New restaurants, bakeries, a takeout spot and a brewery have brought more burritos, drinks, meatballs and sweet treats to Rhode Island.
Those with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for food are powering through to open their doors in an economy still reeling with pandemic challenges.
Some of the businesses have been in the planning stages for years, others for just months.
Here are the stories behind Westerly’s Bomb Burritos & Bowls, Polpettiamo in Providence, Cumberland’s Under the Willow Bakery, Lincoln’s Oz Tacos & Tequila, Warren’s Bywater Bakeshop, and Providence’s Moniker Brewery and Monrovia restaurant. Still to come: Lost Valley Pizza and Beer, the newest project from brewmaster and restaurateur Sean Larkin.
1. Under the Willow Bakery in Cumberland
Under the Willow Bakery in Cumberland is the passion project of Michelle Lizotte with inspiration and help from her whole family.
After more than two decades in food service management, most recently in finance, Lizotte went back into the kitchen to open her hometown bakery with a name that evokes the lush waterfall of green from the trees she loves.
Lizotte holds several degrees from Johnson & Wales University including culinary arts and an MBA. The mother of two sons, she’s lived in Cumberland since she married, and she’s built her bakeries irresistible sweets on family recipes.
“I’m 48 years old and not looking to open five more places,” she said. “But everything fell into place.”
Though baking requires a lot of hours, “I wake up early every morning but never do I say I don’t want to go work.”
With the pandemic, she has made her products individual so patrons don’t have to worry about cutting and touching.
Her background is French and her husband Jon is French and Irish, and their family recipes are the basis for all the sweets she makes from scratch.
She calls hers a “down-home bakery with nothing fancy but things I remember having as a child,” her menu includes chocolate chip cookies, upside down pineapple cake, chocolate cookie dough brownies, chocolate cake, carrot cake and cheese cakes. She also makes croissants.
Then there are her whoopie pies made with marshmallow buttercream filling. Her husband remembers his grandmother, Mary Lizotte, making them for him for his birthday.
She also has introduced bread pudding. It was her grandmother Estelle Desjardins’ recipe and she had leftover bread one day, so she made it. It flew off the shelves, Lizotte said. High schoolers are bread puddings’ biggest fans, she said. They didn’t know what it was and now they buy it after school.
Her son Zachary, a high school student, bakes cookies using her recipes. Her college student son Nicholas, works the counter.
Details: 3383 Mendon Rd. Cumberland, (401) 425-8116, underthewillowbakery.com.
2. A different kind of familiar: Polpettiamo
Polpettiamo is both the most different of the new restaurants in Providence and the most familiar.
Chef and restaurateur Marisa Iocco and her partner Francesco Iacovitti, operate out of a commissary, or ghost kitchen, on Providence’s Bath Street. Patrons order online and take delivery at home from services such as Grubhub and Uber Eats. They may be offering pick-up going forward but for now it’s online ordering and delivery within 20 miles.
The name comes from Polpet, Italian for meatball and that is the specialty here. Amo means love.
These are no ordinary meatballs, though you can order traditional beef ones. But why would you want to you when you can have ones made with sausage and served in sauce with peppers, or vegetarian options such as eggplant and even salmon with broccoli and Parmigiano cream. They are all excellent.
The idea for the business is very pandemic induced. Though Iocco runs Spiga Ristorante, a Needham, Massachusetts restaurant, she has seen takeout become king during the year-plus of COVID.
So why not introduce a food that travels well, in what many will recognize as ice cream pints, and is familiar and loved. Her vision is that as people begin opening up their homes to friends, they can order in and celebrate their reunions with her eight varieties of meatballs.
The smallest size is three to an order, $9. Additional flavors include Chicken Parmigiana which come with housemade mozzarella, Veal Marsala which are served in a marsala sauce with mushrooms and a Caprese served with mozzarella balls and basil. The Lamb Cacciatore is served with spicy pepper.
You can also order a full lineup of cooked and fresh pastas, sauces, homemade cheeses, arancini rice balls and other dishes including Lasagna Bolognese and Eggplant Pamigiana.
Iocco is considering a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant location in Providence to grow Polpettiamo but she also may grow the brand in Boston and other cities.
An experienced chef and businesswoman, having helped open some 30 restaurants over her career, Iocco believes Polpettiamo to be the future of the business. She recognizes that young diners like to get delivery.
No doubt launching a delivery food company was easier than opening a restaurant, she said.
But still, “It gave me a funny feeling, to have no contact with customers,” she said.
