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Foods unique to Rhode Island

Hello All,

I'm working on a small travel guide for Rhode Island (see link below):

I'm looking for suggestions for great Stuffies, and New England chowder (or RI style...though I haven't been a fan of it in the past. Admittedly I've only tried it a few times, it's not very wide spread)...

My favorite chowder is at Aiden's in Brisol, with Liberty Elm in Providence a close second!

..and while we're on the topic of unique RI foods, can anyone clear up what a Cabinet really is? It's supposed to be a milkshake (i.e. ice cream, milk, flavorings) , but what does that make a "real" milk shake? I've heard that a milkshake here is just milk blended with flavorings....but I'm not sure I've actually ever seen that anywhere. Can anyone recommend a place that has separate items called cabinets and milkshakes?

Here is the link to the guide I'm working on .....RI food related travel guide: http://gourmand4life.com/2011/02/rhod...

Thanks for the help!

Liberty Elm
, Providence, RI 02903

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  1. Gee, hard to be unique in a postage stamp state - even the Rhode Island reds have fled the coop.
    One item unique to RI is the "southsider" ,a delicious rum, mint, lime, and ice smoothie that was Hugh Auchincloss' concoction at the Spouting Rock Beach Club (AKA Bailey's Beach), in Newport, which is still their signature summer coctail. And he drove an old Valiant to and fro Hammersmith that reeked of dog urine, go figure. An otherwise likeable guy.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      I disagree actually! I'm amazed at how many "unique to RI" foods there are, especially considering the size of the state..

      Hot Wiener's (or Hot Weiner's if you prefer)
      RI style clear broth clam chowder
      pizza strips
      RI style calamari
      Johnny Cakes
      Coffee Milk
      Clam Cakes
      The Diner!

      Etc. I know a lot of "full sized" states that don't have that many things specific only to their state!

      Never heard of the Southsider! Sounds delicious though! I'll put that on the list for things to try this summer....


      Johnny Cakes
      6 N Water St, Greenwich, CT 06830

      1. re: ezra9876

        You make me homesick. I would pay a Somali pirates' ransom for a bowl of RI clear broth clam chowder.

        1. re: Veggo

          You're from RI? Aren't you the one I always see with insight into Yucatecan food? How interesting...have never met anyone else from RI who's also lived on the Peninsula! :)

          1. re: GabachaYucateca

            I grew up in CT but also lived in Newport and Boston, I moved to Q. Roo in '96, when PDC had 2000 people. I enjoy your Cancun posts.

        2. re: ezra9876

          I remember in the 80's getting a thick, red chowder in Cranston. Can't forget clam cakes(like clam donuts), grilled pizza, chow mein sandwich and chicken dinners, a la Wrights.

          1. re: trufflehound

            What is the story with Chow mein sandwiches? I gave it a try today at Evelyn's and have never been so upset about a dining out experience. That was inedible.

      2. Have you seen this web site? Amazing resource.


        And yes, in RI a cabinet is a milkshake with ice cream. You should be able to get both at a Newport Creamery (I think there are still some around, like Roy Rogers down here in the DC area). In Boston and points north, it's called a frappe (pronounced frap).

        3 Replies
        1. re: Bob W

          Bob, remember when we could buy tokens for the toll bridge at the original Newport Creamery for half a dollar?

          1. re: Veggo

            Hi Veggo -- I grew up in Pawtucket. Newport might as well have been on the far side of the moon (you know Rhode Islanders and travel).

            What I do remember most about Newport Creamery, of all the great stuff I used to get there, is the cream cheese-and-olive sandwiches!

          2. re: Bob W

            It is a great a great website! (I reference it in the "links" section of the guide)


          3. Del's Frozen Lemonade is wonderful. I get it every summer in R.I.

            1. And do not forget about AWFULAWFULs. About the chowder...years ago, there was a chowder and clamcake place called Emery's...it was on 1A across from the then Howard Johnson's right before the left turn into Wickford. It was one of my favorites (this was fifties and early sixties) on the way to the beach. It was clear chowder, and the clamcakes were a nickel each. It was owned by two old Yankee ladies, and, you could leave your pie tin with them, go to the beach, and then pick up a freshly baked pie on the way home. Anyone else remember Emery's?

              Howard Johnson
              401 Russell St, Hadley, MA 01035

              1. How about New York System hot dogs in the East Providence area??

                Is that still an option?

                New York System
                1246 Main St, West Warwick, RI 02893

                1 Reply
                1. re: algct

                  Oh it's an option!

