Village Restaurant: Nigerian Flavor Meets Down-Home Vibe

On a cold Tuesday, my friend David and I headed out to try the newly-opened Village Restaurant at 100 Fountain Street in Providence, which features authentic Nigerian cuisine.

Toyin Wilcox founded the Village Restaurant more than 10 years ago in Pawtucket (200 Main St). She has now expanded to Providence, bringing her passion for sharing and cooking Nigerian meals to even more of the RI community. Village strives to serve delicious and flavorful food, while providing a unique and memorable experience for its diners, which I can happily report it succeeds in doing.  

From the moment you enter the restaurant, the sense of family and warmth is apparent. As we arrived, Wilcox’s brother enthusiastically greeted us, his pride in his sister on full display. As we peered up at the menu, divided into Appetizers, Entrees, Stews, A Vegan/Vegetarian selection and Pastries, there were so many new things to choose from that we struggled to land on what we wanted. When Wilcox saw me and David unsure of where to start, she came to our rescue.  She gave instructions to our friendly server, pointing to items from the buffet line and before we knew it, two bountiful containers (Maybe a more descriptive word — platters?) were ours. They included Dodo (sweet plantains), a savory meat pie, and Jollof Rice, served with boneless fish and topped with a beautiful, bright tomato and pepper sauce. Then there was Efo Riro (spinach stew) served with chicken legs, plantains and lyan. A highlight for me of the meal was tearing pieces of lyan, yam pounded to a kind of white stretchy taffy, and using it to sop up the flavorful sauces of both dishes. 

We washed it down with Zobo, a Nigerian drink made from brewing dried Roselle (Hibiscus) plant flowers mixed with fruit juices and Chapman, a sweet non-alcoholic punch. Zobo has a spicy finish that we both preferred.

Prices for a starter or pastry are $4 or $5 dollars, and the Village meals/stews range from $12 to $15. No reservations are needed, and they use Grubhub and Postmates for delivery. Catering is available.

All of the food was flavorful and satisfying, and Wilcox and her brother could not have been more hospitable. The Village has a bright welcoming vibe, and as we left my friend said that it had felt like eating the food of a friend. What’s better than that?

The Village PVD, 100 Fountain Street, PVD, thevillagerestaurantri.com

Blaze Smith Hill

This business profile ran as part of Motif’s Black History Month issue, centering the experiences of Black business owners.

For BJ Murray, owner of Blaze Smith Hill, the business started with a building. 

“207-209 Douglas Ave. It’s a very old building, from 1892. The Hennessy Building,” she says, offering to send me more information on it. Murray purchased it from longtime owner and resident Tony Demings, and saved it from the wrecking ball when it was planned to become a parking lot. “There are other places to park,” Murray reasons.

By then Murray was already the owner of IT staffing firm Business Focus Inc., and was looking for commercial space. She had been there before, for a gallery opening – Demings opened it for performances and shows. Murray put her firm on the second floor and decided to open a cafe on the first, dedicated to artists, performance, and community, keeping with the spirit of the previous owner. 

After COVID-19 forced her to restrategize, Murray fortuitously was connected with the chef at what had been her favorite restaurant before it closed: Phyllis Arffa, formerly of Blaze East Side. The two decided to join forces, and now the two operate Blaze Smith Hill, the newest iteration of Arffa’s old digs. “She always made my favorite food,” Murray says wistfully, as Arffa’s meals dance through her mind. 

Murray is very community-minded. Her businesses team up twice a month with a local organization called Street Sights and Brown University to feed the hidden homeless around town, stopping under bridges and looking out for fellow Providincians. 

“Phyllis and I come from the same cloth,” Murray says. “We like trying to bring the youth along, BIPOC people along, with the idea that if they can see it, they can do it. We make sure that people see that there are opportunities out there.” 

When Motif asks about a mentor, after a few contemporary advisors, Murray’s mind flashes back to her high school teacher. “I grew up in an area where we did not know ourselves, and she showed me everything about Black history, who I was, and an appreciation for art. I was a C student, but she believed in me, and I became an A-player.” 

“Everyone has to struggle, but there’s a path for everyone,” Murray continues, “All you have to do is try.”

Blaze Smith Hill, 209 Douglas Ave, PVD, blazesmithhill.com

Black Beans PVD

This business profile ran as part of Motif’s Black History Month issue, centering the experiences of Black business owners.

Adena Marcelino’s journey to being one of Providence’s esteemed black business owners started in high school, when she noticed an unfair trend. 

