It takes a lot to woo me with carrot soup, and I admit I was skeptical when a fellow food-lover told me it was his favorite dish of the night. We were at the Taste of RI event, which took place June 5, and because of this foodie’s recommendation I beelined to the back table where I found folks dishing out cups of carrot soup paired with a pork belly grilled cheese.
The pork belly grilled cheese needs no further description, but I was perplexed by the soup — how could carrots be transformed into comfort food? Is this the aspiration of parents everywhere? It was my favorite dish of the night, too, and evidently several other people’s because it won a Taste of RI award. I made a mental note: Visit Howie’s ASAP.
I asked my food friend Jeremy to join me, and as an avid brunch lover, he didn’t require any convincing. Howie’s is a breakfast and lunch operation serving farm-to-table food, which — with a few notable exceptions — is a rare find. The restaurant is inside a shopping plaza in North Providence, and with the diner-like bar, booths and plaid valance curtains, it bears the distinct resemblance to your classic greasy-spoon diner. In a way, that’s what they were going for.
“The owners, Michael and Christopher, wanted to have a space that felt like home, from the granite countertops to wooden cabinets that reminded them of their childhood kitchen,” Sarah Bleich, chef and general manager, told me. She’s been working with Michael Howe for years, beginning in Chicago and transferring to Nebraska, where they produced a James Beard nominated farm-to-table restaurant in Omaha that opened as the nation’s greenest restaurant. Local, sustainable food is what this team knows, and what they’ve brought — literally — to the table here in RI.
Brothers Michael and Christopher Howe, both nicknamed “Howie” growing up, are native Rhode Islanders. When the opportunity arose to buy property in their home state (where Christopher still resides), they took it, and within a few short months they opened their doors.
“People are still learning we’re here,” Bleich said. “Social media helps, but that tends to draw people from Providence or other parts of Rhode Island. Every day we get a new local coming in saying, ‘We didn’t know you were here!’”
So it’s time to get the word out! This is restaurant is not to be missed. Let’s talk about the menu. First of all, it’s printed on recycled brown paper bags. (They also used reclaimed wood for their interior whenever possible; case in point, the booth Jeremy and I were sitting on was repurposed.) Also on every table is a list of their local partners: farms, bakeries, creameries and coffee roasters. It gave the menu a whole new meaning, knowing, for instance, that the chicken sausage comes from whole chickens that they debone and grind themselves in house.
Jeremy and I anticipated having a modest breakfast, but instead we devoured a feast — their corned beef hash skillet, topped with two sunny side up cage-free eggs from Baffoni’s farm; avocado toast prepared on freshly made bread from Buono’s Bakery; some of that aforementioned chicken sausage, as well as sliced pork belly; and for “dessert,” a yogurt parfait with yogurt from New Bedford, topped with nut-free granola, fresh fruit and, because I’m a child at heart, cocoa nibs. It was divine.
The house made corned beef hash is one of the best I’ve had, with big chunks of soft, flavorful meat. It came with a side of hand cut potatoes that Jeremy dressed with ketchup, but I opted for their hot sauce — offered in a variety of heat intensities — bottled by friends of theirs in Nebraska. The avocado toast was unique in that the avocados were diced, rather than smashed into a paste, topped with sunny side eggs, and that multigrain bread … angels were singing a chorus over that bread. The chicken sausage had a hint of sweetness, perhaps maple, and the pork belly was just as savory as I remembered. Best of all, the prices are really reasonable for the quality of food.
If you’re wondering about mimosas, fear not: They are working on obtaining their alcohol license, so you will soon be able to enjoy libations with your weekend brunch. In addition, for the adventurous foodie, Howie’s is offering 5-course dinners on the last Friday of the month, an intimate gathering of, at most, 20 people. You can call ahead and reserve a spot.
What I love most about Howie’s is its deceptive nature. A cozy diner, tucked between Family Dollar and Osho Sushi & Bar, that makes you feel like home. But it’s one of those places that exceeds expectations — from the dishes themselves to the intentionality and sustainability practices guiding their establishment — and will most definitely leave you thinking, “Wow.”
Howie’s Restaurant: 1525 Smith St, Suite 7, North Providence; 401-353-0500; Follow: @howies_nprovidence_ri