“You don’t see the expression as a person takes that first bite,” she added.
3. New restaurant alert: Bomb Burritos & Bowls
Bomb Burritos & Bowls in Westerly is the first restaurant for Chad Bauerle and Dan Latimer, built around food they enjoy eating. The two friends have worked in the industry for decades.
It’s a fast-casual-style restaurant where you walk up to the counter and create your own burrito or bowl with fresh ingredients. They said they took fine dining techniques they used in their careers and moved them to their casual model.
For instance, their chicken is seared in avocado oil and then braised in housemade vegetable stock. The rice is simmered in that stock as well. Their meats are dry-rubbed with spices before being slow-roasted for hours.
They worked extensively on creating their signature “Bomb” sauce with smoky citrus notes. In addition to the usual onions and peppers, you can add in fresh cucumber slices and grilled squash as well as pickled vegetables. They also offer vegan chorizo. They offer a 14-inch burrito shell.
They will be getting a liquor license for wine, beer and cocktails. They have small inside seating including a 12 seat counter rail that looks outside.
Bauerle said they were tossing around names, including Shoreline Burrito, but none fit the nostalgic environment they wanted to create with music and décor.
They liked using “Bomb,” a slang term from the 1990s for awesome. “It fit with the environment to have a fun, whimsical atmosphere and to not take ourselves too seriously,” he said.
Their mission, to not take themselves too seriously, is in contrast to the way they want to run their business.
“We want to hold the culture on a different level and think about our employees first,” said Latimer. They understand work doesn’t have to be someone’s whole life.
There is a reckoning happening in restaurants and Latimer said he and Bauerle want to be part of the new wave of restaurateurs.
“A lot of people have looked inward as we did,” he said. They see inequities that weren’t always part of the industry that can be changed.
Details: 240 Post Rd., Westerly, bombburritosri.com.
4. New brewery for RI’s beer trail: Moniker Brewery
Moniker Brewery has set up the perfect urban beer garden in Providence in what was a former towing and service station.
“When we saw that building come up, it was a no-brainer,” said co-founder Bryan Benedict. “We signed a lease in 2019.”
He and his co-founder and partner Jeff Goodno worked on their business plan and moved things along.
Making great craft beer is what Benedict always wanted to do. He loves the culture of the business. That’s why he left his hi-tech career. He built up experience at Beer’d Brewing Company in Stonington, Connecticut. Goodno worked building out Spicket Brewery in Lawrence, Massachusetts and Taproot Brewing Co. in Middletown.
They made sure Moniker’s focus in on variety.
“We want everyone to have something they like, from light, wheat beers to big double IPAs and stouts,” said Benedict.
Their specialty is German beer and they brought in the specific equipment to make lagers. They require more time and effort to brew with a 6-8 week timeline. They currently have a pale lager and cream ale.
The goal is to make the best German beer in the state, a style that Benedict notes doesn’t leave much room for mistakes.
As for enjoying that garden space, Moniker also has a special relationship with Bucktown, their neighbor at 471 West Fountain St. The restaurant provides table service. Order their fried chicken, fish and burgers, from your phone and they’ll deliver from the restaurant.
“It’s great for customers,” said Benedict.
The name of Moniker is meant to show how serious they are about their beer.
“We boiled everything down to capture the essence of the beer industry,” he said. “We take good service, good product and experience to capture the imagination.”
The taproom and the experience there will speak for themselves.
Details: 432 West Fountain St., Providence, (401) 648-0150, monikerbrewery.com.
5. Lincoln’s newest taco restaurant: Oz Tacos & Tequila
Oz Tacos & Tequila in Lincoln is the newest restaurant from the Chow Fun Food Group and restaurateur John Elkhay. As is usual for Elkhay, the concept is fun, delicious and on point for what diners want.
It replaces the group’s Harry’s Bar & Burger which still maintains two locations in Providence and a third which is reopening soon in Newport.
The decor evokes “The Wizard of Oz” with a tornado mural and other whimsical touches. But the menu notes Oz means a fantastical place.
Oz has little in common with Chow Fun’s Xaco Taco restaurant in Providence, save for chef Andy Pyle who designed the menu. Oz is a more worldly Mexican restaurant, “with flavors everyone loves,” according to Harrison Elkhay.
Pyle calls the menu “tacos without borders.”
Taco selections range from Korean-style Beef Bulgogi to Thai Chicken Satay to deli-style Hot Pastrami to Cauliflafel. Bang Bang Shrimp, Baja Fish, Chicken Pibil and Mojo Pork round out the selection. Tacos are priced between $3.50 and $4.50 each, or $10-$12 for a platter option with two tacos, plus arroz verde, green rice, and yellow canary beans.