“I went to Classical, and it was very diverse,” she shares. “I had friends who were Greek, Armenian, Italian, and Russian. When any of them had big moments, life events like baby showers or funerals, they could find a restaurant that could service them with their culture’s food.” Not so for Marcelino’s family. “In the Black community, that doesn’t exist. After a funeral, we have to cry and cook. When our kids get dressed for prom, their nice meal can’t be what they grew up eating.” 

Marcelino’s career first brought her to social services, but on the side, she was always cooking. She’d cook for stress relief, for the odd birthday, baby shower, or funeral. She’s the person in the community who could make culturally relevant food affordably. With a plan to make food commercially, she left case management six years ago and got a job at the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts to better understand quick-service restaurants. 

After two years of restaurant work, Marcelino decided to launch her own business, Black Beans PVD, in 2019, creating an event-style supper club: a five-course meal with chatting and dancing. Once COVID-19 entered common vernacular, she had to switch gears, and is now working towards opening a brick and mortar location. 

“One of the most challenging parts is going against what others think I should do,” Marcelino shares. “For example, grits are low cost. When you are from a community that has historically been poor, you end up with main dishes like rice and grits. People say, ‘you should charge more!’ but that defeats the purpose.” Marcelino makes it clear that she’s in this to bring access to the food her community loves at a price that is fair.  

Marcelino is proud to be a local. “I was born in the community and I’m still here, to be a representative of what you can be. You don’t have to leave. A lot of the people of color who could give back left. It’s important for kids to see someone that looks like them that stayed.” 

The next time a Black family needs catering in Providence, they can rest assured that Marcelino will have their backs. 

Black Beans PVD, 55 Cromwell St, PVD, black-beans-pvd.square.site

Purveying the Sweet and the Sarcastic: Two bakeries on the rise

This business profile ran as part of Motif’s Black History Month issue, centering the experiences of Black business owners.

Alaska-native Nina Reed received her culinary degree from J&W over a decade ago, focusing on baking and pastries. After graduating, she returned to Alaska to complete her internship, but her love of RI and the solid food truck scene brought her back. In March 2011, she opened Sarcastic Sweets, a specialty mobile dessert and brunch food truck that she describes as a “café on wheels.” Her goal was to build her brand and eventually open a brick-and-mortar bakery. Sarcastic Sweets and Alaskan Treehouse Café opened their doors on Taunton Ave in Seekonk, MA in August 2021.

“Owning a storefront is far different than a mobile business,” Reed says when discussing the two businesses she owns. “One prepared me for the other. I believe anyone in the restaurant or bakery industry should try their hand at a food truck first and then grow into a store. It teaches you how to order better than any school can, how to shop more affordably, and be versatile in any situation with tight spaces.”

At Sarcastic Sweets, Reed makes desserts that can cater to all allergies (keto, gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, etc). She follows a simple yet important motto that lets customers know that she can make anything that they ask: “It’s not like I can’t make it for you.”

Reed’s aunt taught her how to make a dish out of anything, but it was her mentor, Kirsten Roseberry, who taught her to apply this skill to baking and pastry back in Alaska. Roseberry taught her the integrity and respect that comes with being a business owner and also employer.

“If there was a product that was ruined, she knew how to fix it; if there was something that there wasn’t enough of she knew how to stretch it. And her decorating skills are unbelievable. But what was most amazing about her is her ability to work around the clock at the same quality. I strive to show the same type of vigor, and I think I’m successful.”

Reed has a tremendous reputation. She was a 2016 Center for Women Enterprise Rising Star Award Recipient, featured pastry chef in Providence Monthly’s April 2018 edition and was a guest star on the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius.”

With the brick and mortar store open, Reed plans to do more than just sell baked goods. Baking and dessert decorating classes begin this month. She aims to serve as a mentor to her staff, becoming a hands-on bakery that will give them the opportunity to grow and enhance their skills as chefs.

“What I am most proud of is my ability to give back to students and teach younger people. I think giving people a fair opportunity as well as giving them fair pay is a double positive, and I can’t see there being a negative outcome if you have patience and good people.” 

Sarcastic Sweets & The Alaskan Treehouse Cafe, 184 Taunton Ave, Seekonk, Mass, sarcasticsweet.com

Eboni Silva is a determined and resilient individual. She honed her skills working in other bakeries and started building her business baking cakes for family and friends, growing her side hustle until Cakes by Eboni became her full-time job. She recently got her own space on Mineral Spring Ave in Pawtucket after working out of another kitchen for two years.

