Something’s Brewing: The Black Leaf brews more than tea

There’s no joy quite like the kind found in a cup of tea… 

Amber Jackson has been blending business savvy with community outreach for just over a year; she brought her tea company to life in April 2019. A work opportunity at Brown University athletics’ department brought her to New England from her native Chicago. When she’s not at her day job, Jackson is single-handedly running her online tea shop The Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop, from selecting ingredients to shipping out orders. 

It can’t be easy performing every role in a business operation, but Jackson does not allow for any cut corners. Working out of business incubator Hope & Main, Jackson uses her food science degree to develop unique flavor combinations. Every blend she sells has been personally mixed to perfection, including bright, citrusy Sunday Morning, deliciously dark CoCo Bae, and earthy, peppery Glow.

She also takes great pride in the sourcing of her ingredients. Jackson keeps her recipes simple with no additives, just tea leaves from local tea company Leafy Green, and herbs and spices from Mountain Rose Herbs. She praises both companies for their transparency in sourcing and their high quality. 

Surprisingly, tea isn’t her only focus. “In Providence, in a very general sense, I was almost always the only Black person in every room I went into. I wanted to not only create this business, but also a space for people who look like me.” 

Jackson is referring to the “Culture” of The Black Leaf Tea & Culture Shop: her Tea Talks. “I’m generally just the facilitator, creating the space, keeping the conversation going, highlighting certain points. My part in those are really just to do my best to make sure it’s a safe space because I want to make sure people are constantly engaged.”

Engagement with the local Black community is interwoven with Jackson’s company mission. Despite the accomplishment of building a successful business in such a small amount of time, Jackson points toward the generations-old, Black-owned businesses in the Providence area that are only now receiving the recognition and promotion they deserve. 

The current political climate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement can be credited with encouraging the public to support their local Black-owned businesses, tipping the scales in favor of them receiving well-deserved publicity. 

Jackson hopes her Tea Talks may provide a safe space for members of the Black community to find inspiration to perhaps start a business of their own. At its core, they provide an environment for Black people to discuss issues that concern the Black community; Tea Talks are open, roundtable discussions on anything from current events to pop culture, dating, sex and relationships — anything that affects the Black community on a day-to-day basis. According to Jackson, it is ultimately a safe space for people to speak openly and feel heard, but also be able to respectfully challenge each other and each other’s opinions. 

While the COVID pandemic has temporarily put a stop to these meetings, Tea Talks are still alive and well in the virtual world, courtesy of Zoom. If you would like to participate, check out for updates on upcoming events. While you’re there, you’ll also want to peruse the “Shop” tab to get a taste of The Black Leaf’s tea offerings. Each cup supports not just a local business, but an entire community. 



Notes Coffee Company: 508 Armistice Blvd, Pawtucket. They held their grand opening on July 17, this java shop is dedicated to melding music with a cafe scene.

Industrious Spirits Company: 1 Sims Ave, #103 PVD. Providence’s first distillery since the days of Prohibition. They specialize in gin and vodka, with bourbon currently aging. 

Wayfinder Hotel: 151 Admiral Kalbfus Rd, Newport. Formerly the Mainstay Hotel, this North End Newport hotel went under a $16 million renovation, with brand new walls, floors and ceilings. It has the largest hotel room of any establishment in Newport, and they are currently in the process of installing a fitness center (which is quite a workout). More than 1,000 pieces of local Rhode Island art have found their way there.

Open Air Saturdays: Every Saturday in August, Westminster Street in PVD will be closed to cars, so patrons can enjoy social distance shopping. Local businesses are hoping it will draw customers back to the downtown area. Who likes driving down Westminster Street anyway?

Crepe Corner: 1577 Westminster St, PVD. This breakfast/ Belgian eatery opened a new storefront in PVD on Westminster St.

Durk’s BBQ: Closing their Thayer Street location, this southern fried inspired eatery will be reopening sometime this month on Aborn Street.


