A word about eating on Block Island
Things change. Old chefs leave, new chefs arrive. Block Island is a seasonal resort, glorious for sure, but seasonal. The service help restaurants get is, for the most part, seasonal also. College kids, foreign students, all looking for a summer of adventure. All of this effects your dining experience. So everything I write about is personal and about my own experiences. My advice is don’t be too adventuresome with a menu, relax a bit, maybe have a drink, and enjoy Block Island. You need to try places and different dishes.
If you want really good food and are willing to pay for it, there a few restaurants that fit the bill. My favorite is The Spring House. Others that I have found will serve a good and sometimes great meal are; Deadeye Dicks, Eli’s, The Atlantic Inn, the Manisses, and Winfield’s. These places tend to crowded on weekend nights, so you might think about other restaurants.
I hesitate to call these “other” restaurants second tier because each has some good menu items. Read my comments below on pizza. Yet, I have had mixed experiences at these places. Let me give you an example. I usually order a dry Grey Goose martini, straight up with a twist. At one place I was served a dirty martini (ugh!) and at another the server asked my how she would put my “dry” order into the computer (instead of taking the order directly he to the bartender like good service dictates). These kinds of service screw ups are understandable and can happen at any restaurant. My experience is that the odds are they will happen more at these “other” restaurants.
(more to come)
The Spring House 7/31/14
My buddy and I went out for a married guy’s night out last night. Thursday is martini night at The Spring House so the place is mobbed. Mobbed outside, that is, all the martini drinkers enjoying the spectacular view on a beautiful night. My buddy and I go inside to the bar, where you can order a great dinner, sit at the bar, and enjoy the quiet. Everyone moves inside after sunset and when the band starts rocking. We will be gone by then.
The bartenders, Adam and Jen, are the best. Adam makes a delicious Grey Goose martini, straight up with a twist. I order. A cup of clam chowder and their grass-feed hamburger with a salad. The chowder is always good and the burger was as tasty as ever. The meal contained all my major food groups: alcohol, beef, and greens. To end the meal I had a digestif from Sicily called Averna. Mmmmmm. We walk away satisfied and a bit tipsy. Who could ask for anything more.
Finns: This is a good place for the basics: lobster roll, french fries, fried clams, steamers, and a coke. Do not get too adventuresome with their menu. Stick to the fried foods: clams, etc. drinks “ain’t” bad either. They are inconsistent with their clam chowder. The last one I tasted was like dishwater with uncooked potatoes tossed in for the hell of it. Finns is convenient, the staff is pleasant, and the decor is acceptable. The view is of the ferry parking lot, so try to get a table upstairs on the deck. From the deck you see most of East or Old Harbor. Not too bad for downtown New Shoreham.
2012: Ate at Finns again last night. Again, clam chowder sucks, tastes as if it’s from a can, an ash can. The martini I had was barely acceptable. The fried scallops were good. Eating on the deck is still cool. At least they are consistent.
The Oar: Maybe the best view on the island. The deck overlooks Great Salt Pond (filled with boats in the Summer), but seating is crowded in the Summer, so get there early. The bar is good too as I have had many a Grey Goose Martini sitting there enjoying the view, marveling at the sunset, and talking with friends. As for the food, it’s pretty good too; the sushi is good, the seared tune is great, and I think, the best clam chowder on the Island. For whatever reason, the chowder has just a bit of a spicy tang to it (probably pepper) making it tasty. Go for a walk on the dock after dinner and check out all those beautiful boats.
More on the Oar. September 26, 2011. Sat at the bar with a buddy drinking GreyGoose martinis. Great time for the off season. The place is not crowded. Late September is a great time to be on Block island. The waitress is nice and good looking. They close on Columbus Day weekend for the season, so the food may be a bit chancy. I ordered Clam Chowder and it was good, but warm, not as hot or as spicy as during the high season of July/August. It makes me think they may not be that consistent. The fried scallops were a bit undercooked and the rest of the meal was luke warm. If it wasn’t for the conversation with locals, the food experience would have also been luke warm. I was disappointed this time, but I still like the place. But be careful of what and when you order. Maybe two martinis will do the trick.