Cakes by Eboni is a small bakery that makes custom desserts as well as a monthly menu (February includes a Black History Month Cake – vanilla with chocolate butter cream frosting, decorated in black green and gold, with the fist emblem – along with Valentine’s treats for both couples and singles). Everything is made from scratch, which is a source of pride. She offers cakes, cookies, cupcakes, chocolate-covered pretzels and berries. Her thoughtfully designed treats are beautiful and intricate, showcasing her talents as both a baker and an artist. She works with customers to turn their design ideas into a reality.

“My favorite part about my business is bringing all the different ideas to life,” Silva says. “Each event is unique and it keeps the job refreshing and doesn’t become redundant. If I wouldn’t eat it, I would not give it to you.”

Cakes by Eboni is a dream coming true for Silva and testament to her endurance. Options looked grim when she was a pregnant high school senior, failing a class that she needed to graduate. Silva had adults telling her that she wouldn’t graduate or amount of anything. Instead of giving up, she proved her naysayers wrong by finishing high school, having her child, working through college and graduating cum laude, all before starting her own business.

“Cakes by Eboni definitely represents perseverance, determination and passion,” she shared. 

Silva’s children are her inspiration. She keeps pushing to show her children that dreams can come true if you are dedicated, refine your skills and endure challenges and cynics.  She takes every test thrown at her as a learning and growing opportunity. 

“It’s not all just cupcakes and rainbows in the business world. Some days are busier than others and that’s ok. The important thing is to keep putting in the work and keeping going.”

Cakes by Eboni, 560 Mineral Spring Ave Unit 2-161, Pawtucket, cakesbyeboni.square.site

Kin Southern Table + Bar

This business profile ran as part of Motif’s Black History Month issue, centering the experiences of Black business owners.

If you’re ever in downtown Providence and looking for comfort food, look no further than Kin Southern Table + Bar, the brainchild of Julia Broome. Broome – a Providence native – has always wanted to be a restaurateur. 

“When I was a kid, I went to Disney, and that inspired me to design some crazy restaurants — one where you had to take a boat to get to your seat!” she shares. 

While you can safely walk to the tables at Kin, Julia brings a lot of her childhood passion to the restaurant. After exploring entrepreneurship at a young age — from a lemonade stand to selling cookies in college – Broome figured she’d open a restaurant when she retired. Then, COVID-19 struck. Broome was laid off from her job traveling to trade shows, and began to think about moving up her plans for a restaurant. 

“I missed my friends and family, and the fun we had at summer barbecues,” she says. This informed her restaurant concept, with which Broome strives to recreate that family feeling while digging into baked mac ‘n cheese and shrimp po’boys. 

“I’ve been laid off once or twice before,” Broome shares humbly. “You can either use the time to be productive, or you can get down on yourself. So I wanted to create a space where all backgrounds could find a safe place and enjoy the people you want to be around and have some good food.” 

While she laments the paperwork involved with being a business owner, Broome expresses that as a black woman, business ownership is liberating: “Having ownership of my career, or my destiny is extremely important. I hope that I can be an example to others if they are interested in pursuing this path, or whatever path they want to choose.” 

“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was little,” Broome shares. “You start with writing words down on paper, and it can transform into four walls: a space where people can enjoy and be together.” 

As we close, Broome brings to our attention that Kin has quite a bit coming up, including taking reservations for Valentine’s Day, Kin’s one-year anniversary on March 30th, and their second-annual Juneteenth block party.

Kin Southern Table + Bar, 71 Washington St, PVD, kinpvd.com

Super Trooper: Culinary adventures on Valley St

This business profile ran as part of Motif’s Black History Month issue, centering the experiences of Black business owners.

Troop in PVD is part bar, part music venue, part gallery, mostly restaurant and part just a place to hang out.

Troop is owned by a team of five from a mixture of backgrounds and cultures. Creative Culinary Director Jason Timothy (“JT”) took a few minutes to talk with us about Troop’s past, present and future, about being a Black business owner and about guiding a venue through a pandemic.

We asked about the role race has played in JT’s career so far. “That’s hard to answer because I don’t really have anything to compare it to. I certainly took a back seat along the way in some circumstances because of skin color,” JT says, “But then I just worked harder. Having Black owned businesses is important. The support in this community is tremendous. But the work’s not done yet. I’m glad to be someone younger food professionals can look at and say, ‘I can do that too.’”

“At Troop really the team is what matters. The team is everything, and we’ve survived only because that team has worked well together,” says JT. That team includes JT, OGs Leigh Vincola and Sean Larkin, plus Chris Simonelli and Amar Kapadia. Having five people who were really engaged and had complementary specialties was crucial for Troop getting through (or still getting through) COVID, according to JT. “When we had to figure out how to get meals out in boxes for the pandemic, we had logistics, planning meals that would travel well, financing, online marketing – a bunch of factors, and someone with expertise in each part, or we couldn’t have done it.”