                  Sparky's Coney Island is one of my favorite wiener (weiner) joints! (that just doesn't sound right somehow)

                2. I don't mean to rekindle the never-ending New Haven pizza debate, but the clams on Pepe's famous clam pie are from....Rhode Island.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: Veggo

                      WHAT??? CT clams aren't good enough??? Used to dig up some beauties at low tide during our summers at the beach in East Haven

                    2. I grew up in the Fall River/New Bedford area in the sixties, and all the Rhode Island foods and beverages were common in the South Coast part of Mass. too, so I guess you can't say they're unique to RI. I can confirm that a cabinet (and a frappe--that term as also used back in the day) is what the rest of the world calls a milk shake, and that a milk shake in RI and southwestern Mass. is milk and syrup frothed up in a milk shake blender (as opposed to a mere chocolate milk or coffee milk, where the syrup is just stirred in.) I have no idea if cabinets and shakes are still sold in the same place--we got them in luncheonettes and diners--I'd try there.

                      You might find this blog, which focuses on dining in south western MA. ,RI, and CT, of interest: http://www.newenglandbites.com/

                      1. I thought of yet another one...FEDERAL HILL ZIF. It is available only in R.I.--It is a serious Zinfandel produced by Jed Steele...I have had a couple different vintages. The idea came from a wine dinner that Jed did in R.I. a few years ago. You can buy it at Gasbarro's, and, they can tell you the story of how Jed got inspired.

                        1. Coffeemilk. I've never see it outside of Rhode Island, where I used to hang out some years back. i used to buy it in a shop near the Brown campus, in little cartons under the label "Autocrat" a reference, I assume to the title of the 19th century newspaper column "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" written by Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr. (father of the Supreme Court Justice). it was delicious, analogous to chocolate milk, only coffee flavored. I haven't spent time near Brown with any frequency since 1989 or so.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: AdinaA

                            Growing up on the Cape in the 60s, coffee milk in cartons was readily available and also as a syrup to be added to milk.. One could also order it at the soda fountains as well. Don't recall the brand, however, and I don't see it available any more.

                              1. re: Td61

                                Oddly, I used to work for an office coffee service that used coffee roasted by Autocrat. They would send us the stuff to make coffee milk all the time and we would share it with our friends.

                                So coffee milk at least had some fans in the deep South (mississippi) for a short period of time!

                                Once, the Autocrat folks even flew us up to RI to tour the factory- the things I remember most were that:

                                a) People put vinegar on french fries- simply not down anywhere else that I've been and

                                b) Providence had one hellova strip joint 20+ years ago!

                          2. To answer your milkshake question, I know that in northern New England, a "milkshake" is made with milk and syrup. A frappe is a concoction of ice cream, milk and syrup. I don't know if this is true for Rhode Island or not, but it's certainly the case in NH and Maine. I think Rhode Islanders might call this a "cabinet."

                            1. My in-laws in RI always bring cold sheet pizza to our functions. I love that stuff. We have something similar at Italian bakeries in Hartford but the RI version is more simple and delicious.

                              1. What about the great and unique Squash Pie from Gregg's?

                                1. a cabinet is a milkshake with malted powder in it

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: fara

                                    Wrong, In Rhode Island a Cabinet has the following, Ice Cream, Milk and flavored syrup blended together and A milkshake has milk and flavored Syrup blended together. Malted Powder does not work in either. Then there is the Awful, Awful that uses Ice Milk in lieu of the Ice Cream.

                                    Any questions on Rhode Island Food should be referred here.. http://www.quahog.org/cuisine

                                    1. re: FjmArch

                                      What doesn't malt powder "work" in a cabinet? It just makes a malted cabinet (milkshake in my neck of the woods, or frappe). My standard shake is vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and malt powder.

                                      1. re: Shann

                                        It could "work", but it's not one of the ingredients. Deep-fried onions would work on a Big Mac, but you can't get them. As FjmArch says, a cabinet has ice cream, milk and syrup. Add anything else, or substitute anything else, and it's not a cabinet any more.

                                        1. re: Gin n Tonic

                                          I get it now.

                                          (I'd never heard of a cabinet before I started coming here--I'd heard shakes, malts, frappes, but never a cab)

                                      2. re: FjmArch

                                        Is coffee milk technically a milkshake? What other flavors of Rhode Island milkshakes are there? I can see chocolate, and coffee (which would be coffee milk I guess)....but what other types of flavored syrups are out there?

                                        1. re: ezra9876

                                          I used to love making coffee shakes as a kid. Yes, just coffee milk whipped to a frothy delight in the blendah. Same for chocolate milk. And strawberry, made with Nestles Quik, of course, no frou-frou syrups back in the day. 8<D Now I guess you have dozens of flavors to choose from.

                                        2. re: FjmArch

                                          ah ok. I grew up in RI and worked at an ice cream restaurant for a summer. So my interpretation is what many locals think. Sorry!

                                      3. Anyone here had the fabulous squash pie from Gregg's?

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: menton1

                                          NOBODY has had the squash pie at Gregg's?????

