work hand in hand. “This is a social organization,” she said, adding that she had been getting feedback for months from loyal customers of the Providence location encouraging expansion to greater Rhode Island.

Asked about the response to the Middletown opening, Anderson related an anecdote of a family finally able to give their young son, whose allergies prevented Happy Meals, a taste of the drive-thru experience. The mother even sent Anderon a text-messaged picture of the grinning lad later that day.

“Everybody here in Middletown has been fantastic,” Anderson said. “The town was outstanding to work with and we’re so pleased so many of our loyal customers from around Rhode Island have found us here, too. I’ve heard stories about people driving 45 minutes to get here and try us out.”

Although her desire to expand her health-conscious fiefdom was a couple of years in the making, the timing of the latest venture was not lost on Anderson. While many elements of pre-pandemic society will no doubt return after the crisis abates, others should remain, she said, such as a greater awareness of our food sources.

Plant City X patrons are presented with an informative card along with their meals, which serves as a reminder of all the ways that plant-based eating can help to stall the worst environmental and personal health effects of meat consumption. 

“The reason we are in a pandemic is because of animal agriculture,” said Anderson. “We create food that is sustainable, compassionate and delicious.”




Come for Brunch, Stay for Dinner: The southern influence of Saje Kitchen finds Fed Hill

“Excuse me, are you a middle school teacher?” a beautiful 20-something with long, wavy locks asked my friend, Mr. M., just as we were finishing up our two-hour brunch/dinner at Saje Kitchen on a late Sunday afternoon.

“I am…” he answered hesitantly.

“Oh my gosh, you were my science teacher in 2009!” she said, and in her what-are-the-odds joy, asked for a photo together.

Now I know what you’re thinking: That’s so Rhode Island. However, neither my friend nor his former student are from Rhode Island, nor do they live here now. But somehow we all had the same idea: to investigate a new addition to Federal Hill that serves creative American fare with a southern twist. (And I’m guessing the table of 20-somethings was very excited about the large cocktail pitchers — Lavender Lemonade or Apple Cider & Gingerbeer, mixed with a spirit of choice). I can safely say we all walked away with more than we expected that day, reunion photos aside.

As I mentioned, Mr. M and I arrived in time for brunch and stayed until dinner. This dining strategy is hard to achieve in most restaurants because they require a transition period, but Saje Kitchen fully accommodates my level of gluttony. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, all in one sitting! The hobbits of Middle Earth might be disappointed, but I was thrilled. 

The restaurant has an eclectic vibe. The décor is very “new age” club, with a backlit bar, various clusters of balloons and velvet green booths. The playlist brought me back to my high school days, and I remember noting that I hadn’t heard “Lose Yourself” by Eminem in quite some time. Meanwhile, the TV above the bar featured an animated penguin movie and Kenan & Kel, a nostalgic throwback I haven’t seen since I was Mr. M’s students’ age. Then there was the menu, creative and classy, with a wide variety of drinks and dishes to accommodate any meal or occasion. 

We began our gluttony with brunch cocktails. Saje Kitchen has the usual contenders, Bloody Marys and Bottomless Mimosas, but Mr. M is an Espresso Martini aficionado (he always opts for Baileys, as one should), and I wanted a Painkiller, which is like the love child of a Mai Tai and a Piña Colada. Contrary to drinking at other Providence locales (perhaps, say, a rooftop), you’re not just drinking juice here — these cocktails were alcohol forward, in the best kind of way, unless dry January really did me in. Thus, we ordered carbs and protein to keep me grounded. 

The Savory Sweet Potato Hash, made with pulled pork and poached eggs, was packed with flavor. The sweet potato was thinly sliced, looking like shaved carrots, and the eggs were perfectly poached. The pico de gallo topping had a spicy kick to it that both of us loved, and it was Mr. M’s favorite dish of the day. We also ordered the Pineapple Coconut Waffle, which was as tantalizing as it sounds: charred pineapple compote, coconut cream and candied walnuts. When the server dropped it off and asked if we needed anything, I wondered if I should ask for syrup, but after one bite, the definitive answer was no — the charred pineapple compote and coconut cream were perfect. A bit smoky and a bit spicy, sweet but not too sweet. Even though I’ve been told the Chicken and Waffles are stellar, and I was curious about the Cajun Eggs Benedict, I would definitely order the exact same thing again.

