Every city comes with a million recommendations from locals and travelers alike, filling up most of your itinerary with so much food that there’s no way you’ll make it home without an extra pound. I had about 15 restaurants to hit during my two days in Providence, and while that wasn’t even a little plausible, I narrowed down a few of the places I felt most comfortable dining alone, from casual to formal, should you ever find yourself in need of a bite in Rhode Island’s capital city.
Small Point Café, housed in the Downcity Arts district between Symposium Books and the Queen of Hearts clothing boutique, has been around since 2010 and it’s easy to see why there’s a constant hum of customers and activity. In addition to a stellar coffee menu brewing fair-trade beans, there are plenty of breakfast and lunch sandwiches to sustain your afternoon exploration.
Most of the sitting customers were art students meeting for group projects, solo flyers typing away on their laptops, or a pair or trio catching up over chai. Sitting down to breakfast or lunch on your own won’t even get a second blink, but I felt very comfortable asking others patrons for the wifi information or other restaurant recommendations. Rhode Islanders are happy to share about their state.
I went on a day where the wait staff was very “dude-heavy,” as Mike the barista informed me once I inquired. An adorable “snuggery,” as they call it, their specialty is cupcakes and afternoon tea, which struck me as slightly hilarious considering everyone working there was a guy in all black with tattoos and facial hair.
I sat at the barista bar with a cheese and spinach crepe for brunch, and was surprised by the flurry of activity at 11 a.m. on a weekday. The phone was ringing off the hook and customers were coming in and out of the door for cupcakes to go. The barista’s friends filtered in and out as well, making it easy to integrate myself into conversation. It was a wonderful, welcoming experience in a light and bright environment.
Birch was a restaurant that changed my life while in Providence. It came with glowing reviews from both the tourism board and locals I met around town, and I was not disappointed. Expect a much more formal dining experience than at breakfast cafes or lunch spots: the eighteen-seat, 500-square-foot dining room makes for immediate intimacy. If you aren’t used to dining alone, this may be a good setting for you. Close quarters with strangers means less awkward stares and more casual conversation when you’re literally brushing shoulders.
The space itself is beautiful and a mix of modern and rugged. A large mirror is angled from the ceiling, which doubles the space through the reflection and bouncing light. The two bartenders for the night were also the two waitresses, happily chatting to each other and to dinner guests. With the U-shaped, counter-height table surrounding the bar, everything goes on right in front of you. Behind the scenes commonalities—servers drying and returning silverware to storage—somehow adds to the experience rather than detract from it. Friendly protesters at a theatre across the street provided some short term dinner engagement while I snacked on my pre-appetizer, a gift from the kitchen—an absurdly good crispy asparagus spear, dipped in the dreamiest garlic cream. It was exactly what I was hungry for, and I could have eaten ten.
The lone asparagus spear set the stage for an unforgettable meal. As a vegetarian, I had one (occasionally two) selection for each course of the four-course meal, but I thoroughly enjoyed three of them, which I count as a success. Dessert almost came in second behind an heirloom cornmeal dish with mustard flowers and some other deliciousness with vegetable broth, but the cherry blossom jam tart with beeswax ice cream took the cake, if you will. It would appear that gifts from the kitchen are frequent—I finished my meal with a melt-in-your-mouth homemade whoopie pie placed in front of me. Once I realized everyone around the table was receiving one, I loved the lack of exclusivity. Everyone feels special leaving Birch.