Stuffies and Frozen Lemonade
Rhode Island, once referred to as a smudge of the map between New York and Boston, is not a well-known spot for tourists outside of New England. And Rhode Islanders probably like it that way. One famous bumper sticker in Newport reads “Why do they call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?”
A Short History
Native Americans settled in the area now known as Rhode Island as far back as 10,000 years ago. When Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views, he settled with his followers at the head of Narragansett Bay in a place he called Providence Plantations. While the relationship between the colonists and the native tribes was mostly peaceful, the peace was shattered with King Phillip’s War in 1675 when Providence was burned down.
British warship HMS Gaspee was burned in 1772 by Rhode Islanders, one of the first acts of violence leading to the Revolutionary War. Newport, a stronghold for British loyalists, was occupied by British forces until they were expelled and retreated to New York following the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778.
Rhode Islanders, especially in Newport, were active participants in the slave trade. The Brown family (of Brown University fame) and DeWolf family were particularly enthusiastic merchants in the trade of human cargo. Even after slavery was officially abolished in 1652, abolition laws weren’t enforced and the population of enslaved Africans in Rhode Island was over 6% at the outset of the Revolutionary War, more than double any other New England colony. After the war, laws were enforced more vigorously and the slave trade eventually faded away.
During the Robber Baron era, also known as the Gilded Age, wealthy New York industrialists began building “summer cottages” in Newport. These so-called cottages were actually sprawling ornate mansions built along Bellevue Avenue in Newport. Many are now owned by the Newport Preservations Society and are open for tours.
The industrial revolution (sparked by Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the first textile mill in the United States) made Providence and Rhode Island very wealthy. But, the city fell into decline in the 60’s and 70’s as residents flocked to the suburbs and blight took over. But, in the last twenty years Providence has been revitalized with an internationally recognized arts and culinary scene as well as a young population who have moved downtown into formerly undesirable housing areas.
Everyone in Rhode Island loves Pizza Strips. Any gathering in Lil’ Rhody is sure to have a box of the treat set out.
What are Pizza Strips?
Pizza Strips (sometimes called Tomato Pie in other parts of the country), are made with a soft focaccia-like crust. The rectangular dough is topped, a little more thickly than you might expect, with tomato sauce. The tomato sauce has a simple sprinkling of oregano. A light dusting of cheese may be added, but this is a rarity.
It’s important that Pizza Strips are served at room temperature, not hot out of the oven. The name Pizza Strip comes from the cutting of the pie, which is done in long strips rather than the square shape that is traditional in other places that make tomato pie.
Pizza Strips Origin Story
You can trace Pizza Strips back to Sicily. Sfincione is a popular street food in Palermo. The sfincione crust is spongier than Pizza Strips, almost resembling brioche. Sfincione also has anchovies in the sauce and is topped with crumbly cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
It’s no surprise that a sfrincione-like dish made its way to RI. Many Sicilians emigrated to the state in the first half of the 20th century. In fact, Rhode Island has the highest concentration of Italian-Americans in the country!
D. Palmieri’s Bakery traces their roots to 1905 when Domenico Palmieri opened a bakery in Providence and was likely one of the first places, if the the first, to make Pizza Strips. They’ve since relocated to Johnston and are a RI institution.
Pizza Strips’ Cousins
There are several dishes similar to Pizza Strips. They al have roots in the famous sfincione of Palermo. And, not surprisingly, all these places have a vibrant Italian-American community.
In Philly you can call it tomato pie, gravy pie or church pie. It’s often cut into squares and sometimes has fancier toppings than Pizza Strips.
Upstate New York is also a tomato pie hotspot. Lots of bakeries in Utica sell tomoto pie and they even have started an annual Tomato Pie Day.
Pizza al Taglio or slab pizza is famous in Montreal. Although pizza al taglio is made with a variety of toppings, one of the most popular is the focaccia-style crust topped with tomato sauce.
Where to get Pizza Strips in Rhode Island
Pizza Strips are usually sold in bakeries, not pizzerias. You can buy them by the single strip, or, if you’re going to a party, by the box. Pizza Strips are also sold at grocery stores in Rhody.
The original and still the standard bearer for Pizza Strips in The Biggest Little.
One of the best bakeries in RI. In addition to great Pizza Strips, La Salle is famous for their zeppoles on St. Joseph Day.
Folks in Johnston will tell you Rosa Mia’s is the best in RI.
Several locations in Rhode Island. Excellent Pizza Strips.
5 minutes from the beach, the perfect stop before or after a day by the ocean.
What are Stuffies?
The first time I visited Rhode Island, my friend asked me if I wanted to get “stuffies.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
He soon educated me that a stuffie is a quahog (a what?), a kind of shellfish, chopped and mixed with stuffing, spooned back into the shells and baked. Who knew? Certainly not me, a kid from the Midwest who had never been to the East Coast.