2012: Still a great place either at the bar or on the deck. Went back again this week. The clam chowder is good. The Blacken mahi mahi was a bit overdone and too spicy for me. We sat at the bar and it was great. June is the time to go. After July 4th it will be way too crowded.
The National Hotel: Noisy and boozy. Don’t sleep there unless you go to bed at 4 am.
The Spring House: Another fabulous view. This time of the Atlantic. Martini night (Thursdays) is a treat. Best pizza on the island for sure. The owner is Italian and from Providence, so this almost makes it a sure thing for delicious Neapolitan style thin-crust pizza. If it is crowded try eating at the bar.
2012: The Spring House is still a great place although the pizza was not what I remembered. This time it was still good because of fresh ingredients, but was the pizza a bit to yuppy tasting. You know, fresh tomatoes instead of a tomato sauce, some strange brand of cheese, etc. The pizza is good tasting, but not the “abetse with scamotz” (sp?) where I grew up (Bridgeport, CT). If you don’t know what “abetse with scomotz” is, this probably will not matter to you, but it does to me.
August 9, 2012: OK, went there on martini night and ordered their regular cheese pizza. Best pizza on the Island for sure. I made a mistake last time ordering the Margarita pizza. The Margarita (I am not sure how to spell this damn thing since I had two martinis tonight) pizza is good (but fresh tomatoes, no special sauce), but it is not like the original Neapolitan pizza of the 50’s and 60’s. Their regular cheese pizza is a thin crust (if you like crunchy crust you may be out of luck), great sauce, and cheese. I loved it. By the way the martini’s are great to, just be careful about having two.
The New England clam chowder continues to be good. It could use a little spicing up for my taste, but then, there’s the pepper shaker. First, it is consistent. Each time I order it, it is the same. Also it has a nice creaminess to it. The clams and the potatoes taste fresh. Try it, you’ll like it.
The Manisses: Great classy place with good food. Expensive. Also a great place to spend a weekend, if you can afford it.
Winfield’s: October 8, 2011. Saturday night and it is the last weekend before they close for the season. We sit at the bar with friends. The place is booming. We sit at the corner position at the bar, which is always the best. I have fresh caught striped bass with Gribishe sauce (look it up on Wikipedia) over mashed potatoes. Other foods on the menu are good also. It was delicious. Once again, I soak my self with two Grey Goose martinis. The crowd is very friendly and upbeat. The bartender, Gloria, is a delight. We see old friends, eat great food, and have good talk. Block Island is a paradise for those who know how to live the good life there. After dinner, I go into the restaurant, asking for everyone’s attention. The restaurant quiets down as I get their attention. All eyes are looking at me. I announce to the crowd that Block Island is the greatest place on the earth. Everyone in the restaurant applauds. I leave with my wife and friends. Here’s the deal. Find bars or restaurants with good food and good friends and go back again and again. There is nothing better.
Harry’s Cafe (2012) is a new place. The ambience is good, the staff pleasant, the food pretty good. They are brand new, so are still working out the kinks. Crab cakes for starters was pretty good, the pork chop for the main course was acceptable but not real tasty (a bit overcooked), the Grey Goose martini was good, and although I didn’t have dessert, it looked pretty good as it passed by our table. Give it a try.
Club Soda at the Highview. I have eaten and liquored here a few times over the winter and the food is good. What I really like is the ambiance. Although, ambiance is the wrong word, because this is just a place with an atmosphere. People are friendly and the booze is good, what more can I ask for in the middle of winter. Try the barbecue chicken. This place is not downtown, it is back in the Island a bit, so you have to look for it. Don’t expect upscale prices or people. I have just read that they have installed a gym upstairs, which is good thing for the Island. I hope this guy succeeds.
The Yellow Kittens before memorial day: I go there on a friday night because it is the coolest thing that happens on the Island. Ed Mc Govern, the owner, goes out in the morning a digs a bushel of little necks. Then Chris Warfel, who runs the oyster farm, shows up with a bushel of oysters. Then we all order drinks. Me, I’m doing the Grey Goose thing. Then Ed and Chris give out raw clams and oysters for free. We savor them like they were caviar. In fact, they are better than caviar, which really sucks unless you are super rich and super snooty. The oysters and clams are delicious. The Yellow Kittens, during the tourist season is a great bar with lots of good live music, but it is of younger souls. Me? I’m hiding during the tourist season on my sailboat, dreaming of oysters and clams and the goose.