Loie Fuller: This art-deco styled restaurant was a jewel in PVD’s Armory District for over a decade. It closed July 29, with no plans to reopen.

Duck and Bunny: Under renovations since 2019, owners have announced it will not be reopening before 2021. Their satellite bakery in Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village, the Cafe and Sweetery, recently closed.

Greenville Inn: Owner-operators Diane and Jim Belknap ran this Greenville eatery for more than 23 years. While they thought of reopening for takeout, they enjoyed the time off at home and have officially retired. 

Knead Donuts: The Custom Street, downtown PVD location closed. Knead still has two other locations in Providence, and a new location in East Greenwich.

Luxe Burger Bar: When the weekday lunch crowd dried up, the fat lady sang for this Providence burger place.

Red Fin Crudo: This Washington Street eatery announced just last month they would be closing permanently due to the pandemic. Fin.

Public Art Gallery: Sadly even the biggest community boosters among us are facing a pinch. Public has been closed for five months, and due to a revenue shortfall, it will be vacating its current space when the lease ends this month. They’re planning to reopen in a new location in 2021. Anyone interested in donating to them to help with costs go can to:

Brickley’s in Wakefield has announced it’s temporarily closing. The decision comes as numerous beach businesses in Rhode Island face rude and unsavory customers who are upset by new COVID regulations.

Mulligan’s Island has been for sale for a while, and it may have a buyer. Developers from Massachusetts are seeking a mixed use planned district for the area, envisioning putting in a CostCo and other smaller scale commercial retail and restaurants. 

Pier 1 is the latest national retail big box chain to close. It had only two locations, one in Westerly and one in Warwick, but its closure shows it’s not just local business feeling the fallout from a pandemic.

Lobstah Rolls 101: Local experts give us the 411 on eating in the 401

Dune Brothers; photo credit: Melissa McKelvey

To the first human who looked at a lobster and said, “I bet there’s good eatin’ inside that claw,” kudos to them. Lobsters look like giant, prehistoric, water-dwelling vinegaroons, and if you’ve never heard of a vinegaroon, you probably didn’t grow up in the Southwest and were spared the pure terror that comes when finding them your garage. (They are also known as “whip scorpions.” Google it if you dare.) 

Nevertheless, lobsters have become a staple of New England cuisine, particularly when they are de-shelled, dressed and stuffed into a hoagie roll. I decided to ask a couple of dedicated lobster roll enthusiasts to offer their top picks of the state. The first person I spoke to was Gina Pezza, a chef at Vanda Cucina, because she has dedicated an entire Instagram account to the rating of lobster rolls: @rhodyrolls401

Jenny Currier (Motif): Do you work with lobster, or do you just enjoy lobster?

The Boat House; photo credit: Melissa McKelvey

Gina Pezza: It’s funny — I just like lobster rolls. I won’t buy lobster. I worked at Hemenways for three or four years, and I got lobstered out. But a couple of years ago I would go on bike rides and me and my friend, if we stopped to get lunch, we would always get a lobster roll. Obviously, it’s good. It’s cold, it’s easy to eat, and it’s not heavy. Then I just started really enjoying lobster rolls.

JC: Do people give you tips, or do you stumble upon the places you rate?

GP: This was just a fun project I started. I thought, I’ve gotta start writing these down so that the next year when I’m like, ‘What was the place that had good lobster rolls?’ I would remember which ones to go to. I went to get a lobster roll in January at a brewery, and that’s when I started it. A few people who follow me will give me pointers and other places to go to. Other than that, it’s just from being out and about. 

JC: Are you a native Rhode Islander?

Lobster Bar; photo credit: Melissa McKelvey

GP: I am! I’m from Johnston. 

JC: What are some of the things you think make a lobster roll great?

GP: [My rating system] has about four or five components. 

The first, obviously, is the main one: lobster. Is it fresh or frozen? I’ve even had fresh ones that weren’t cooked properly or were overcooked. I don’t know if it’s because it’s soft shell or hard shell, but sometimes it has a different flavor — a sweeter flavor. 