Your only exposure to Quahog might be as the fictional Rhode Island hometown of the Griffins in the TV show “Family Guy.” But, quahogs are shellfish; like clams. In fact, there are lots of kinds of shellfish that are harvested in Rhode Island waters. Little necks, steamers, oysters, and scallops are all plentiful in Narragansett Bay.
But, for Rhode Islanders, the stuffie is an institution. If you’re in Warwick, head to Iggy’s. They’re right on Oakland Beach, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Oakland Beach used to be a seaside family destination with a Ferris wheel and other attractions, but that was all swept away during the 1938 hurricane that devastated New England. Then, in 1954, Hurricane Carol slammed the area again. It has never quite recovered. But, Iggy’s makes a mean stuffie.
Or you can visit Aunt Carrie’s, right by the water at Point Judith. Lots of Rhode Islanders say Aunt Carrie’s makes the best stuffies in the state. You can compare them to Iggy’s because Iggy’s opened a second location just up the street from Aunt Carrie’s.
Beach Life and Frozen Lemonade
Rhode Island’s top natural attraction is its beaches. It’s not called the Ocean State for nothing, after all. You’ve probably heard of Newport, and that’s a great place to visit. There are huge beaches for swimming and sunbathing like Easton’s Beach or the more family friendly Third Beach with its calm water. But, search out Reject’s Beach, a small piece of sand at the end of the Cliff Walk. It’s at the far end of Bailey’s Beach, a private beach club in Newport. It’s small but uncrowded since there’s no parking nearby.
And speaking of the Cliff Walk, it’s a lovely stroll with views of the backyards of mansions on one side and the water on the other. The path is mostly paved, but some sections are uneven and require going up and down stairs, so parts are not wheelchair accessible.
After a day at the beach, you might be tempted to grab something quick and easy, maybe some fast food, for dinner. That would be a mistake. Rhode Island, especially Providence, is one of the great places to dine out. If you’re staying in Newport, there are excellent restaurants up and down Thames Street, especially on the wharfs that jut out into the harbor. Here, you can get the freshest seafood. There’s also a bunch of bars along here which can get a bit rowdy late at night.
Narragansett Town Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the state. You’ll see surfers if the waves are breaking. Scarborough State Beach in ‘Gansett as the locals call it, is also very popular, but families might opt to head to Bonnet Shores or Roger Wheeler for calmer waters.
If you’re at one of the beaches in Narragansett, the Coast Guard House has been around since 1940 and has gorgeous views of the water. But my favorite is Crazy Burger, a tiny place in a converted house that makes the most amazing veggie burgers. The homemade ketchup is the best.
Down in the far corner of ‘lil Rhody is Watch Hill. Like all oceanfront towns in the state, it gets incredibly busy in the summer, but the Watch Hill Beach is worth the trip. The sunsets are spectacular and if you’ve got kids in tow, check out the Flying Horse Carousel. Built in 1867, wooden horses, instead of being fixed to the platform of the carousel, are attached to swinging bars attached to the roof, thus the “flying” horses.
The best spot in Watch Hill for dinner or a cocktail is the Ocean House. Just up the street from Taylor Swift’s mansion, the Ocean House has some of the most spectacular views in New England. The veranda has sweeping views of the Atlantic and we often sit here for a pre-dinner cocktail and wait for the sun to go down. In fact, many times we’ve skipped dinner altogether and just lounged on the deck, sipping drinks. Afterwards, we stroll down to the ocean, using the narrow boardwalk. There’s a beach club at the end of the boardwalk which I think is for guests of the hotel, but after dark it is usually abandoned and makes for a great spot to walk along the beach.
Across the bay, what Rhode Islanders call East Bay, are several great beaches as well. In Little Compton, look for Goosewing Beach (it probably won’t come up on your GPS; plug in South Shore Beach which is adjacent). There’s good surfing here and best of all, smaller crowds.
Bristol is home to the largest and longest running Fourth of July parade in the country. In fact, residents are so into the holiday that the center stripe of the parade route is painted red, white, and blue. Bristol is also home to Colt State Park and Bristol Town Beach.
Water sport aficionados will want to visit Tiverton’s Fogland Beach. Wind surfers gather here and there are also paddleboards and kayaks for rent so you can trek up the Sakonnet River.
There are fantastic beaches all over the Ocean State. And parked near almost all of them you’ll find a Del’s truck. Del’s is a Rhode Island institution. They’ve been selling frozen lemonade; some call it Italian ice, in the state for 70 years. Ask anyone who grew up in Rhode Island about Del’s and they’ll share a story, likely involving their teenage years and adding some illegally obtained liquor that was stirred into the slushy treat.