                                          1. re: menton1

                                            lol don't lose heart menton1, we're out here! i didn't respond initially because personally i find the stuff unappealing, but my mother (who grew up in quincy, MA) loves it and i remember her delight when i first brought it home years ago after stumbling upon it on gregg's menu. it is indeed a fine specimen of the humble dessert that i remember not only from the thanksgiving tables of my childhood, but also little spots we'd stop at along the roads of new hampshire when vacationing "up country". :)

                                              1. re: brokentelephone

                                                It's the pies that stand out at Gregg's (YOu can take them out) and the Squash Pie is VERY unique...

                                          2. I’m still trying to figure out why people think stuffed clams originated in RI……maybe calling them a “Stuffie” did……..but the stuffed clam? Really? I can remember my father talking about his mother’s sister making the best stuffed clams in the world and she probably never even knew where RI was…..but I digress……

                                            Coffee Milk
                                            Cabinets (still the silliest name I have heard of…..anyone know where this started?)
                                            Jonny Cakes
                                            RI Clam Chowder
                                            Vinegar on fries……..seen it in other places since but the first place was RI when I started college there in the early 90’s.

                                            What is RI style calamari?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: River19

                                              RI Style Calamari:

                                              A vinegar and hot pepper dressing type usually soaked on the calamari. Most places use this to cover a less than quality of fried squid. Just take an old garden hose, slice it up bread it then deep fry it and put this solution on it will be just as good.Good Calamari is to take fresh squid, clean them yourself which is a messy thing to do but the results are excellent.

                                              1. re: Frank Terranova

                                                Thanks Frank.

                                                At Christmas we cook our own calamari, a little cleaning while enjoying an adult beverage or two, cut into rings.....plus I love the little ones with the tentacles.....damn good.

                                                I like the hot pepper rings with the calamari at most palces, but our favorite places have the nice fresh, not oily calamari with peppers mixed in....no type of saucey crap.

                                            2. I'm not a native of RI or even the northeast, but are any of the noted dishes really unique foods or are they unique names? There's always the debate between NE and Manhattan chowder, but clear chowder appears all over the place even in Florida. Shakes, malts, cabinets, frappes, egg creams are all interesting regional names for things that exist in many places. Calamari with hot pepper vinegar sauce is all over Brooklyn. Coffee milk its already been noted was popular in other places at different times. And vinegar on fries? Have you been to England? No ketchup, just vinegar with your fries maybe mayo if you're a continental. I'd love to hear about something that you really can't get elsewhere or at least something that has a real claim to having started in RI and spread elsewhere. What's the muffuletta of Providence? I'd love to find out and then add another dish to my list to try.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Bkeats

                                                Excellent points.........

                                                So, now the real question is where the heck did American Chop Suey begin? ;-)

                                                1. re: Bkeats

                                                  I haven't seen pizza strips outside of RI. I think they're gross, so that's not a bad thing.

                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                    Agree although a long time ago they were not bad but they all are gooey,and soggy like eating wet bread with tomato sauce on them.

                                                  2. re: Bkeats

                                                    Snail salad.

                                                    Also, a muffaletta is really not a good example of a unique food any more -- I can think of a half-dozen places around here (Northern VA) that serves them. But that proves too much, which is why I think you're missing the point.

                                                    Take the exotic dynamite, which is found at a few humble eateries in Woonsocket. I was up in Oakland, Maine, a few weeks ago, and at a little spot called the Early Bird I noticed the specials board had "Dynamite" on it. I asked the server about it and sure enough, it's what you get in Woonsocket -- which someone once called "sloppy joe on crack." So should we stop talking about dynamites because someone somewhere outside RI also serves them?

                                                    Same for coffee milk. I was at a nice little place in Sperryville, VA, a couple weeks ago, and the beverage list included "Rhode Island style coffee milk"! Of course I got one.

                                                    Regarding RI-style calamari, as far as I can tell it really did start in RI, at a place on the Hill called Trattoria del' Antuono, in the late 1980s. I remember the first time I had it, and it was a real revelation (something I rarely say about food).

                                                    1. re: Bob W

                                                      My point about the muffuletta is that while you can get it elsewhere, I don't think anyplace else but NOLA claims to be the place of origin. As to RI style calamari, I came to NYC in the early '80s and you could find fried calamari with a hot pepper sauce poured over it in many italian places. Never really been a fan of it as I prefer my calamari less adorned. All I taste is the hot pepper. My wife is from MA north of Boston and she grew up drinking coffee milk. No one in her family is from RI. It was just coffee milk to her. But what is dynamite? Sloppy joe on crack? What kind of variation of sloppy joe is it? The stuff with meat and sauce on a bun or something like what they serve at the Millburn Deli in NJ?