Then you have the sauce and the dressing. 

The third component is whether or not there’s lettuce. Some places, I’m like, why are you using a giant, green leaf lettuce? I like it shaved, or a nice little piece of it to keep it in the bun. 

And last, of course, is the bun. Traditional lobster roll, it’s gotta be the split, New England style roll. And it’s gotta be butter grilled. Butter, with its salt, helps with the lobster. Some people just — I don’t know — throw it in the oven, some are stale. And you have to get the oversized bun, because realistically, if you went to the market and got those hotdog buns, they’re super small. 

Then you have to consider proportion. Standard price is probably $20 – $25. If you’re paying $29 – $30 and it’s good, it’s not going to be that good because now I’m spending an extra $8.

Castle Inn; photo credit: Melissa McKelvey

JC: Are you opposed to frozen lobster meat if it tastes good?

GP: When I worked at a hotel, I did half and half. You can get frozen fresh-shucked lobster meat, which is different from the frozen claw/knuckle meat, and it has a totally different texture and color. My issue [with frozen lobster] is that it gets stringy. So if you mix it — which is great, because you’re working on the bottom line, and you’re not really making money on a lobster roll — if you use the fresh lobster meat as the big chunks and the frozen meat to chop up small to get flavor in, then yes. It would be good.

JC: Have you set aside a special lobster fund to support your habit?

GP: I should! It’s really digging into my savings here. [She laughs.] No, I spend money on food and go out to eat because that’s what I enjoy doing. It’s more of a hobby…but people set aside money for their hobbies, like — I don’t know — golfing or something. So, yeah, I probably should start saving for it because it’s probably as expensive as golfing.

Anthony’s Seafood; photo credit: Melissa McKelvey

JC: Okay, so currently what are your top favorite lobster rolls?

GP: The top two are Dune Brothers and Matunuck Oyster Bar, for sure. Newport Lobster Shack is very good — also one of the top. I know Benjamin’s (in Newport) is good because I ate there last year, probably at the end of the season, and that’s the one I was dreaming about in January. And Quito’s was good. That one’s more expensive, though. It’s in Bristol. We’d always overlooked that because it’s at the end of the bike path, a shack on the water. That was one of the first weeks of outdoor dining. We waited for 45 minutes for a takeout lobster roll. 

To read the full reports, visit @rhodyrolls401 and give her a follow.

Pro Tip: There’s a hashtag on IG: #iratelobsterrolls, started by Rhode Island food enthusiast Melissa McKelvey, who also reviews lobster rolls in New England. I asked for her top five, and she said (with the caveat she hasn’t tried Matunuck Oyster Bar or Blount’s Clam Shack): 1. Dune Brothers Seafood; 2. Boat House in Tiverton; 3. Anthony’s Seafood; 4. The Lobster Bar; 5. Castle Hill Inn.

The Four Cs: Courtland Club’s (ice) cream and cocktails

A couple of years ago, the Courtland Club opened on the West Side of Providence, a revamped social club that’s not just for old men anymore. But as its interior is more speakeasy-vibe than luxuriously spaced, they needed to adapt (as every other restaurant and bar) to CoronaTimes.

Their solution was an outdoor window — where the keypad-containing door now remains propped open with a table — through which they serve freshly made cocktails and ice cream to go. Recently, they’ve added five outdoor tables to their quaint backyard, which means you can snag a spot to sit if you time it right. My friend and I happened to get lucky on a Sunday afternoon, and we were taken to a small table in the shade, adorned with a vase of flowers. 

Their menu was put together on an old-fashioned message board, with black and red letters. The list of cocktails contains some of their classic favorites, like the Mother Theresa — and with a garnish of edible gold stars, how could you not love this drink? — and seasonal creations. For example, each month they have a zodiac-inspired cocktail, and even though I visited in my birth month and am proud to be a Cancer, I’m not usually a fan of tequila. Instead, I opted for a Beach Rose Martini, and hot damn, it was perfect. It was like inhaling beach air, in the best possible way. It was served in a small mason jar, and garnishes (like the gold stars for my friend’s Mother Theresa) were given in a small Ziploc bag. 