There are appetizers as well ranging from crispy, sweet chili wings, charred shishito peppers and Smoked Korean ribs.
All that fun food is well paired with a lineup of cocktails that includes a “Twister Margarita” that comes with a cotton candy twist garnish and Flying Monkey Sangria and Opium, a mezcal drink.
Harrison Elkhay said the new restaurant has been in the works since October.
In addition to the inside tables, there is a parklet out in the parking lot for outdoor dining.
Details: 200 Front St., Lincoln, (401) 475-4017, oztacostequila.com.
6. Pandemic pivot: Bakery by morning Oyster bar by night in Warren
The Bakeshop at Bywater is not so much a new restaurant as a new window. But there are new foods coming through it.
Bywater, Katie Dickson’s oyster bar and restaurant in Warren, went for a pandemic pivot that extends her hours and lineup.
The Bakeshop allows patrons to start the day with coffee, espresso and a selection of croissants and pastries that can be enjoyed while sitting on the restaurant patio. They also make three kinds of sourdough breads each day.
Dickson talks about having survivors’ guilt for having her business make it through the pandemic. Rather than taking credit, she cites the support of her faithful community of diners. The fact is, she made the necessary pivots to takeout, the sale of pantry items and corporate gifting to keep her staff busy.
Now with the window, and the addition of pastries and bread, the days of patio season can start in the earlier morning hours at 9 a.m. from Thursday to Sunday.
Dickson took part of the raw bar area that was for overflow to create the space for the Bakeshop that operates out of a designated side door.
The baker is Ben Hayes, formerly a line cook at Ellie’s in Providence.
Details: 54 State St., Warren, (401) 694-0727. Order online for pickup at https://bywaterrestaurant.com/
7. Monrovia Kitchen comes to PVD
Monrovia Kitchen is new to Providence but not a new business. Jackie David was open in Cranston on Gansett Avenue for four years as both a restaurant and caterer.
The new restaurant is open for take-out, curbside and delivery due to COVID.
The menu includes the familiar southern dish BBQ Jerk Chicken, which has been influenced by West African cooking techniques, flavors, and ingredients.
One pot stews and soups are the most common of the techniques David uses in her cooking. Creole and Cajun flavors also originated in West African and are found in her cooking. Spices common to the dishes are hot habenero peppers, ginger, cumin and cayenne peppers, though David said she makes dishes mild for local tastes.
This menu category runs the gamut from fried chicken and mac & cheese to catfish smothered in Cajun creamy sauce with buttery grits.
David calls it “Southern comfort food.”
There are also plenty of West African dishes such as Casava Leaf and other dishes that feature goat meat, such as Fufu with Peppered Soup. Palava Sauce Shrimp is a dish that hails from the eastern region of Liberia.
Liberia is where David was born and left in 1985 with her mother, Jannie, when she was just 18-months old. Though the two started off in Oklahoma, they’ve lived in Rhode Island for decades. Before opening Monrovia, both had careers cooking in the Providence School system.
Specials are posted on Instagram and Facebook.
Details: 85 Richmond St., Providence, (401) 433-9748, (401) 274-2782, monroviakitchen.com.
8. Last but not least, Lost Valley Pizza and Beer
Lost Valley Pizza and Beer on Sims Street in Providence won’t open till the end of May at the earliest. But owner Sean Larkin has been hosting pop-ups with Barrett’s Garden as he hones his pizza menu.
The location is across from the Steel Yard and next to the new Farm Fresh Food Hub.
Larkin is the man behind Revival Brewing Company, one of the first craft beers in Rhode Island. He expanded into the restaurant business back in 2016 with partners in Gorilla Kitchen and then Troop restaurant in Providence.
In early 2019, Larkin took over the now-closed Brutopia pub space in Cranston to run Revival as a restaurant there where his brewing company was based. With no lease secured, Larkin began planning for his next act, and it sounds like fun.
Eventually he plans to brew his Revival on the site, but for now he’s only thinking about his Lost Valley Pizza and Beer opening.
The Lost Valley name, rather than Revival is because there are at least four other restaurants bearing that name in Rhode Island. But there is no other Lost Valley. Just like there is no other Sean Larkin who’d take on creating his own pizza recipes for his new place in a pandemic economy.
There will be 100 seats inside and another 50 outside when they open, he said.
In the meantime, follow Revival Brewing on Facebook for pop-ups and opening news.
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