JT was first inspired by a high school foods instructor in his Connecticut hometown of New Haven, which led to Johnson & Wales, and then to honing his skills at a variety of local culinary hotspots, including the now-retired Louis Fuller and a six-month stint filling in at the renowned Kitchen. His catering company, Laughing Gorilla, had been serving at events and pop-ups for years before the group decided to take over the current venue. “Laughing Gorilla got its name from my college nick-name, and because I’m known for being pretty jovial,” JT says. Then Troop is the term for when a bunch of gorillas get together.

When Troop first opened, the menu for any given night wasn’t released until after you arrived – and there were usually only a couple of choices, but you always knew they’d be tasty and they’d respond to what was freshest at the market that day. 

Since then, Troop has grown a reliable menu with staples like chicken nuggs, fries and street noodles, but that spirit of creative adventure remains as well. JT works on menu development with chef Chad Hart, and “We love to change up the menu. Good cuisine should challenge people’s expectations. We hope it even inspires people. Combinations they hadn’t considered can open minds to thinking outside the box about all sorts of things. If you’re not challenging your customers, you’re not succeeding.”

The ambiance and entertainment also share Troop’s goal of making customers “comfortably uncomfortable.” Pretty much every corner of the space has some kind of artwork, from the original interior design by Kyla Coburn, which included barstools with backs made out of skateboards, to giant murals like one recently created by local artist Michael Savant. 

Whether it’s art, food, music or a stimulating environment you’re looking for, Troop is dedicated to helping you relax while stretching your perceptions. 

Troop PVD, 60 Valley St, PVD, trooppvd.com

Indigenous Diner: Sly Fox Den Too

While working on the November issue of Motif, we kept hearing about an indigenous restaurant called the Sly Fox Den Too. It’s a wonderful and quintessentially Rhode Island kind of diner: only open for breakfast and lunch, and packed full of locals. The food, however, ups the game, with an emphasis on fresh indigenous cuisine.

“Indigenous cuisine is the bounty of the season,” said Chef Sherry Pocknett. “Whatever’s in the woods, whatever you’re harvesting, that’s indigenous food.”

Venison, turkey, smoked salmon hash in the morning for breakfast… Is your mouth watering yet?

How about the Sly Fox Benedict, which are eggs over cornmeal pancakes filled with cranberries, scallions and whole kernel corn with two house-made venison sausages?

“That’s one of the most popular things on the breakfast menu,” Pocknett said. Then she laughed. “The hollandaise sauce, that’s not indigenous.”

There are vegan options too, including the delicious succotash soup made with corn, beans, squash and kale.

“I’m not a vegan,” Pocknett said, “but I love cooking for them, because I love exploring what I can make for a vegan. I make some serious stuff. I’m exploring the bounty. We have these wild mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, the sun chokes… dandelion greens and beets, cranberries and all the nuts. Right now we have black walnuts. I actually have two trees…”

The prices are reasonable, the food is fantastic, and the message is simple: eat local, and eat fresh.

“It’s our job to take care of this earth,” Pocknett said. “It’s our job to teach our young ones the old ways.”

Sly Fox Den Too, 4349 S County Trail, Charlestown, RI

Guildy Pleasures: Warren’s first brewpub

The smallest town in the smallest state, Warren, RI, which was once known by most as a blink on the way to Newport, has experienced a renaissance in recent years. With a plethora of quality restaurants, Warren has slowly become a dining destination for New Englanders. Adjacent to the town’s Main Street is Water Street, which overflows with eateries like The Square Peg, Revival Craft Kitchen and Bar, Bywater, and the fresh-faced “The Wharf”, formerly known as The Wharf Tavern. Perhaps the most obvious pillar of Warren’s recent renewal is The Tourister Mill. The once-luggage-factory is unmistakable when coming over the two bridges into town. Now a luxury apartment complex, the Tourister stands as a beacon of change for the town and is bringing in new businesses left and right. The latest to hit the scene is Pawtucket-based brewery The Guild.

When The Guild’s first location in Providence was destroyed by a fire, co-owner Jeremy Duffy wanted to move into the Tourister Mill building, but the property’s owners already had a long-term vision that included the new 99 Water Street Apartments. 

“So, we moved on to Pawtucket,” Duffy said. “It is amazing that several years later we are back in Warren, at the original spot, to open our first small-batch brewery and beer hall.” 

The Warren location is the third endeavor for the beer company, following their most recent launch on the Providence Pedestrian Bridge with The Guild PVD Beer Garden.