Years ago, there was only one flavor of Del’s; lemon. And it was made with fresh lemons. There were even little chunks of the pith and skin with the frozen lemonade. Today, those chunks are gone, and there are a dozen flavors of Del’s including watermelon, blueberry, tangerine and even diet Del’s.
Italians in Little Rhody
Federal Hill in Providence is home to some of the finest Italian restaurants in the country. This neighborhood was where the Italian immigrants lived. The Italians started arriving in the 1870s from southern Italy and by the turn of the century, Federal Hill had become Rhode Island’s Little Italy.
During the 60s and 70s many of the Italian families moved to the suburbs of Johnston and Cranston. Today fewer Italian-Americans live here and the neighborhood has a more Hispanic demographic.
But, the Italian influence remains with many Italian restaurants anchored by Venda Ravioli. What started as a small operation making homemade pasta in a tiny storefront has expanded into an Italian grocery store, cheese shop, café, and restaurant. Walk in and you’ll feel like you’re in Milan. Don’t be surprised if the men sipping espresso in the café are speaking Italian.
The cheese counter is one of the best in New England and the restaurant is the kind of place where you can order a provolone and rabbie (broccoli rabe) sandwich on a roll, even though that’s not anywhere on the menu. People often travel long distances to visit Venda and they bring a cooler to keep their booty chilled until they can get back to far flung places like Cranston, Warwick, Newport, or, God forbid, Massachusetts.
Old school Italian restaurants abound in the Atwell’s Avenue area of Federal Hill. Camile’s has been serving the movers and shakers of Smith Hill (RI’s state government and legislature) for over 100 years.
Angelo’s, on the other hand, has only been open for 94 years. Brightly lit and loud, Angelo’s is the opposite of Camile’s. It’s more like a diner. I mean, they have a toy train running around the edge of the restaurant. At Angelo’s you can order things like tripe and french fries with meatballs. The eggplant is outstanding because it is pan-fried, not deep fried.
Providence is also home to the Rhode Island School of Design. Alumni include Dale Chihuly, Nicole Miller, James Franco, Kara Walker, Gus van Sant, and Talking Heads. The RISD museum is worth a visit as they often have new exhibits and their permanent exhibit contains several impressionist works from Monet and Manet.
RISD used to hold a spring and holiday art sale featuring the works of alumni and students. Unfortunately, both those events have been discontinued, replaced with online sales. Petitions to bring back the sales have apparently fallen on deaf ears which is too bad because these events were wildly popular. But, if you want to see and buy works by RISD alumni and faculty, check out RISD Works in the RISD museum. There are curated exhibitions but some works are for sale. They keep odd hours, so make sure they’re open before venturing.
About twice a month, from May until November, the three rivers in downtown Providence are illuminated by an event called WaterFire. Over 80 braziers are stocked with wood which is burned just above the river’s waterline. Music is piped in along the route from Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park. Live opera singers have been known to perform during the event as well.
The best way to experience WaterFire is by strolling along the river and watching the logs crackle and hiss as they are tended by workers who refill the cauldrons on boats that ply the river. Or, you can have dinner at Café Nuevo, Capital Grille, Hemingway’s, or Jacky’s Waterplace, all of which have a view of the festivities. Just make sure to get your reservation well in advance, as spaces fill up quickly on WaterFire nights. And even if you don’t eat at one of these restaurants, food vendors are around every corner at WaterFire to satisfy your noshing cravings.
Day Trip to Block Island
As the locals will tell you, Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island. But, several islands are a part of the Biggest Little State in the Union. Newport is on Aquidneck Island and Jamestown is on Conanicut Island. There are also several other smaller islands like Prudence and Patience islands.
Rose Island is a tiny spot of land between Aquidneck and Conanicut accessible only by the Jamestown Newport Ferry. The miniscule islet only takes a couple of minutes to walk around but the real attraction is the Rose Island Lighthouse. Tours are available and you can also stay overnight in one of the rooms. Some rooms have no refrigeration (bring your own cooler), others share a bathroom, and some rooms have outdoor bathrooms. Hey, no one said pretending to be a lighthouse keeper would be luxurious. If you’re thinking of staying here, book early; rooms fill up fast!
Block Island is one of the most popular summer getaways for Rhode Islanders. A quick one hour ferry ride from Point Judith (or a half hour on the high speed ferry), Block Island has great beaches, bars, and boating, and it’s really a great place to unwind.
You can bring your car on the ferry but at less than ten square miles, who needs a car? Moped rentals are readily available in the town of New Shoreham where the ferries dock. But, be forewarned, mopeds are only allowed on paved roads. If you are caught on a dirt road with a moped, you will get a ticket. Bikes can go almost anywhere, and you’ll enjoy the exercise, though there are some hills on the island.