The ice cream is drool-worthy, and with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing, I was not only drooling but profusely sweating. I couldn’t decide between Piña Colada ice cream and the Strawberry Daiquiri Sorbet, so I decided to do the unthinkable and get a scoop of each. Mixing sorbet and ice cream? Yes. Regrets? None. In fact, I loved the Piña Colada ice cream so much, I got a pint of it before we left. 

If cocktails and ice cream aren’t enough to inspire you, here’s a bonus: Each week they serve a specialty cookie for which 100% of proceeds to go charity (a “dough-nation,” if you will). I’m proud to say I supported the EduLeaders of Color RI, and I will happily eat more cookies if it means I can help more people.

The Courtland Club accepts online orders and table reservations. You might even find a pizza on their menu — the Pizza Of the Week is always worth checking out. Masks are required, because we want to spread love, not germs. The Courtland Club has come a long way since the ’40s, and now the doors are wide open. 

51 Courtland Street, PVD; @courtlandclub; Closed Monday

I Scream, You Scream: We all scream for (vegan) ice cream

Summer’s heating up, and what better way to beat this heat wave than with a giant scoop of ice cream on a scorching afternoon? However, not all of us can indulge in the dairy delights of America’s fave summer treat (just ask my boyfriend, affectionately monikered “Non-Dairy Gary” by my family because of his aversion to milk products), so it’s vegan ice cream to the rescue! Rhode Island’s vegan ice cream purveyors are tough to suss out, but after several hours of Googling, Yelping and asking random strangers on the Internet for recommendations, I’ve compiled a list of my Top 5 favorites!

Like No Udder: 170 Ives St, PVD

Rhode Island’s go-to spot for vegan sweet treats, Like No Udder churns out an impressive selection of dairy-free hard and soft serve delights, which can be twisted and scooped into a variety of preparations, including their signature “Unicorn” — soft serve blended till THICC with your choice of toppings swirled in. Browse the shop while you wait for your sundae! Like No Udder also peddles a respectable selection of vegan snacks, like jerkys, locally made condiments, and the ever popular cheese understudy, nutritional yeast (which is low-key better than actual cheese, but I guess we can argue about that in a different column). 

Dear Hearts: 2218 Broad St, Cranston  (Additional locations in East Greenwich and Warwick)

Got friends who are indecisive and take five-ever to pick out their flavors? Bring ‘em to Dear Hearts, and they’ll have a field day with the menu, which offers a wide selection of almond milk based soft serve in 24 (!!!) different flavors! Picky eaters will go wild for the classic coffee, their best seller, and the more adventurous lot will flip for the cotton candy and coconut flavors, which are winning over the hearts of vegans and non-vegans alike this summer!

Green Line Apothecary: 905 North Main St, PVD (Additional location in Wakefield, Rhode Island)

Belly up to the refurbished 1940s soda fountain at this hidden gem, and you’ll see why this is my all-time favorite date spot! Yes, Green Line Apothecary is a full-service pharmacy with its own soda fountain, which harkens back to a time when I wouldn’t have looked stupid for wearing poodle skirts in broad daylight. The vegan selection rotates on a monthly basis, and the upcoming August offering, cookies n’ cream, is better than any regular ice cream I’ve ever tried. Trust me. Get there. You’ll love it.

Wildflour: 727 East Ave, Pawtucket

A staple in the Li’l Rhody vegan community, Wildflour’s got it all! From delish salads, prepared foods like superfood “sushi” and a killer avocado toast (#millennial), it’s one of my fave spots for a healthy nosh. Save room for dessert, though, because their ice cream’s off the hook! I especially love the fruity ‘n’ floral strawberry rose, as it is just as unique and weird as I am, but purists go crazy for the simple and sweet vanilla chocolate chip. No matter if you choose classic or creative, you can’t go wrong at this vegan paradise!

