Welcome to Newport, RI & Remember to Order the Fried Calamari

Welcome to Newport, RI & Remember to Order the Fried Calamari

“Most men, they’ll tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting either.”

– Albert Finney (Senior Ed Bloom) from Big Fish

I love to tell a story. Spinning tales about travel, personal dislike of snow, and even craft beer crusades allow me to narrate the story of my life, but hopefully, in an entertaining fashion. It reminds me of the film, Big Fish. I constantly think of the line Billy Crudup delivers, as William Bloom, “Have you ever heard a joke so many times you’ve forgotten why it’s funny? And then you hear it again, and suddenly it’s new. You remember why you loved it in the first place.” That is how writing posts on this blog makes me feel. I have forgotten the central meaning of so many stories that I see those events from a fresh perspective as I dig through photos or retread old roads. This fact became clear during a recent trip Corinne and I took to Newport, RI.

It’s a Newport Thing

“They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. What they don’t tell you is that when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up.”

– Albert Finney (Senior Ed Bloom) from Big Fish

It was a beautiful Tuesday morning nearly a month ago. I love Newport, RI. It brings up incredible memories involving Corinne and me during the early days of our blossoming relationship. We drove south down Route 24, passing through Fall River, MA, another city I once called home, and crossed the state boundary into Rhode Island, just beyond Tiverton, RI. We continued south, observing Bristol, and the Mt. Hope Bridge off in the distance, another place I fondly recall living. Then, upon entering Portsmouth, RI, we drove on Route 114, which took us through Middletown, RI, and finally to Thames St. in Newport, where we parked the car, mere steps from the historic Trinity Church.

More so than Newport, I enjoyed my years in Rhode Island. Providence, Pawtucket, Bristol, and even time in Narragansett, Jamestown, and Barrington. I genuinely love the state, as much as anyone from neighboring Massachusetts can, and am allowed, to love it. But Newport is, simply put, another animal. It’s funny because I never lived in Newport. The closest I got was two years living in Bristol, roughly 15 miles or 30 minutes away. I spent nearly every day in the city for a few years. In the mid-2000s, I called Newport home. What initially brought me there? I was, after all, a 24-year-old who lived in Massachusetts, the New Bedford area. Like any good story, it begins with a passing glance, a gentle smile, and a New York woman.

I went to graduate school in Providence but commuted from home. Upon starting graduate school courses, held at night after working full-time, that is where I met Corinne. We were in a couple of classes together our first semester, but I never asked her out, although I considered doing so multiple times. We chatted in class often. Once, when she complained about not having any money for the vending machine, expressing an elevated New York disappointment, I offered her my last dollar. Yes, one of our first interactions involved a dollar bill and a vending machine. As time went by, she gave me her e-mail, and I lost it, only to rediscover it months later. I wrote to her, but she was in Europe. When Corinne returned, she invited me to Newport, and we went on our first date.

On a warm Friday night in July, I drove to Newport, parked in a municipal lot, and walked to Corinne’s apartment. I got there on time, although Corinne argues I was early; I wasn’t, I was on time. I will spare you the juvenile details, but we walked around the waterfront and ended up on Bannister’s Wharf at The Black Pearl, an “atmospheric wharf bar & formal restaurant with nautical decor, famed chowder & a busy summer patio.” I don’t remember ordering food, but Corinne and I sat outside on the patio at a corner table and talked for several hours as we drank a couple of beers. Although we had classes together, this was probably the first time we really “talked.” We had an immediate connection. We see The Black Pearl as the inception point of our relationship. Nearly twenty years later, we came back to that moment.

As Corinne and I recently walked around the harbor, we reminisced about our first date at The Black Pearl. As we walked by Queen Ann Square, at the foot of Trinity Church’s property, we laughed, retelling how she nearly fell while walking on the brick sidewalk of Church St., only steps away from her apartment. As we crossed America’s Cup Ave., we pointed out eateries we frequented and reminisced about the places that closed in our absence. We made our way further down Thames St. and entered Kaffeology, an adorable cafe. Corinne ordered a latte, and I got a regular coffee. We walked to Bannister’s Wharf, where we drank our coffee and marveled at the harbor. Next, we walked along Thames St. and recalled attending, with her friend Mo, the Newport International Film Festival at The JPT Film & Event Center across from Eisenhower Park to see Black Sheep, a horror film from New Zealand about zombie sheep.

When I met Corinne, she lived on Spring St., a one-way road, where finding parking was an adventure. She moved out shortly after, settling in Pawtucket. After graduate school, Corinne moved back to Newport and signed a lease, with Mo, on a beautiful walk-up three-bedroom apartment adjacent to Newport Hospital. A sci-fi nerd who loves Buffy the Vampire Hunter and The Walking Dead, Mo provided entertainment, often with a story. Most of my Newport memories include her and her dog, Nigel – whether hosting a party visited by Newport Police thanks to a noise complaint, a trip to Block Island, or visits to Jamestown to hang out around a fire pit. We ended our day with a late lunch at Coddington Brewery in Middletown, RI, down the road from the U.S. Naval Station. Corinne and I are older than when we first met and fell in love in Newport, but walking around town; I felt nostalgic. 