                                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                                        A dynamite is basically a sloppy joe with hot peppers. I've never actually had one, since I didn't grow up in Woonsocket and rarely went there. But, how bizarre to see such an obscure thing, with the same name, at a little joint in Oakland, Maine. My guess is that someone there has family in Woonsocket (both places having large French-Canadian populations). This is real blue-collar, Depression-type food.

                                                        I'm still not sure about this "hot pepper sauce" poured over calamari. RI-style calamari is squid sauteed with sliced hot peppers. Probably similar, but not exactly the same. I prefer that to the marinara sauce so many places serve with fried calamari What I actually like a lot with squid is remoulade-style sauces (speaking of NOLA).

                                                        As for coffee milk, it's always been limited by availability of coffee syrup, which is made in RI (there's now one company that makes all three big brands, Eclipse, Autocrat, and Coffee Time). I'm sure it was sold outside RI but it's most definitely an RI thing. I used to have COFE MLK as my license plate (here in VA). I once got stopped by a guy from RI who had a case of coffee syrup in his trunk!

                                                        Muffs definitely hail from NOLA, I don't think anyone would question that. There are actually very few places down there that even have them. Central Grocery, of course, and Nor-Joe Importing out in Metairie, where we got ours for the trip home (very good muff). That's actually the kind of thing some place in RI like Venda on the Hill could do very well, given the quality of Italian ingredients available in RI.

                                                  3. New York System Weiners Aka, "gagas"
                                                    Clam Cakes
                                                    Coffee Milk
                                                    Pizza Strips
                                                    Awful awfuls

                                                    ONLY IN RI!

                                                    11 Replies
                                                    1. re: menton1

                                                      For anyone who has had conch fritters in Florida, clamcakes are basically the same thing, just made with, oh you know. 8>D

                                                      Floridians treat conch like Rhode Islanders treat clams and snails (that's a good thing). Conch chowder, conch fritters, conch salad....

                                                      1. re: Bob W

                                                        Except that conch in Florida is no longer FROM Florida....It's illegal to take queen conch in the state. It all comes frozen, from a conch farm in Turks & Caicos.
                                                        P.S. The clams on Pepe's famous white clam pie in New Haven are from RI.

                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                          Thanks for the info, Veggo -- that is pretty funny. At least Turks and Caicos is not far from Fla, unlike say, the crawfish farms in China that ship to Louisiana.

                                                          You ever been to a place called The Calypso in Pompano Beach? Great little seafood place, lots of conch on the menu. Popular cops' hangout. But it's been a few years since I've been there.

                                                            1. re: trail 6

                                                              I had a flying fish sandwich there!

                                                            2. re: Bob W

                                                              Miami to Provo is 660 miles. I used to live there, and I can vouch for the conch farm after it was re-built after the fire after the messy divorce.
                                                              As to flying fish at Calypso ( I used to live in Pompano Beach, also, way back) I have never eaten the fish, just the eggs. I wonder how one bags a flying fish....hook and line, or 12 gauge?

                                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                                Lacrosse Stick?
                                                                Fishing net?
                                                                28ga.........12ga would ruin too much meat.........

                                                        2. re: menton1

                                                          isn't it a little ironic that "New York" system weiners are a unique RI dish? What's the difference b/w them and NYC dirty water dogs or Chicago red hots?

                                                          1. re: Bkeats

                                                            New York System Weiners= Only in RI
                                                            Texas Weiners= Only in NJ!

                                                            Go figure.

                                                            I believe the NY System name had to do with a guy from NY that moved to RI in the 1930s and opened up a weiner shop. The style is totally different than any hot dog you would get anywhere else.

                                                            1. re: menton1

                                                              That's the likeliest story, but the Providence Journal actually put one of their investigative reporters on the case years ago, and could not definitively conclude that that is indeed how the name started. Pretty funny.

                                                              I've had similar things elsewhere -- a now-gone sports bar chain down here called Champions had something called Cincinnati Coneys that were pretty close -- but only in RI do they use celery salt and certainly nowhere else are they prepared "up the arm"!

                                                              PS There's long been a small, semi-legendary chain in Southeastern Mass called Tex Barry's Chili Dogs.

                                                            2. re: Bkeats

                                                              RI weiners are much smaller than NY or Chicago dogs, and are properly served with meat sauce, onions, mustard, and celery salt.

                                                              A classic late-night repast would be four all the way with a coffee milk.

                                                          2. And then there's the comical issue of spelling. Half of the places spell it "weiners" and the other half spell it "wieners" Lol!!

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: menton1

                                                              Oh, don't forget the "Wimpy Skippy". I don't think that can be found out of RI!

                                                            2. Gee, all this in a state so small that it is only 37% bigger than the largest city: Jacksonville, FL.