Sticks n’ Cones: 8 Fair St, Newport

I had to add in an on-island favorite of mine, and Sticks n’ Cones right in the heart of downtown Newport does the trick when the vegan ice cream cravings start and I don’t feel like going over the bridges! The small but handcrafted selection includes a delish cookies n’ cream incarnation, a flavorful coconut scoop, and an out of this world coffee indulgence that’ll have you buzzing with caffeinated joy long after the last morsel is gone. Hungry for more? They also specialize in homemade sweet waffles and frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, perfect for Instagram!

En Plein Air: Picnicking like semi-pros

Imagine the scene: two people are together-ish in a park, underneath the shade of a white elm tree, each wearing masks, standing on their own separate blankets, hovering cell phones over plastic trays of finger foods, taking aerial photos.

If you asked someone from the 1990s to identify what was happening in such a scene, you’d be hard pressed to get the response, “Two foodies are picnicking in the time of coronavirus,” but that would be the correct answer. And that’s exactly what my friend Melissa (@intherhode) and I were doing last week in Lippitt Park.

Until social distancing became mandatory and outdoor dining essential (even more so than normal for Rhode Islanders), picnicking was an underrated enterprise. Why bother packing your own supplies when you can drink and dine al fresco at one of our wonderful restaurants? But the demand is creeping higher than the supply, and while restaurants are doing a great job accommodating these requests (such as Angelo’s Civita Farnese – “Angelo’s on the Hill” – which is breaking their 96-year-old-mold with new outdoor dining), there is more than one way to maintain safe social distance while eating outdoors. That’s what Melissa began doing as soon as restrictions let up, and she invited me along for the experience.

We planned ahead by dividing food responsibilities, with all of the difficult work going to Melissa. My job was to bring Yoleni’s flavored yogurt, which I constantly rave about but which she had never tried, and “snackybread,” which was an unintentional autocorrect on her part that resulted in me purchasing a loaf of Seven Stars’ Country Round Bread. I considered it a great accomplishment that I remembered to bring both bowls and spoons, and a bread knife. My year as a Girl Scout really paid off. 

Melissa arrived in style, with a terry cloth blanket that folds into itself, creating its own duffle bag, and an insulated tote from Gotham Greens for the food. (In contrast, I brought an airline blanket and a paper bag from Whole Foods.) 

We kept a safe distance once situated on our respective blankets, and of course, after the photo taking had commenced. Melissa had read about the “Quarantini,” a recipe shared with Motif by Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails, and she began making these drinks weekly. She brought them in mason jars alongside a Ziploc bag filled with garnishes. They were the perfect picnic cocktail: refreshing, with just enough zest and honey to sweeten.

The “main course” consisted of prosciutto, melon and mozzarella skewers. Along with the homemade bread and lemon yogurt, it felt like a well-rounded meal — satisfying without being heavy, touching on all of the important food groups (we replaced vegetables with vodka). 

To end, Melissa made us each our own lemon cake jar, with a homemade lemon curd and lightly sweetened whipped cream. Cake jars are fabulous dessert wonders, ready-made cake and icing layered in a jar, and they make excellent picnicking desserts; all you need is a spoon. 

If you’re feeling inspired to create your own picnic basket, please shop locally for supplies. Here are a few places to get you started.

Farmers Markets. For a list of farmers markets near you, visit Farm Fresh Rhode Island. As a Providence resident, you’ll be happy to know that Hope Street Farmers Market is back in Lippitt Park! They update Facebook and Instagram weekly with vendor lists and opportunities to order ahead of time.

Stock Culinary Goods is as fabulous as ever and offers everything from locally made cutting boards by Andiamo Woodworking to savory Carrot Apple Jam from the African Alliance of Rhode Island. And, to prevent yourself from bringing a paper bag to a picnic, you can find high quality picnic baskets there as well.

Yoleni’s offers Mediterranean fare: cheeses, olives, honey, dried nuts and fruit, yogurt (this comes with a Jenny guarantee of “best yogurt of your life”), as well as fresh produce. You can also grab a gyro and a salad to go.