The dinner menu offers a range of plate sizes, allowing people to share light bites as well as some of the heavier southern favorites. According to Ethan Jaffe, one of the owners who lived in North Carolina for a few years, “I’d always eat so much [in the south], I couldn’t move! I wanted people to be able to pick and choose, to offer a little something for everyone.” In the spirit of sharing, we ordered one “large” plate, the classic Shrimp and Grits, and two medium plates: the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and the Glazed Baby Back Ribs. 

One thing that is consistent among all the dishes is that play on sweet and spicy, or smoky and sweet. The Crispy Brussels Sprouts, for instance, were crisped to perfection — what I always hope to achieve at home and never do — and pairing them with sweet apple slices and crème fraiche created a flavor profile that was unlike any other I’ve had. The ribs were tangy and sweet, and the meat delectably tender. The shrimp and grits were served with a remoulade that was smoky and savory, with occasional bursts of warm blistered tomatoes. 

Last but not least: the dinner cocktails. One of the highlights of my night was the Flatbush Snush, made with cognac, strawberry, and lemonade. This drink is a vibrant shade of red and arrived with a thin layer of smoke billowing from the top, looking like a volcano. Dry ice — in a drink! “You can get a cocktail anywhere,” Jaffe said, “but we want you to engage in a fun and unique experience.” 

Whether you’re wanting a casual brunch or planning to celebrate a special occasion, Saje Kitchen has got you covered. They’re putting together a Valentine’s Day weekend prix-fixe, which you can learn more about by following them on social media. One thing I feel confident about: you’ll discover both sweet and savory surprises. You might even come for brunch and decide to stay for dinner.

@SajeKitchen

332 Atwells Ave, PVD




Sweets To The Sweet: RI Food Fights Valentine’s pop-up has our sweet tooth swooning!

Rhode Island Food Fights is back with a Valentine’s Day Pop Up Box that you’ll want as your plus-one for the loveliest day of the year! Vegan and non-vegan epicureans will find their perfect match within this treasure trove of locally sourced confections, and no matter which one you swipe right on, you’ll be in for a treat! The non-vegan box serves up jumbo Red Velvet Cupcakes from Lasalle Bakery, Almond Brittle Toffee from Anchor Toffee, and Macarons from Silver Spoon Bakery, among other dessert delights, while the vegan box dazzles with Raspberry and Vanilla Doughnuts from Knead, Chipwiches from Miss Vegan, and Chocolate Strawberry Cotton Tails from Basil & Bunny (mouthwatering morsels of cakey goodness dipped in white chocolate n’ cookie crumbles), and that’s only the beginning! Pre-order yours at rifoodfights.com to make sure you don’t miss out on finding your sugary soulmate!

Pre-orders for vegan and non-vegan boxes ($50 each) at rifoodfights.com. Contactless pickup on February 13 and 14 from 3-6pm at Providence Bagel Drive Thru (695 North Main Street, PVD).




All the Single Ladies (and Men): Now, with dinner options

As someone who’s been “uncoupled” on Valentine’s Day for the last decade, with the exception of 2017 when I ate fried Mars Bars with a Scotsman, I can assure you that this holiday is no picnic for single people. Don’t even get me started on the fact that “Galentine’s Day” has been relegated to February 13 so that “real” Valentine’s Day can still happen as usual.

But where there is global distress, there is also a silver lining: Suddenly people are aware of how shitty it is to be alone on special holidays. This year I’ve seen a number of restaurants offering Valentine’s Day experiences for single people. (Two that came across my newsfeed are Angelo’s on the Hill and Mosaic Table, where “smooches” will get you a discount of $20 on a Valentine’s Day experience.)