The Southeast Lighthouse is on the Mohengan Trail a little less than two miles from the ferry dock. On a bluff overlooking the ocean, you can get a beautiful view by taking the lighthouse tour and climbing to the lantern room. The bluffs have been eroding for a long time and in 1993 an engineering feat was accomplished when the lighthouse was moved 100 yards back to keep it from falling into the ocean.
Take the short trail to Mohengan Bluffs and the wooden staircase down to the beach, but don’t forget, it’s a long climb back up!
There is also a lighthouse at Sandy Point on the other end of the island. It is a lovely walk around Sachem Pond and through an environmentally protected area to the North Light, where you can take a tour of the schoolhouse design structure. If you’re lucky, you might see some harbor seals.
In the mood for more nature? Clay Head Preserve is almost 200 acres of land owned and protected by the Nature Conservancy. Fall is a great time to visit when migrating songbirds feast on fruiting native shrubs.
A lot of people don’t make it past the Ballards after landing on “The Block.” They have a huge beach, loud music, a busy bar; basically everything you need if you’re flopping on the sand or getting a good beach buzz going.
Small airport so connections are required to many US cities. TF Green is starting to expand their international service. Some people opt for Boston Logan for more flight options.
Amtrak stops in Providence so there is easy access to Boston and New York. Bus service is good, but getting to Newport from Providence by bus isn’t easy, so a car is a good idea. Massachusett’s rapid transit, MBTA, has expanded into RI, with a couple stops in Providence, Wickford Junction, and TF Green Airport.
There is ferry service from Providence to Newport.
To get to Martha’s Vineyard, there is a fast ferry from Quonset.
Service from Newport, Pt. Judith, and Fall River, MA
Fun way to get between Jamestown, Newport, and Rose Island
Index of Things to Do in Rhode Island
Art museum on the campus of the Rhode Island School of Design. The gift shop, RISD Works, features artwork from the RISD faculty and alumni.
Event in Providence where small bonfires are lit in the river downtown.
Flying Horse Carousel
Antique carousel from 1867 still in operation in Watch Hill. Children only.
Rhode Island’s best farmers market. Moves indoors during the winter.
Food samplings with a history and cultural lesson thrown in. Tours of Providence and Newport available.
Sample foods during the walking tour of the historic Italian-American section of Providence, Federal Hill.
Newport’s famous summer festival of music.
Operates tours of many of the mansions in Newport.
Situated on tiny Rose Island, tours of the lighthouse are available. Guests can also stay overnight.
Departures from Point Judith, Newport and Fall River. Scenic ride.
Spectacular views from the lantern room of the lighthouse. On the Mohegan Bluffs in Block Island.
Lighthouse on the north tip of Block Island.
190 acres of protected land on Block Island. Excellent hiking.
Party atmosphere beach, restaurant, and bar on Block Island.
Index of Food & Drink in Rhode Island
Famous for stuffies and doughboys (fried dough)
Clam shack right on the ocean with, of course, stuffies.
Frozen lemonade stands and trucks are everywhere in the summer; especially at the beach
Fantastic veg friendly restaurant in a converted house a couple blocks from the water in Narragansett.
Great outdoor deck. The place to get a Dark N’ Stormy.
Seafood restaurant on the waterfront.
Steak, seafood, and a few veg. options.
Spectacular ocean views, especially from the second story open air bar.
Huge veranda with a panoramic ocean view is perfect for sipping cocktails.
Italian grocery store, restaurant, bar, café, and gelateria all rolled into one.
Old school Italian restaurant on Federal Hill.
Federal Hill institution has been serving Italian food for almost 100 years.
Pizza joint famous for their pizza strips.
Famous RI bakery.
Excellent bakery with pizza strips.
Pizza strips on the menu.
Pizzeria with excellent pizza strips. Close to the beach.
Index of Shopping in Rhode Island
Unique Rhode Island shopping experience. Kind of like a dollar store with a Rhody accent. It’s fun to snoop around and see what you’ll find.
Local shops in an historic Greek revival building.
Antique, jewelry, nautical stores along Thames Street and Bowen’s Wharf are great for window shopping.
Unique shops in a rustic setting.
Large selection of vintage apparel from a variety of dealers
Index of Places to Stay in Rhode Island
Modern hotel close to everything.
Once a seedy strip club has been transformed into a hip boutique hotel in downtown Providence.
Staying in Newport isn’t cheap, but Castle Hill Inn is worth it. If you don’t want to splurge, stop by for drinks on the lawn at sunset, then walk down to the Castle Hill Lighthouse.
Situated on tiny Rose Island, tours of the lighthouse are available. Guests can also stay overnight.
Historic B&B within walking distance to the beach in South Kingstown.
Inexpensive B&B one block from the ocean in Narragansett.
Hotel on Block Island with a nice veranda.
About the Author
Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. Though he currently resides in Setubal, Portugal, he lived in lil’ Rhody for many years and tries to visit as often as possible. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.