The Pantry at Avenue N has fresh fruits and vegetables, top notch sandwiches and pantry items from across the state (from Virginia & Spanish Peanut Company nut butters to Poblano Farm salsas). They even stock cans of Borealis Nitro Cold Brew! 

However, if putting a picnic together yourself seems too taxing (believe me, I feel you), order food to go from your favorite local restaurant, which has likely adapted to the COVID reality of take out. Or if you’d like to try something new, here are a few that struck me as exciting:

Bucktown’s Buckets & Bubbles

Bucktown: Try one of their “Buckets & Bubbles” combos, with a bucket of fried chicken and a chilled bubbly to go. 

Chez Pascal’s Picnic Box

Chez Pascal (before July 3): Try their “Picnic Box” with all the cheese and charcuterie you need for two people.

The Malted Barley’s Crowler

Malted Barley: Grab a pretzel sandwich and a 32-oz aluminum Crowler of craft beer, or a cocktail served in a giant Capri-Sun-like pouch. 

Cake pops from Bake Eat Love Bakery; photo credit: Sweet Finish Photograph

Bake Eat Love Bakery: For dessert on the go, order cake pops! Or if you want my favorite classic cake jar, try Whisk Me Away or Cakes by Eboni.

Bake My Day: Knotty’s Cookies isn’t afraid to take whisks

Shelby Carroll; photo credit: Seth Cooley (@sethcooley)

What began as a way to quell late night sugar cravings for friends and roommates turned into Knotty’s Cookies, an amazing pop-up confectionary shop helmed by local Newport cookie guru Shelby Carroll. She’s transformed her hobby of crafting new and exciting cookie flavors (move over, Milk Bar!) into an awesome gig, slinging bangin’ baked goods to in-the-know locals and folks who are lucky enough to stumble upon the scrumptious storefront. I sat down with Shelby between dings of the oven (all cookies are warmed fresh to order!), and it’s no surprise that her story is just as sweet as the desserts she bakes!

Morgan Capodilupo (Motif): Tell me a little bit more about yourself and the company!

Shelby Carroll: I am a URI grad who has been fortunate to call Newport home for the last four years. In June, I opened Knotty’s Cookies. We are a late-night pop-up serving homemade cookies, baked on-site. Each weekend, two flavors will rotate, while our signature Good Ol Buoy, a classic chocolate chip, is always on the menu as our go-to. 

MC: How did Knotty’s Cookies come to be?

SC: I’ve spent a lot of time with friends on Newport’s busy bar street, Broadway, and I was always surprised I couldn’t get an after-hours treat when I wanted one the most. The opportunity to sell something sweet at night just couldn’t escape me and so I got to thinking about what I would want after leaving Fastnet, which immediately brought me to cookies. I’ve always stopped into small confectionaries while traveling for my full-time sales job and found so much inspiration. Employees working in these cookie shops always seem so happy to be using their hands and creating every day. Finding that kind of passion was a big motivator for me to conceptualize this business, alongside my lifelong love of cookies.

MC: How do you develop your cookie recipes?

SC: When you come to Knotty’s, you will find each cookie has an original name. Usually, the recipe comes before the name, but some names are too punny to ignore and I develop a recipe from that. I experiment and adapt our recipes and test new ones endlessly until I find the best version of each classic. I’ve also been lucky to find a community in other bakers, and often contact other bakers I admire online to ask why they add a certain ingredient or to ask about a method foreign to me. 

MC: What’s your ideal cookie?

SC: The ideal cookie is … any cookie from Knotty’s! My ideal cookie is one that is made from the freshest dairy and doesn’t skimp on any confections. My forever favorite will always be a warm chocolate chip, which is why it took a lot of trial and error to create my Good Ol Buoy. I use mostly semi-sweet chocolate that, when combined with flakey sea salt, gives a perfect balance! Just one bite will not be possible

MC: What do you hope to bring to the Rhode Island food scene with Knotty’s Cookies? 

