Sunday, March 27, 2005

Trip to Rhode Island - Off the Beaten Path Once Again

I expect this will have to be a multi-parter, as I seem to have come down with some sort of flu bug in the process of having my adventure. C'est la vie, n'est pas? CameraMan and I decided, after not taking a vacation together since our honeymoon in May of 2004, that it was time for a long weekend. He wanted to go to our usual haunts in Vermont (usual? We haven't been on vacation in almost a year! But you know what I mean...) however, I put my foot down.

"We've been there!" I protested. "I want to try something new. How about Newport? There are mansions, it isn't far, and there will be seafood to enjoy."

CameraMan knows better than to protest, as I can be more stubborn than a spring cold when I want to be, so he proceeded to jump right into the task of finding us accomodations. Wonderful husband that he is, he settled on The Cliffside Inn, which was AAA 4 Diamond, Frommer's top Newport pick, home of legendary artist Beatrice Turner, and on and on. It's also home to a traditional English-style tea service that CameraMan and I were intrigued by, not to mention a full and varied breakfast. It was a bit pricey, but as we haven't been on vacation in almost a year (can you sense my annoyance at myself for letting this happen?), we decided not to nickel and dime it.

And so, on a cloudy and cool Friday afternoon, we jumped into the Rex (CameraMan's Subaru WRX) and headed north to Newport. We left around 9:30am and drove straight there, no stops except for the bathroom, as we wanted our first meal to be in our 'new home'. And boy were we glad we did!

We pulled into Newport around 1pm and as a result we wanted something quick and tasty, both of us being ravenous. Rather than eat down by the docks, which were lined with chi-chi seafood restaurants and snacky-type stands, we moseyed into Old Town, where I think we could have stayed the entire time, had we wanted to. The roads were lined in red cobble, poorly paved, and the side walks were craggy and buckled, and reminded me of my trip to Valence, as narrow as they got. We walked up into an open square, where a church towered in front of us, staring at us with Puritanical disapproval. On one side, two lovely old theaters sat side by side, one still housing plays while the other plays films, and on the other, two banks, a restaurant and... a coffee house!



I haven't blogged much on it yet, but CameraMan has a passion for coffee which I foolishly encouraged with a Christmas gift of a home roaster, and finding this little microroaster, waiting patiently for us to come and discover it was exactly the opportunity he was hoping for. Ocean Coffee Roasters is a micro-roasting cafe, which means they: 'hand-roast each bean to its peak of flavor in batches as little as 10 pounds each'. Which in plain words means that the coffee is fresher, more nuanced, and definitely more enjoyable.

We entered and were told to sit at any of the open tables. The waitress came promptly to give us menus and take drink orders - we started with teas, as we knew we'd want espresso after eating. CameraMan had Lychee Berry tea, while I had Lemon Ginger.

Both were loose teas and were served in Bodum press pots, which I'd never used for tea before but CameraMan informed me was a common method. The lychee berry tea was much too sweet for me, though CameraMan liked it (he likes tropical fruits - I can't stand their syrupy sweetness). The lemon ginger, though, was perfect - spicy and tart and very warming, which is what we needed coming in out of the wind. It was cloudier than I expected, but I was pleased.

The waitress returned, and we ordered. I, being a little chicken since it was a new place, stuck with something safe - deli turkey and swiss on whole wheat with lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard. CameraMan, however, had no trouble tucking into the menu with gusto, deciding finally on 'the Cuban' - 'delicious Cuban pulled pork with spicy jack cheese, french mustard, pickles, and onion served panini'. Sure - why not??