Papa’s Pizza: they claim to have New York/Brooklyn style pizza. They are full of crap. It is gut-stuffer pizza and nothing more. Tastes like shit. Smoke a joint before eating their pizza, it can only help.
Atlantic Inn: Went for dinner on Thursday, June 21, 2012. This is the place to go if you want an excellent, but more formal (and expensive) dinner. Service is superb. The food a bit inventive and excellent. I had the yellow fin appetizer and the grouper as a main course. Very tasty. The setting is also very nice, with distant views of the Atlantic Ocean. I would recommend this for anyone who wants a more formal dinner.
Aldo’s Restaurant: Aldo’s has been around for a long time, back to the days when the owner would ride around Great Salt Pond in his skiff yelling “Andeamo” and selling donuts and other breakfast goodies. It still goes on today, but I sometimes long for the old man and his friendly ways. Sadly, I have not been to their restaurant in a few years, but my memory tells me it was ok. Anyway, I was jonesing for a pizza a few days ago and realized I had never had their pizza. Aldo’s is the only, I repeat, only Italian restaurant on the island. I went in to their bar, ordered a medium cheese pizza to go, and had a drink. It was a nice atmosphere. I quickly drove home. Now, first a disclaimer: all the pizza on Block island sucks when compared to the New Haven/Bridgeport/Brooklyn area pizza. That said, Aldo’s was not too bad. Now don’t get put off, but I think it is the best on the island. The Spring House pizza is good, but different, more California style than east coast.
The Surf Hotel: Everyone on the island is so excited that this old hotel has reopened. It sat closed for a few years waiting for a winter fire to burn it to the ground, so when some one stepped up to reopen the place, there was joy in mudville again. So I’m on the deck of the Yellow Kittens drinking a Stella and listening to a beginner singer doing her stuff, when our friends said let’s go somewhere to eat. I suggested the Surf. I had been hearing good things. So off we went, got ourselves a table on the deck overlooking old harbor. It may be the best view on the island for a restaurant. Of course, island Bound Bookstore has a similar view, but anyway we sit down and order our food. I have to tell the waiter to make sure we have silverwares as two settings were missing from the table. The waiter grabbed two from another tables to give to us while I’m thinking what happens when people sit down at that table he just stole the silverware from. I ordered the clam chowder (my benchmark soup for any island establishment) and the shrimp scampi. Of course, also a Grey Goose martini. The martini comes and it is good. I remind the waiter that we will also need soup spoons. The soup arrives and I remind the waiter again that we need soup spoons. The chowder is good, plenty clams, etc, but a bit plain. I have to add a good sprinkling of pepper to bring it up to my tastes. We wait a long time, the waiter tellings us the food will be their soon and, hurrah, it arrives. Except the waiter has forgotten to order my meal. Ugh. he tells me maybe twenty-five minutes to wait. I tell him to forget it and I eat part of my wife’s dinner. The food was good, but nothing adventuresome. Straight Block Island fair, fried clams, lobster rolls, second-rate canned french fries. Surprisingly, no fresh fish although I heard they will be doing that soon. It looks like the Surf has a ways to go before it will be good and prove itself to the locals and possibly survive.
Postscript for the Surf. The people who were running this beautiful old hotel under a lease of some kind have defaulted on payments to vendors and have been kicked out of the place. It looks like the a original owners are going to go back and try again. I wish them good luck.
Here’s another great view. Sit on the porch, watch the sunset, have a drink, but be careful what you order for food and drink. Their clam chowder is a hybrid between Manhattan and New England clam chowders and does not live up to either. In addition, the food is a bit bland. So this is their first year of really trying so we need to cut them some slack, but boys get it together. The view from the porch is spectacular. Your history is grand. Work harder on the food and the drinks (the martini I slurped down was poor).