Dinner Reservations

“Everyday a new adventure, That’s my motto.”

– Steve Buscemi (Norther Winslow) from Big Fish

Thinking back to the opening, Big Fish is an incredible Tim Burton film. I thought about it and the idea of storytelling when Corinne and I departed Newport a few weeks ago. Not about that trip, but rather the story of our lives in that city at various junctures. In crafting such a story, it’s not fun to be linear. Instead, retelling those moments sporadically seems most fun. Anyone can tell a story, from beginning to end, straight through, as Albert Finney says in Big Fish, but it’s not creative. If there is anything I am good at or want this blog to be, it is imaginative. During those years in Newport, I formed memorable moments. It could have been a random picnic or an expensive meal at a waterfront eatery; sometimes dull is beautiful.

As I recall those eateries, or dishes, that come to mind when thinking of Newport, one thing is clear; seafood is best. Maybe I am more inclined to remain loyal to my hometown staple of New Bedford scallops, but while in Newport, one will eat outstanding seafood. Still, as Anthony Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential, please don’t eat it on Monday. I don’t know if I ate fish on Monday in Newport, but I ate it regularly. So, let’s tour the food scene of Newport, my Newport, and the Newport I ate in and enjoyed. From the Newport town line to the intersection of Washington Square, where the cobblestone of Thames St. extends past America’s Cup Ave. and continues down, forming a narrow New England street to lower Thames St. – is the route my food journey took. 

Approaching Newport & Broadway Ave.

On your right, approaching Ma’s Donuts & More, is Newport Creamery. I frequently visited this location, and the Awful Awful is a “sinful concoction of whole milk, flavored syrup, and ‘secret’ frozen ice milk,” differentiating it from something like a Friendly’s frappe. Travel roughly a mile down Broadway, and just as you are about to pass Newport Hospital and Corinne’s old Friendship St. walk-up apartment, there is Bliss Rd. and the cute Provincial Bakery. This location is no longer open, but I recall this bakery being superb. The freshly baked pies, cakes, and bread were exquisite. Since only around the corner, Corinne and I would walk to Provincial to get something delicious to pair with whatever we were grilling outside for dinner.

Continue down Broadway, get off at Gould St., pull onto Equality Park Pl, and find Newport Tokyo House. The no-fuss, relaxed atmosphere makes this sushi and teppanyaki eatery a winner. I got the “Newport Bridge” or “Newport Fisherman’s Boat” a dozen times, and both offerings were outstanding. No matter what, the varied sushi options are endless and help form a fabulous experience. Upon leaving Newport Tokyo House, take a right back onto Broadway and continue to the waterfront, but before getting too far, you arrive at Corner Café. It is a must-go-to eatery, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a cozy environment. The variety of menu options is incredible, and Corinne and I regularly went for breakfast; the eggs, potatoes, coffee, and Portuguese French toast were fantastic.

On this part of Broadway Ave., the food options are endless. Still, I continue down Broadway, turn right on Marlborough St., and eventually come to Charles St., where you turn left and find Perro Salado. Serving upscale Mexican fare in a building dating back to the colonial period of American history, Perro Salado is a stellar eatery. When we were in town, Corinne and I once visited with Mo. We met at Mo’s apartment, a few blocks away, and walked to the restaurant. We had reservations, but the place was packed. We waited a short time before being seated upstairs, next to a window overlooking the road and city below. The food was divine, with plenty of inspired dishes.

Downtown Newport & Upper Thames St.

After leaving Perro Salado, take a right onto Washington Square, a left onto historic Thames St., and you will be in the heart of downtown touristy Newport. Here, you will find the most popular restaurants. Some eateries have garden patios, and others overlook the bustling center, while several offer ocean views and seats on a pier while you eat and drink. Some restaurants, like Brick Alley Pub, are casual and at the mouth of Thames St., while others, like The Red Parrot Restaurant, could be considered a tourist trap, although offering excellent dishes at Thames St. midpoint. Scales & Shells, offering a more upscale vibe, is towards the lower end of the historic New England street. Scattered amongst these classics are bars, fancy restaurants, ice cream parlors, and coffeehouses.

Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant is an iconic eatery, and while not a lobster fan, the only time I enjoyed eating lobster “anything” was at Brick Alley Pub. No, I didn’t have to crunch into it messily, and I intensely dislike butter, so I enjoyed the lobster in a quesadilla and as part of a massive nacho appetizer. A Newport tradition for over 40 years, Brick Alley Pub was often a regular choice for Corinne and me. New England clam chowder, burgers, sandwiches, and even more lobster in the Mac & Cheese, Brick Alley Pub has an extensive menu offering everything while in the heart of New England. Corinne and I enjoyed visiting those times, usually eating on the back patio in summer.

