“In a sea of Providence’s Italian bakeries, we are the only French bakery — but that’s not to take anything away from our neighbors,” says Alane Spinney, the “Den Mother” of Ellie’s, having been around since the bakery’s opening day in January 2013. “If you want a cannoli, go to Scialo bakery on Federal Hill. But if you want a canelé, come to Ellie’s.”
I’ve heard Alane give the backstory of Ellie’s a hundred times with RI Red Food Tours, as it’s one of our favorite stops. But now that the bakery has expanded and moved from Washington Street to Weybosset, directly across from the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC), it has transformed into Ellie’s Bistro, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Because I’d frequented Ellie’s for years, a truly European-style bakery with seats for only seven customers, I was familiar with its high-quality lattes and to-die-for macarons, not to mention their Signature Breakfast Sandwiches and fresh croissants with jam, but I was curious what their expanded menu would entail. So I called my trusted food friend Jeremy, and we made reservations for dinner on a Sunday night.
The new space is beautiful. With glossy white brick and black trim, marble topped tables with fresh flowers, delicately lettered gold decals on the windows, an open kitchen and framed photos of this building’s history, it’s at once inviting and charming. The location that sat abandoned for over a decade, where it was once a piano store and then a pharmacy — where Alane’s father worked half a century ago — now welcomes up to 40 diners, with window seats, booths, a large community table and a handful of bar stools.
That’s right, bar stools: Ellie’s Bistro is serving French wines, ciders and beers, and theater-themed cocktails, such as the Drama Queen, made with Crop Meyer Lemon Vodka, framboise, campari, orange blossom water and bubbles. On this particular night, however, I was craving a white wine, and I knew they offered a great choice because the food tour guests couldn’t stop raving about it. I asked manager Max Hodge to point me in the right direction.
“I think you’re wanting the Domaine,” he said, referring to the Domaine F.E. Trimbach Pinot Blanc.
“YES,” I said, unable to pronounce half of those words.
Jeremy wanted an espresso martini, which arrived the color of dark chocolate with a light foam glaze, garnished with espresso beans. We clinked glasses, and then made our way through a sea of delectable items on the menu.
We diligently read the description for each entrée (appetizer), plat (main), and accompagnements (side) and, as usual, had trouble narrowing it down to a number of dishes we could realistically consume. We began with the baked chèvre, a smooth white cheese served hot inside a ramekin, with crusty bread, pear confit and pea trendrils, as well as the lightly grilled cucumber, served with ricotta and spring onion pistou.
The baked chèvre, which is a cheese made from goat’s milk, was rich and earthy, its savory nature counterbalanced with the sweet pear confit. It’s a rare day that I encounter a cheese I don’t like (bleu, I’m looking at you), and this is a reliable go-to dish for anyone who fancies cheese.
The cucumbers far exceeded my expectation from the moment they touched the table. Their presentation was nothing short of a painting, an ornately designed arrangement of bright green marinated cucumbers, sunflower seeds, purple flower petals and a bright white whipped ricotta, drizzled with pistou (think pesto but without pine nuts). The cold dish maximized different textures, with the slightly softer but still crisp cucumbers, the crunchy seeds and the soft ricotta. It was a light and refreshing dish.
For our second course, Jeremy ordered a burger that came with one of my favorite cheeses, gruyere, and a side of pommes frites — aka, fries — with three dipping sauces: duck gravy, truffle ketchup and garlic aioli. Even though this wasn’t my meal, I helped myself, mostly to the fries because I acquired an immediate addiction to the truffle ketchup (and I don’t even like ketchup), but these fries were slender and crisp and delicious. The bite of burger I had was cooked perfectly, juicy and flavorful.
I was looking for another small-ish dish, so I ordered the Pork and Pistachio Terrine. I was envisioning, however, a tartine — an open faced sandwich — rather than a terrine, which is a pâté made in a pottery container served cold.
Neither Matthew Varga, the executive chef, nor Melissa Denmark, the executive pastry chef, have ever led me astray, so I dove in adventurously. And I was pleasantly surprised! The accompanying dijon mustard and dressed greens, along with the crispy bread, were perfect complements, and I cleaned my plate.
Unfortunately, my lunch that day had consisted of ice cream, so Jeremy and I regretfully skipped dessert, but I’ve since been back to treat myself to a bouchon, a chocolate toffee chip cookie, and a coconut blueberry cheesecake on a chocolate graham crust, so I haven’t been left wanting. With the same powerhouse that’s steered Gracie’s to eight AAA four diamond awards, this sister restaurant is in good hands. Everything is fresh, local and seasonal, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get Alane to spin you a yarn. “They call me OE — Original Equipment. As a 13th generation Rhode Islander, I can answer any question you might have about Rhode Island in general or Providence in particular.” Then she leans in a little closer. “I know where all the bodies are buried.”
Whether you’re looking for a quick breakfast, a soothing cup of coffee, a relaxed lunch or dinner before a PPAC show, come to Ellie’s and be transported to a little bistro in Paris, along with a slice of Providence’s history.
225 Weybosset Street, PVD; @elliesprov