But Bites By Bre, who we profiled way back in the spring (motifri.com/somethingspecial), fully acknowledges the “double-decker shit sandwich” (to quote her friend) it is to be single in the midst of a pandemic, so Bre Goldsmith is offering a special for Valentine’s Day that will make everyone feel loved.

Here’s what you can expect: three mouth-watering courses (spoiler alert: this includes candied slab bacon and a chocolate whoopie pie with strawberry-infused fluff), flowers, chocolate, complementary add-ons particular to whichever meal you choose (if you’re ordering dinner for one vs. dinner for two), an option to add wine, and heart-shaped dog biscuits, if your Valentine actually comes when you call him.

I might just be looking forward to this holiday after all…

Get your tickets via ExploreTock.com/BitesbyBre. ($48 per person; option to add a bottle of wine for $16.) Choose delivery if in Providence, or pick-up at 11-17 Aleppo Street, PVD.




All the Dates, Please

Whether you are single or coupled this year, Kenza’s Delights is guaranteed to give you the best date of your life on Valentine’s Day, and I mean that most literally: chocolate ganache-filled Medjool dates, dipped in Belgian chocolate, served in a heart-shaped box with a side of flowers. This sweet treat outclasses the typical box of chocolates by blending Moroccan tradition with French patisserie techniques for exquisite flavor wrapped in love.

Kenza Bargach, the owner, has an unlikely story: a native of Morocco with a background in financial auditing built a food business from scratch in Rhode Island during a pandemic. But one of her passions has always been dessert-making, and before joining Hope and Main in 2021, she took classes in Morocco for cake design and French pastry. She applied those techniques to one of her culture’s most prized foods: the date.

The Medjool date is the “king of dates,” due to its superior flavor, consistency and size, and is used as a token of great hospitality, from everyday house guests to royalty. In fact, as soon as a bride and groom in Morocco have taken their vows, they are immediately gifted dates and milk to begin their new life as a married couple.

Therefore, this is the perfect gift for a special person in your life (or let’s be honest: I bought a box for myself) because you’re guaranteed a “date to remember” with Kenza’s Delights.

For more information, follow @Kenzas_Delights




Truff Love

You could give your Valentine a box of ordinary candies from the corner store, but why be basic when you could be brilliant? We heart Rhode Island Spirits’ Rhodium Coffee Black Walnut Vodka stuffed truffles, enrobed in rich, dark chocolate. Whether you’re enjoying them single or with your sweetie, nothing says Valentines’ Day decadence quite like sitting on the couch, queuing up a rom-com marathon on Netflix, and nibbling locally made boozy bonbons! Order online at rhodeislandspirits.com




Open and Closed

Opened

Diego’s Eastside: 192 Wayland Ave, PVD. diegosprovidence.com. The sister store to Diego’s of Newport, bringing their trademark style of modern Mexian food and choice cocktails.

Boomerangs Roadhouse: 293 Providence St, West Warwick. boomerangsroadhouse.com. Serving up classic pub fare, seafood, BBQ and other American cuisine goodies. Plus, full service bar and lounge (singer not included).

The Pizza Nomad: 291 Providence St, West Warwick. Not exactly new; it was formerly known as Wicked Good Pizza.

Marcelino’s Boutique Bar: 1W Exchange St, PVD. marcelinosboutiquebar.com. This spot actually opened last fall (which we missed, whoopsie)! The upscale watering hole provides an aromatic, earthy and authentic journey to the Mediterranean (via food and drink, of course). 

BB.Q Chicken and Soban Korean Eatery: 272 Thayer St, PVD. sobanbbqchicken.com. Soban closed last summer amidst COVID to renovate, and reopened after combining forces with bb.q chicken.

Latte Love Coffee House: 11 Comstock Parkway, Cranston. latteloveri.com. This new independent coffee shop (outside PVD, too!) boasts ethically sourced coffee from around the world. 




Opened and Closed

Opened

Five Guys: 63 Airport Rd, Warwick. fiveguys.com This greasy (tremendously unhealthy) burger chain opened a new location on Airport Road in Warwick, with a mobile pick up window that already has car lines going out into the street. 

