If there’s one thing that Anthony Bourdain taught us about eating, it’s that it should be fun. A meal out shouldn’t be an exercise in snobbery or a touting of who’s who in the culinary scene; it should be great food shared with companions. It’s even better if it’s an adventure, too, whether that means going across the globe Bourdain-style or going across town. But above all, eating should be joyful. I think Bourdain would agree that it should also be interesting.
Tumblesalts Cafe is all of these things. It is also elegant and whimsical and gorgeous. Literally, Tumblesalts Cafe is a combined cafe, restaurant and pub housed in a gorgeous restored Victorian at 1 Morgan Ave in North Providence, just off Mineral Spring. The fun part starts long before you sit down to eat. For me it began when I arrived and started wandering around looking for my lunch companion. Thus also began the adventure. It was a beautiful sunny day, warm but not hot, and my God, I fell in love with one of the terraces the moment I arrived. Beautiful stone work. A babbling fountain. Gorgeous plants and flowers. Shade or sun or dappled. Quiet nooks or bustling center tables. Outdoor furniture that is so beautiful (and comfortable I discovered later) it could live inside. There was even a ceiling fan anchored to a beam in case it got too hot. Once my friend and I got settled, we had an outdoor dining experience that is unrivaled by any other that I have had to-date.
But before all of that, I managed to take a good walk around in search of my friend (who I eventually found exactly where she said she was via text; I think I was so taken in by the surroundings that I walked right past her twice). Inside, there were gorgeously crafted chairs around white-clothed tables, but there was nothing stuffy about the atmosphere. To the contrary, the vibe was pure fun and the folks eating inside seemed to having a great time. I was especially enchanted with the light fixtures; they are works of art chosen with an eye for beautiful design. One of the nooks upstairs has a vaulted ceiling painted with a pale blue sky and wispy clouds; the table under it is large, and this space can be booked for private functions as it is a bit apart from the other areas. And that brings me to the defining feature of Tumblesalts Cafe – the spaces that comprise it. If you’re picturing a big room full of tables, strike that image now. Due to the original Victorian style of the building, Tumblesalt’s Cafe consists of multiple spaces — some larger rooms, yes, but more significantly, lots of nooks and corners and terraces and converted little spaces that are big enough for a small crowd but small enough to be a bit private. Every detail of each space — the craftsmanship and color of the walls, ceiling and trim as well as the tables, chairs and lighting — is exquisite. Just being in such a richly detailed environment made me feel well-cared-for, so deliberate was the choosing and placement of each item. The design itself is a feast for the eyes.
But back to my lunch outside on that beautiful terrace. My friend and I shared the hummus appetizer followed by two side house salads and two bowls of the soup-of-the-day. All were fantastic. The hummus was smooth and delicious, the salads were fresh and crunchy and bright, and the balsamic vinaigrette dressing was perfectly tart and sweet. But the authentic vegetable beef soup with hearty chunks of veggies in a well-seasoned homemade broth was the star. This was a soup from scratch, and for anyone who isn’t sure why this matters or what it means, here’s the deal: Homemade soups differ from commercial soups because of the stock from which they are made. Packaged stock is generally loaded with sodium and other preservatives, often at the expense of flavor. Homemade stocks are made by simmering the ingredients for a long time, and while they may have some salt, the flavor of whatever has been simmering (veggies, bones, seasonings, etc.) dominates (read Bourdain’s bestseller Kitchen Confidential for a more detailed account of stock). We also had two delicious white sangrias per the recommendation of the host, who was welcoming and helpful as I searched initially for my friend, guiding me around and discreetly helping me locate her. Our server was attentive, personable and knowledgeable. The timing of the drinks and food was just right. Even the silverware was notable; the handles were ornately carved and beautiful, yet everything was easy to maneuver. The entire experience was fun. It was interesting. I thought about it for a long time after. I think Bourdain would have approved.
Tumblesalts Cafe, 1 Morgan Ave, N Providence, tumblesaltscafe.com/home.html