New England

bloodrootladiesRestaurants aren’t supposed to be real. Real you can get at home. Restaurants are for fantasy of one kind or another. A shot-and-beer bar with sawdust on the floor can fulfill a fantasy or bolster an ego as well as an elegant French dinner with all the trimmings. It just depends on who you want to pretend to be at the moment.

All this comes to mind because Jill and I went to a restaurant that belies everything I just said. There’s not a drop of fantasy in the package.  It’s simply what it is and it does what it does and it’s been doing it at the same location for thirty-six years.

Bloodroot is a self described vegan/vegetarian/feminist restaurant that was created all those years ago by Selma Miriam and Noel Furie. Selma runs the kitchen and Noel holds down the front of the house. They’ve perfected their act and they do it exactly the way they want to do it. Your fantasies are not the issue.

When you walk in, Noel instructs you to look at the menu listed on the wall. You tell her your choices and pay up front.

“They’ll call out your name when your food is ready and then you get yourself a tray and carry it to your table.”

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ri1.jpgIn the mid-1970s, when I lived in Providence the food wasn't very good. Sure there was great local seafood, especially clams and lobsters, but if you wanted to eat out, your choices were pretty much limited to diner food and and Mafia Italian.

To get decent food I would travel to New York to buy ethnic ingredients, read cook books and taught myself how to cook.

Recently I had the chance to return to Rhode Island to write a series of food and travel articles. I spent two weeks traveling around the state, eating in a great variety of settings, from diners and beach-side clam shacks to upscale bistros and fine dining restaurants.

I discovered a lot has changed in Rhode Island. The state is now home to dozens of passionate chefs with incredibly smart palates.

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atkinsapples.jpgLiving in Los Angeles, we know it's Fall by looking at our calendars not by the weather. October is usually one of our hottest months with no colorful, falling leaves, frost or crisp, cool days to be found. While I don't miss Winter, after two decades of living in the California sun, I still desperately yearn for the sights and smells of Autumn.

Since traveling is rarely an option, I have begun to enjoy the season by living vicariously through pictures and blogs I find on the Internet. The current crop is all about apples. The visions of pies, tarts and cakes, as well as piles of this fresh fall fruit have left me craving one of my childhood's sweetest and simplest joys: the Atkins Farms Cider Donut.

My grandmother was obsessed with them and subsequently, so were we. It was her way of treating us, without breaking her bank. (They cost a quarter a piece then, now still a steal for 50 cents.) Once harvest season began, we'd head out to Atkins to indulge in their – now famous – baked goods...and fresh-pressed apple cider. Heated to take the chill off the morning.

They bake the donuts fresh every day, infusing them with the cider and liberally dusting them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  The recipe hasn't changed in over 35 years with good reason.  In 2008, they were rated by Saveur Magazine as one of the 12 best donuts in the country. Something I – and most of Western Massachusetts – have known since 1972. Well, 1976 for me.

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AmberRoadCafeAmber Road Café's breakfast is worth getting up for. Lunch warrants standing on line. Dinner? Amber's not open for dinner. Bummer. We find ourselves here for lunch and the only reason there's no line and we're seated is because we're late. Not far too late and not a moment too soon.

What to have? For openers, omelets, pancakes, waffles, crepes, oatmeal, French toast, eggs Benedict, yogurt, fruit, lox and bagel and blintzes! I'm not sure this is kosher but it is unexpected. Around noon, ease into salads with grilled vegetables; eggplant and feta; lobster and bacon; beets and goat cheese. Sandwiches: tuna melt, New England with turkey and stuffing; grilled cheese, avocado and bacon. Wraps take in vegetables, shrimp ceviche, chicken Caesar, chicken and cranberry. Best kitchen thrill since my Mexicans gave me the Ninja® last year, panini: chicken, eggplant, Cuban, Brie with chutney; and California with chicken, bacon, avocado, cheddar and chili sauce. Take note.

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CapitalCapital Grille is fine dining in Providence. It seems like they've been around forever and it's 25 years, so it is forever. It opened in 1990 and this is the original store tucked behind old Union Station. Historically, I find it intriguing that a place that was of its time then is still good at being contemporary years later. I went looking for an old menu to see what they served in 1990 but there are no clues for what used to be. I really want to know.

I don't have to tell you how hard it is to pick a place to eat. It's not like I didn't have any notice. We knew months in advance that I had to find the right spot for dinner in a place I don't know, that I can't find without a GPS and that's open Monday. There are places you can starve on Mondays and Providence is one. At the visitor's request, it must be: "A place you've never been that will break the bank, and that you can write about." Or what we call a regular working dinner. Years ago, in their Newton, MA store, I sat at the bar with beer and a wedge salad. That was when I was still allowed to have blue cheese, bacon and sour cream all on the same plate. Surely that doesn't count and so, of course, I don't tell. It's not like I'm going to have it again though I could. It's on the menu just as I remember.

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