OVERVIEW: Among those who know and love food, Providence is considered one of the most important cities in the United States. Not only does the city have numerous critically acclaimed restaurants, but it is also a major center for the study and appreciation of the culinary arts.
HISTORY & CULTURE: Providence's history and geography have also helped to cement its reputation as a culinary capital. After all, the city is the birthplace of the diner, dating back to 1872. It remains at the forefront of other recent nationwide culinary movements such as farm-to-table cuisine and the prevalence of city-dwelling food trucks. One of the most beloved examples of this is Haven Brothers, a trailer on wheels that parks nightly next to Providence City Hall. From blue collars to bluebloods, everyone stops at Haven Brothers, which serves burgers and other treats from the grill until the wee hours.
Waves of immigrants have come to the city in the last two centuries, bringing their recipes and culinary traditions with them. As a result, Providence has a wide variety of ethnic restaurants from which to choose. The city is perhaps most famous for its Italian food, with the Federal Hill section of Providence named "One of the Five Best Little Italys in the U.S." by Food Network Chef Mario Batali. Located on the shores of Narragansett Bay, local restaurants also make good use of the abundance of fresh seafood, offering fabulous, creative dishes. A strong Dominican population has also migrated to Providence infusing the flavors of Latin America throughout.
EDUCATION: Providence is the home of Johnson & Wales University, the world's largest culinary educator. Johnson & Wales alumni include some of the most well-respected chefs and restaurateurs in the world, such as Emeril Lagasse '77, Tyler Florence '94 and Sam Talbot '02. Many J&W alumni stay in the city when they graduate, which is why Providence has more degreed chefs per capita than any other city in the U.S. It also accounts for the sophistication of Providence's restaurant scene.
The world's premiere museum for the preservation and study of the culinary arts, the Culinary Archives & Museum at Johnson & Wales University, draws thousands of visitors annually. The museum contains more than a half million culinary artifacts, including an exhibit on food in the White House and more than 4,000 menus from around the world. It also provides a glimpse of the superstar chefs of tomorrow by exhibiting stunning sculptures made from sugar, bread or chocolate by current students.
TRENDS: While farm-to-table has infused almost every major food city in the nation, Providence was instrumental in cultivating the trend at the start thanks to its myriad farmers' markets and local artisans. Producers throughout Rhode Island provide farm-raised and sustainable products including Heritage Farms, Blackbird Farm, Zephyr Farms and FarmFreshRI. Gracie's, a Providence favorite, is located in Downcity and sources the kitchen directly from a neighboring urban rooftop garden, also owned by the restaurant. Heirloom tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, arugula, zucchini, husk cherries, squash, edible flowers and more are planted in the 500-square-foot garden.
The use of local purveyors also goes hand-in-hand with chefs throughout the city implementing more "green" efforts in their restaurants such as reclaiming and recycling materials and paying close attention to how meats and vegetables are raised and farmed.
As culinary habits change, so do menus to accommodate them. Special requests for gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian menus have made them easy to come by for visitors in Providence who have dietary restrictions or food allergies. Likewise, many restaurants are serving up modernized comfort food with rustic preparations driven by the quality of ingredients.
ANNUAL EVENTS & ACTIVITIES: Providence offers other opportunities apart from its restaurant landscape to envelop visitors in the foodie culture. Experiential city tours and a calendar of annual food-related events area are available, including:
Rhody Food Tours: An ideal way to tour the Rhode Island food scene, this tour company operates itineraries throughout Providence highlighting everything from the history and evolution of the city's immigrant cuisines and diners to the hotspots for late night eats and classic Providence fare. More information is available at http://www.rhodyfoodtours.com/.
Savoring Rhode Island: Brainchild of renowned Providence Chef Cindy Salvato, these tours take patrons behind-the-scenes to meet chefs, bakers and pasta makers in Federal Hill. Guides share tips and advice about Italian cooking and sample regional favorites such as cheese, wine, antipasto, bread, homemade chocolates, and cookies. More information is available at federalhillprov.com/services/savoring-tours.
Providence Gourmet Tours: Providence Gourmet Tours offer visitors and locals alike a behind-the-scenes peek at the city's top restaurants, gourmet and wine shops, and hotel kitchens, as well as an opportunity to meet the chefs and sample their tasty offerings.
Annual Restaurant Weeks: Taking place each year in January and July, Providence Restaurant Weeks is highly-anticipated by Rhode Island residents and beyond. More than 90 restaurants participate by offering three-course, prix fixe value menus for lunch and dinner. Restaurant Week updates can be found online at www.goprovidence.com/RestaurantWeek.