Great name isn’t it? This is the first place I went to on Block island in 1969. Back in the day, it was the place to go for a lobster dinner, $5.95 if I remember correctly. the place was all atmosphere, I was young and I loved it. Since then, it has changed ownership a few times. It has been completely renovated. It is still a place to go to. The view from their deck is great. As to the food, well, it has never been really great. The Clam Chowder is OK, not enough zing (whatever that means) for me. The service is friendly and good. Thank god for those young college ladies scoring on a great summertime job on BI. The cold lobster roll is pretty good, maybe extra good. Their french fries are really good (I ate all of them, which I rarely do. (…you know, fat, heart attack, etc.). Had a Grey Goose martini that was ok, not great.
Payne’s Harbor View Sunset Bistro
The Payne family is all over the place on Block Island, so don’t mix this place up with Payne’s Dock or Payne’s Burger Bar, or Payne’s boat rentals. The view, outside on the deck, is great. You see Great Salt Pond and great sunsets, when the fog or rain are not in the way. It is equal to The Oar for the view, but here, the atmosphere is much more relaxed. In a way, it is much more like old Block Island, than new Block Island. You can even sit out on the lawn and eat and drink if you want. The service is friendly, although a bit slow when they get busy, but I didn’t care too much. The worst part of this delightful place is that they only have a beer and wine license, no hard booze. Here’s a crazy thing about Block Island. They have a bar, but can not have stools. So no one sits at the bar. Go figure! I ordered a pear martini (yes, i know, a bit nancy for macho me) made with saki, which tasted good, but had the kick of a kitty cat. So I had two of them. I could have drank four. They serve a wonderful looking sushi, which the people I was with told me was great tasting. I’ll have to go back to try it. Now comes the crazy part. I ordered their flat bread pizza. I did this in my quest to eat pizza at every place on the Island that will sell it looking for the best tasting. So I expected the worst with flat bread pizza(?). Surprise is, it is not bad tasting. I ordered the classic cheese pizza which came with too much cheese and not enough red sauce. Maybe, i should of ordered the margarita. By the way, the sauce had a faint taste of now defunct Capizano’s Pizza red sauce. I wonder if it is the same brand. Anyway, I will go again.
Last Saturday night (11/24/12) my wife and I and friends went to one of the more local watering holes that is open all winter on Block Island. The ambiance is like Cheers; it’s a friendly place. The food in general is a step above other local BI pub food with a few innovative dishes that make me want to go back there, especially in the winter time.
As for the pizza, it is good, but a bit too cheesy for my taste. The crust is tasty, crunchy, and thin. The red sauce is too bland and could use some spicing up to make the pie taste a bit better and unique. The pie was big enough for two, but after my usual GreyGoose martini, I ate the whole thing. A sprinkle of oregano helped with the taste lifting the pizza a level above ordinary.
Our popular culture of fast food pizza has trended toward cheesiness over red sauce. I think it is a mistake especially when most pizza cheese –mozzarella– is second rate. I grew up with pizza that we called abetse with scamotze (sp?) (scamorza is a stronger cheese than mozzarella). I suspect that the pizza we grew up with influences our adult tastes and how we think about what good pizza is. It is connected to our youth.
Club Soda is a friendly local dive. Well, as close to a dive as you can get on Block Island. The bar was introduced to the local Population in 1942. In earlier days it was a jumping place. Good music and dancing, but it has slipped a bit. You can still find local music that is good on the weekends.
It is the saturday before New Year’s Eve and it is raining and windy. My buddy Paul and I show up for a drink. The usual is ordered. A Grey Goose martini as dry as legally permitted, straight up and with a twist. The place is almost empty except for three prepubescent teen boys eating some kind of teenage crap food, giggling about bit breasted women, none of whom were in the bar. Two working guys are just finishing up before heading into the early evening.
I order the pizza to taste it, a small cheese. It was OK. Too cheesy for my taste, like so many second tier pizzas. The martini was good, the atmosphere was dingy, but great for my mood. Another lost couple walk in to sit at the other end of the bar. The lost teenagers are now arguing about the size of the tip.
So when you want local, this is one of the few places you can find that is truly local. You will rarely find the tourist crowd here.
The food is pub food like “junk fries” or. “Potato skins.” They have nightly specials, which are not too bad.
We drink our drinks and are off. Both of us back to our wives and another night on Block Island.
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