Pizza Marvin: 468 Wickenden St, PVD. pizzamarvin.com This new pizzeria over in Fox Point boosts “New Haven-style inspired” pies, whatever that means.

Foodlove Market: 1037 Aquidneck Ave, Middletown. Opening this summer, they sell pre-made to-go meals made with local ingredients, from pizza to rotisserie chicken to groceries, sushi, poke bowls and more.

Air and Anchor: airandanchor.com An online jewelry and accessory shop started by a couple in Cranston. 

Zurner Oceanic: 40 Franklin St, Newport. zurneroceanic.com Opened during the pandemic, this nautical-themed shop sells … well, oceanic-themed goods. 

Charter Books: 8 Broadway, Newport. charterbookstore.com Taking its name from the 1663 doc that founded our state, this new bookstore aims to push more than just pulp, airport thrillers. 

Graze on Main: 58 Main St, East Greenwich. grazeonmaineg.com Across the street from the Greenwich Odeum (and hidden in the back) this biz curates cured meat and cheeses in specialty charcuterie platters.

Rejects Beer Company: 124 Aquidneck Ave, Middletown. fb.com/Rejects-Beer-Co-102299191680951/. The newest brewer in the East Bay. See story page XX.

Times Are Tough Gallery: Located literally in the breezeway of someone’s Middletown home, this gallery store sells prints, cards, jewelry. And can we get a big ol’ “No shit!” about the name? Visit fb.com/timesaretoughgallery to arrange a visit.

Closed
Eli’s Kitchen in Warren: This Warren restaurant, run by chef Eli Dunn, closed at the end of 2020. Dunn announced he and a couple of his partner chefs would open a new space at a new location sometime in 2021.




Gee, You’re Swell: Groundswell Cafe + Bakery pours the perfect cup for the new year

Resolutions are great, especially when they involve shaking off your 2020 coffee-run routines and reaching for a new cup o’ joe as we embrace a new year. In a push to get myself out of my caffeine rut, I ventured off-island (gasp!), and stumbled upon Groundswell Cafe + Bakery, an idyllic oasis nestled in Tiverton’s historic Four Corners neighborhood. The gorgeous cafe is built inside a gingerbread-trimmed house that looks like something out of a well-funded community theater’s production of Hello, Dolly!. I’m all for channeling my inner Minnie Faye (Hey, Rhode Island theaters! Cast me when it’s safe again!), so even before I stepped inside, I felt at home. Although the decor is decidedly vintage-inspired, the menu is thrillingly modern, with house made artisanal coffee and millennial-friendly nitro cold brew, plus a dizzying array of made-to-order sandwiches, pastries, salads and more. 

Of course the true mark of a great coffeehouse is their java, and Groundswell has some of the best I’ve tried in Rhode Island! The dark roast has some intense chocolate and caramel notes, and it’s the perfect antidote to a cold January afternoon, especially with some foamed oat milk poured in for good measure.

Of course, you can’t just drink a coffee without nibbling on one of their tasty pastries, and if you only get one thing, get a coconut macaroon. It’s a pint-sized patisserie that packs a punch of strong coconutty flavor, plus a deliciously soft texture that melts in your mouth. Bet you can’t eat just one (for the record, I had four)! Not into coconut? The strawberry crostata is equally masterful, with layers of flaky pastry giving way to the succulent berry filling beneath. I can’t wait to see what other seasonal specialties the Groundswell crew will think up as we saunter into the springtime and beyond.

Groundswell also serves up breakfast and lunch all day long, with an impressive array of offerings. I was particularly impressed with the egg white wrap, served on pillowy lavash bread, and the Instagram-ready pain bagnat, the cafe’s take on a French classic, chock full of rich and flavorful niçoise salad, ripe heirloom tomatoes and herbs de provence. There’s also a kids’ menu for the littlest caffeine-addicts-in-training, featuring a wholesome PB&J on homemade farmhouse bread, and an ooey-gooey grilled cheese that I may just have to ask them to make in an adult size when I return. Groundswell Cafe may not yet be open to indoor seating (new year, same pandemic), but the idea of curling up around their outdoor fire pit with a handcrafted mocha latte and a couple of Paris-perfect noshes makes for the coziest new hidden gem of the year. Santé! 