SC: Besides providing the street of Broadway with the unmistakable scent of freshly made cookies, I really just want to be on people’s activity list. Whether you’re out walking the dog, making us the cherry to a perfect date, or leaving dinner with friends, Knotty’s is something to add to everyone’s evening routine.

MC: Any plans/dreams/goals for the future?

SC: World cookie domination! But until then, a standalone store or a mobile store would be an exciting next step as we continue to grow. This summer I also plan to roll out non-profit partnerships that will support select local groups to bring extra awareness through the sweetness of cookies. I’m very excited to announce those in the next few weeks.

Check out the Knotty’s Cookies pop-up at 6 Broadway in Newport on Friday and Saturday evenings from 6 – 10pm, and give ‘em a follow on Instagram @knottyscookies for drool-worthy dessert content and future pop-up locations. And add a visit to Knotty’s to your weekend plans. You’ll be eternally grateful you did! 

Food Truck Fridays Are Go: These trucks won’t stop rolling

Any Providence resident knows that summer is food truck season. While featured at nearly all outdoor events, none highlights them more than the traditional Food Truck Fridays at Roger Williams Park. So, what’s a food truck fan to do when no-contact, 6-foot distanced delivery and take-out are the new normal?

In the era of social distancing, Food Truck Fridays certainly look a bit different than in years prior. Instead of bustling crowds, local music showcases and community intermingling, the focus has been on finding solutions concerning how to enforce proper social distancing regulations while serving diners. But event organizer and owner of FoodTrucksIn, Eric Weiner, is optimistic that Rhode Islanders can still get their food truck fix this summer, albeit with some precautions put in place. 

“We’re going to give the trucks and the consumers and the musicians as much as we can and hope that it’s enough,” says Weiner. As the RI Bucket Drummers finish off their set for May 22nd’s Food Truck Friday Facebook Livestream, tips come pouring in from their virtual audience. The livestream, humbly staged in a driveway, is one of many alterations made to the usual operation. It simultaneously gives a platform for local musicians to once again perform live and advertises the trucks that are open for business and where to find them. 

Weiner explains that trucks have been strategically spread out across the state, limiting two trucks per location, to ensure that large congregations of customers won’t flock to a single spot. Truck owners are also required by the Department of Health and Department of Business to adhere to the same safety rules and standards as brick-and-mortar restaurants that have been put in place due to the pandemic, including not allowing more than five people to gather around the trucks. 

According to Weiner, the fact that food trucks generally aren’t responsible for providing seating removes a major concern that non-mobile establishments must contend with, as folks expect take-away services only. The real problem lies in getting customers to the trucks at all. When not working large events, a food truck typically relies on finding the ideal parking spot with lots of foot traffic to drive sales, but there has never been fewer people strolling the streets. With no Food Truck Fridays in the park, outdoor festivals or even catering gigs to be had, food trucks are in desperate need of patronage. 

Shishkaberry’s, specializing in chocolate-covered seasonal fruits, is one such truck that has felt the impact. Deeply reliant on the summer events that draw hundreds of potential customers, co-owner Steve Aulenback is anxious for crowd restrictions to be relaxed, “…But in due time and when it’s safe to do so,” he says. In the meantime, you can find the Shishkaberry’s truck parked right next to Friskie Fries in Johnston, ready to serve up some sweet treats to-go. 

As a community, we are mourning the loss of the summer season we look forward to all year — the one jam-packed with events where we can support local businesses and artists. We may be stuck at home, but the next time you’re hankering for take-out, check out the PVD Food Truck Events Facebook page for updates on where the trucks are parked. Order ahead if possible, remember your face mask for pick-up and respect any safety guidelines truck owners are putting in place. 

“We’re optimistic that, one way or another, throughout this season and into the future, we’re going to continue to do everything we can to bring you experiences to enjoy local food trucks, community musicians and local beverages,” says Weiner. He is working hard to keep food truck culture alive and well. And all you have to do to help is order some grub!