We waited about 10 minutes, sipping our tea and enjoying the home-like quality of the cafe. It was obviously more of a local joint - older men and women sat in couples over news papers or chatting excitedly about politics, wearing anything from torn jeans and tea shirts to leather vests and sweaters. Not your typical tourist in Newport, and exactly what we were hoping for. Additionally, the architecture in the building was reminicent of an old firehouse - a beaten old bar with stools squatted around the open-air kitchen/coffee area, black and white checked linoleum covered the floors, and the windows, with their arched tops, allowed light to pour into an otherwise industrial feeling space. Local artists were displayed on the walls (we particularly liked a water-colorist they seemed to feature) alongside kid-created masterpieces of crayon and marker. Very fun.

The waitress came with our sandwiches and the conversation ceased in favor of savoring our meals. Mine was exactly what I wanted - soft, homemade wheat bread studded with a sprinkling of sesame seeds acting as a cushion for thin-sliced deli turkey and a pungent, sharp swiss that was obviously aged well. My one complaint was the cook decided to use iceberg lettuce rather than romaine, but no matter - it offered a pleasant crunchy texture to contrast the soft bread and meat. The honey mustard also tasted homemade, and made my eyes water a bit at the sweet-spiciness. All was accompanied with a dill pickle and chips. A proven winner.

CameraMan's Cuban was more interesting. The 'panini' serving method turned out to be an herbed focaccia - dill and salt, we decided, and was not heavily pressed. It was, however, smokey, spicy, and the jack cheese was perfectly melted. Although CameraMan does not typically enjoy onions, he felt that the number on this sandwich was appropriate - not overwhelming, but acting as a pleasant contrast in texture, along with the pickles, neither of which had become mushy or flat in preparation. The pork was well-shredded and not at all dry. Finally, and most interestingly, the bread was not at all greasy. Greasiness in pressed sandwiches is one of the things that prevents us from ordering them more often than not, as it leaves both of us feeling unpleasant after eating, and it gives CameraMan heart burn. This sandwich suffered none of that, making it a perfect remedy for my poor starving husband.



Sated, we turned our attention to the coffee menu. We both wanted espresso - one of the things that unites us in our love of coffee is the joy and satisfaction we get while drinking a good espresso after a meal. We also wanted to try the drip coffee, as it's micro-batches appealed to the snob in us both. We decided to go with the home blend of espresso, described as full bodied house espresso has a suggestion of caramel and a slight smoky aftertaste. We agreed we'd be back the next day for drip coffee.

And so we each ordered a double shot. It came out quickly, hot and fresh, and the flavour was amazing. As promised, there were notes of caramel and raw sugar, with the crema tasting almost like whipped cream itself. The disappointment was the texture. As you may or may not be able to see from the picture, although there are some legs on this coffee (yes, I'm shamelessly stealing from the oenophile's vocabulary... so sue me), it did not climb or coat the side of the cup with any staying power. What that says is that the coffee was a little on the thin side, which meant the mouthfeel was watery and you lost some of the finishing notes. Still, given the choice between this and $tarbucks, it'd be this every time and twice on Sundays.


We left full and happy - unable to try any dessert, despite the siren's call of the quarter pound cookies, espresso macaroons, and homemade tiramisu. Perhaps when we return next time...for now, even the cars outside were trying to tell us something...

If you'd like to visit:
Ocean Coffee Roasters
Newport, Rhode Island
22 Washington Square
Phone: (401)846-6060

Addendum: We did return for coffee, though no sweets as it was too early. I chose the 'Mexican Organic Talon,' described as a Demeter certified organic coffee, grown under partial shade. Medium bodied with snappy acidity and a slight chocolate undertone. I found that it did have the chocolate undertone I craved, but was lighter bodied than I typically enjoy. Still, it was delicious and a far cry from the drip we get around Stamford. CameraMan had the Sumatran Mandheling (earthy tasting, heavy-bodied, and syrupy, for serious coffee drinkers) and really enjoyed it, saying it reminded him of the Pu-Erh teas he enjoys after meals or a good, peaty single malt scotch. Needless to say, I thought it tasted like moss and dust, and although I liked its staying power (the 'syrupy' trait they described was more, to me, like an oiliness), the flavors were not for me. Still better than $tarbucks though.

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