Groundswell Cafe + Bakery, 3883 Main Rd, Tiverton; groundswellcafegarden.com




Power Up with Plants

Sandra Musial, MD, is passionate about food, its impact on health and sharing that knowledge with others. So she, along with two other doctors who share her passion, started a group called Plant Docs. In pre-pandemic days, the Plant Docs ran five-week workshops in the basement of vegan food hall Plant City that taught people how to embrace a whole food, plant-based diet. “Pairing medical intervention with a restaurant is a cool concept,” said Musial. “It’s about health, but it’s also about enjoying food.” I recently spoke with Dr. Musial about the health-transforming power of plants.

Emily Olson (Motif): When it comes to their diet, what do Americans get wrong?

Sandra Musial: The traditional western American fare is leading to crazy levels of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer. All of these are diseases of the western world. Countries that are still eating from the land have lower rates of all of these diseases. Instead of eating whole foods — fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes — people are eating highly processed foods with lots of added sugars, oils and refined flours. I work at a pediatric obesity clinic and there are kids who in an entire day will never eat a fruit or vegetable.

EO: School-provided lunches must drive you mad.

SM: I think if we improved school lunches, it would have a mass effect on the whole US population. And children would bring that education home. A few years ago, WIC [the nutritional program for women, infants and children] improved the quality of their food package by limiting juice and decreasing refined flours and flour products. The national rates of obesity in that 3- to 5-year-old range went down, and they think it’s attributed to this mass improvement in the federal WIC package.  

EO: What impact can a whole food diet have on health?

SM: You can reverse many of the diseases of the western world. Obesity, Type II Diabetes can be reversed, you can open some of the plaque in the coronary arteries. Studies have shown that end-stage cardiac patients, when put on a strict healthy diet, can add years to their life.

EO: Then why do we turn to medicine to correct these problems?

SM:  I don’t know that people are being told it’s an option. But if every doc said, “You can go on this pill that you can take for the rest of your life and have surgery and die early, or you can have a lifestyle change,” people still might not want to make changes.

EO: Is it an economic issue?

SM: There is some truth to that. Broccoli is more expensive than soda, but on the same budget, if you buy dried beans and that’s your protein, that’s the most economic and nutritious protein there is. It’s more complicated than that, of course. People who live in the inner city don’t always have access to fresh whole foods. And it’s a multigenerational thing. If that [style of eating] is all you’ve ever known, it’s hard to get away from it.

EO: So what’s the answer?

SM: I think we have to have a multi-pronged approach to education, and I think it has to start with one-on-one at the doctor’s office. Medical schools have to do a better job teaching future doctors about nutrition. And there needs to be more community and government involvement to reverse what has happened [in food policy] over the last 30 years.

EO: Tell me about the Plant Docs classes.

SM: We limited each class to 20 people who want to learn the importance of eating plant based. Each participant would meet one-on-one with a doctor at the beginning and the end of the series, and we’d send them to a lab for blood work during the first and last weeks. Participants come from all walks of life. We’ve had vegetarians who want to give up dairy and want more ideas for vegan cooking, and we’ve had people who are scared after a heart attack. If there were enough people, I’d love to do a series with special interest groups.

EO: Any final thoughts?

SM: [Holistic health practitioner] Ann Wigmore said, “Food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” I love that. Our cells become what we feed them. If you feed them whole foods, they become healthy, boost your immunity and fight disease. Or you can slowly kill yourself. You really are what you eat.

The Plant Docs will resume classes when it is safe to do so. Email sandy@plantdocspvd.com to get on a mailing list. For more information, go to fb.com/plantdocspvd or plantdocspvd.com. Scholarships for classes are available.