Dinner Is Served! Pop-up dining room brings quirky quality to quarantine dining

For the van der Wals of Newport, Rhode Island, thinking “inside the box” led to a creative and nifty way to not only quash quarantine boredom, but also support local restaurants in the process. What began as a simple idea to beat the doldrums of lockdown grew into a great bonding experience for the foodie family: Onne and Tenley, and their two children, Read and Adrian. Quarantining at home with the whole fam got to be monotonous, especially with cooking full meals and cleaning dishes every night (ugh!), and with the family planning to sell Onne’s photography trailer, it seemed to be the perfect time for the van der Wals to do something innovative.

“We own a trailer that is used to haul large prints and a trade show booth setup, but it was sitting there with no purpose during the COVID lockdown. We decided to take everything out and build out this pop-up dining room concept,” says Read. 

While the Pop-Up Dining Room looks like it was handcrafted by professional artisans, it was actually a totally DIY family project! “First step was to cut a carpet (with scissors) to fit the bottom, then set a table with five places. We strung up some lights, installed a speaker, and the vibes felt good. Final step, of course, was to cover every square inch of the interior walls with Onne van der Wal photography. Voila! Five star dining on wheels.” 

Since taking the Pop-Up Dining Room out for a spin, the community response has been great. Read adds, “We pulled up on Bannisters’ Wharf and ordered take out from Clarke Cooke House, and the reaction was incredible so we decided to keep it going. We also parked alongside Washington Square and ordered Bar ‘Cino and Stoneacre Brasserie, another huge success!” The Pop-Up Dining Room has also been spotted at Pasta Beach and Thames Street Kitchen, two other awesome local restaurants that have been rocking the takeout game in these past few months. Even though the Pop-Up Dining Room is currently wheeling around in town solely in Newport, the van der Wals have big plans for the future — maybe even hauling it over the bridges to PVD! Who knows, you might just see this resplendent rig rolling up to a restaurant near you soon!

Growing Gastros: The purveyor of fine sausages gets a food truck

With the Atlantic Ocean right on our doorstep and seasonal produce always ready for the picking, Rhode Island is famous the world over for its culinary chops and imagination in the kitchen. But even within that singular landscape, Lil Rhody has developed a tantalizing subculture based around food trucks. One of the latest to hit the food truck scene is Gastros, even if their name is not new, having established their presence as a pop-up vendor of fine prepared meats and sausages almost five years ago. We caught-up with co-founder Owen Doyle, to get the latest on the only USDA certified mobile food company specializing in homemade charcuterie.

Amadeus Finlay (Motif): First, congratulations on the upgrade! What exciting new menu items and/or features can we expect?

Owen Doyle: Our heritage, quarter-pound hot dogs served in our gourmet brioche buns, are still the main event, but we have added some menu twists. First we have a fryer and do hand cut fries, chili cheese fries and breakfast fries with our chorizo, and a sunny-side-up egg. We do sides of Wagyu beef chili and a killer mac and cheese, and a vegan option: our three bean salad. We have a Richmond Ripper, which is a bacon-wrapped deep-fried hot dog with lettuce, tomatoes and herb mayo.

AF: Not to date the interview… but making a transition during a pandemic can’t have been easy. When was the decision made to upgrade, and how has COVID-19 affected that?

OD: We bought the trailer before COVID and was just going to add another unit to our company, but had to eliminate events and catered events until further notice.

AF: Let’s look into your ethos as a lover of food. What drives your passion, and how is that reflected in Gastros?

OD: We strive to have the best quality products. We believe that you should be eating high quality food, and we bring a unique twist to fill your belly and soul!

AF: For those who aren’t familiar, do you cater to people with food allergies? Celiac etc?

OD: Gastros can accommodate any allergies, dietary restrictions, and preferences. Just let us know!

AF: And finally… why sausages?

OD: My passion for charcuterie, same as my partners, Ben Ezickson and Travis Gervasio, started at an early age. We just put it into reality and haven’t lifted our heads since.