With 140 seats indoors, and 40 seats on the gorgeous patio facing the Palmer River, The Guild Warren is continuing to staff up and expects to employ roughly 30 people. Local hires include General Manager Ed Levy and Head Chef Stephen Lima, both from Bristol. 

Over a dozen beer selections are available, including multiple Guild originals such as the Observatory – Pale Ale, Isle of White – White IPA, and new brew Warren G – Double IPA. Other offerings include a new Pear Cinnamon Seltzer by Willie’s Superbrew and Chair 2 Light Lager by Sons of Liberty. 

In addition to the abundant drink line-up, Chef Lima has created a substantial list of mouth-watering appetizers and small bites. Flash Fried Tri-Color Cauliflower, Smoked Pork Belly Nachos, and a Quinoa Salad Bowl to name a few. For protein, an array of sliders are available including burgers, chicken, and roast beef. 

“The energy around us opening was incredible and it has not stopped,” said Duffy. “We have seen terrific crowds since day one…. The nicest thing is that our biggest fans have been the tenants of 99 Water Street and the American Tourister. We are grateful for that.” 

The Guild is reciprocating Warren’s warm welcome with plans to collaborate with the town’s many restaurants and vast art scene. “We want to use Warren as a place of innovation and collaboration around our beers. We have a terrific seven barrel brewhouse that is ready to be that platform,” says Duffy. 

The Guild Warren, 99 Water Street, Warren, RI. Currently open Wed through Sun. Visit their website @theguildwarren for times.

Friskie Fries: Motif Overall Favorite Truck Award

Where do the best thoughts come from? A boardroom? The shower? 

For Randy D’Antuono, the best ideas came in the wee morning hours sitting on a street curb in Amsterdam, from some scribbled notes on a bar napkin. That’s where we can trace the origins of his greatest salty, starchy gift to Rhode Island: Friskie Fries. 

From these humble beginnings, the entrepreneur ascended to claim the Motif top truck award this year, Overall Favorite Truck

“Food and memories go hand in hand. We are lucky to be a part of it,” said Darryl Hutto, the Food Truck Manager, who accepted the award. 

Our first question for D’Antuono stumped him: which fries are best? 

“There are so many choices for so many different taste palates,” he said. “The number one seller is Miss Potato Head [Friskie Fries topped with smoked bacon, sharp cheddar, sour cream and scallions] followed by Cluckin’ Hot Mess [Friskie Fries topped with crispy chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese]. When the Tiger King [Friskie Fries topped with General Tso’s Chicken, Mandarin Oranges and scallions] was introduced as a special, it was overwhelmingly popular—so popular that customers demanded it to be a permanent item.” 

D’Antuono did confide that his personal favorite menu item is The Dirty Daug, which is a collaboration with another RI culinary legend, New York System. The fries are topped with New York System weiner bits, meat sauce, diced onion, mustard, and of course celery salt. Now there’s an option for those revelrous souls who saunter out of their favorite downtown discotheque and don’t want to make the hike to Olneyville!  Naturally Friskie Fries wouldn’t be Friskie Fries without Tipsy, the business’s feline logo and mascot. D’Antuono told Motif that Tipsy works overtime as both the mascot for Friskie Fries and its sister business the Alleycat Bar in downtown Providence. “For the past 20 years, that famous cat named Tipsy has reminded people of good times, a safe atmosphere and memorable experiences,” he said. “[Since he] was so well known, we wanted to brand Friskie with the same public identification and recognition as the bar: in this case, just sitting on a pile of fries instead of sitting by a martini.”

D’Antuono says that the loyalty of his guests—known as “friskettes”—is incredibly humbling. “Without this following, Friskie would be just another place to get fries,” says D’Antuono. “It is not. It’s an experience.”

Looking to the future, Friskie Fries is headed for the moon: Friskie Fries just built another new truck, plans to expand their presence into Boston and is working to bring the Friskie brand into the franchising world by spring of 2022. “We honestly believe that Friskie can be a nationwide fry-nomenon,” D’Antuono told Motif. After grimacing at the pun, we agreed. 

Friskie Fries has catered hundreds of concerts and corporate events. “Two that always stand out for us are The Salem Food Truck Festival and certainly “The Big E” Fair in West Springfield,” D’Antuono said. “We have a beautiful location in The RI Building on the grounds where we witness two million visitors at the park in a three-week timeframe.”While a few of our questions were tough for D’Antuono, it was easy for him to say what he was proudest of. “This is the easiest question of them all. My staff. Without them, I would have nothing,” D’Antuono told Motif. “I could never pull this off myself. With the constant support of the community, friends and family, Friskie will continue to grow and deliver the highest quality product with a smile and a meow!”