If parked at the meter on Thames St., one could easily walk to most, if not all, of the following locations. It would be preferable to park wherever you can since the city will most assuredly be bustling with tourists three seasons out of the year. Walking down Thames St., the cobblestone is a constant struggle in balance, but you will soon arrive at Buskers Pub and Restaurant. Besides Aidens Pub, now Fastnet Pub, or Fifth Element, both on Broadway, or O’Briens Pub, further south on Thames St., Busker’s is a perfect bar to get a drink and fries. More so than the food, Busker’s is known for its draft beer list and as an ideal place to watch football or hockey. But it was not our usual haunt; I preferred those places further down Thames St. or on the pier.

Waterfront Dining

There are cafes, boutiques, harbor cruises, and a few restaurants on Bannister and Bowen’s Wharf. Of course, I already mentioned The Black Pearl on Bannister’s Wharf, but on Bowen’s Wharf is Wharf Pub, where Corinne and I had dinner a few times. I enjoyed the rustic cabin vibe and the southern-style cuisine and comfort food, which always brought a smile. While The Black Pearl and Wharf Pub, directly adjacent to one another, have pier dining, they don’t offer unobstructed water views. One place that does is The Landing. With outdoor seating, ample, and sometimes prefixed dishes, one goes to The Landing, on Bowen’s Wharf, for oceanfront eating and views of Goat Island across Newport Harbor.

In summer, The Landing offers live music, panoramas of boats anchored in the harbor, and a comfortable, if upscale, seated experience. Whenever I went, I ordered the seafood, as doing otherwise seemed irresponsible. Corinne enjoyed the raw bar while I ordered the chowder, scallops, and fabulous Rhode Island-style calamari. I love calamari, and recalling it brings to mind the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The DNC was held entirely virtual in 2020. When each state got screen time, they used the moment to showcase their best “face.” When it was Rhode Island’s turn, the host introduced them, and a chef held a plate of Rhode Island-style calamari. That dish won the day.

Exit Bowen’s Wharf and go south along America’s Cup Ave., a busy stretch of road. Continue towards Hammetts Hotel, which recently opened on the grounds. It formerly was a tented space where live entertainment brought thousands of spectators. Corinne and I saw Jason Mraz perform only minutes after meeting him. Corinne and I were patio dining at Rhode Island Quahog Company, now SpeakEasy Bar & Grill, and we noticed him walk by us. We immediately ran over to the Starbucks at the corner of Church St. and Thames St. and had a quick chat with him. We saw Joel McHale perform a comedy show in the same place. Next door is an old industrial building, now the Newport Bay Club & Hotel, which previously housed the Rhino Bar & Grille, a vibrant basement club. After devouring a hamburger at The Red Parrot across the street, I watched my buddy’s band play at the Rhino.

Staying on Thames St. till the End

I ate at The Red Parrot Restaurant twice before meeting Corinne. The place is massive and incredibly popular. The building, constructed in 1889, has three floors with tables, bars, and a large kitchen serving delicious pizza, burgers, lobster dishes, and more. I recall visiting and being nervous since Newport, at least to me, was intimidating. I had difficulty finding parking, it was a Saturday night in late June, and the city was bursting with life. I am an introvert, so I felt out of my element. The restaurant was beautiful, ocean adjacent, and spacious, so I felt at ease as we waited for a table and hung out by the bar. My meal, the “Kahuna Burger,” was fantastic and reminded me of the burger place that Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson, tells Vincent, played by John Travolta, about in Quintin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

A burger at The Red Parrot was tremendous, and I got the lobster bisque on my next visit. Still, while in Newport, it’s all about the seafood dishes. Sure, as you leave The Red Parrot and continue down Thames St., there are many good restaurants, like the pizza from Karma Kitchen, hot dogs from Wally’s Wieners, or upscale American fare from The Revolving Door. There are tons of cafes like Kaffeology, which I mentioned, or The Nitro Bar, Mokka Coffeehouse, and Peaceable Market, where Corinne and I often visited for sandwiches and a bottle of Nantucket Nectars. You can’t leave without getting dessert at places like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Kilwin’s Chocolates, Cold Fusion Gelato, or Twist. Still, as I stroll down Thames St., the last couple of places of consequence are O’Briens Pub and, primarily, Scales & Shells.

O’Brien’s Pub is more sentimental for reasons other than food or drinks. Sure, the outdoor patio in front of the eatery was terrific and included a great vibe, especially at night with friends. I went once, but it was soon after Corinne, and I first met. We went with a few of her local friends. At the end of the night, while walking back to Corinne’s Spring St. apartment, her shoe broke; she snapped her heel off and broke the strap. Unable to walk on the pavement, then cobblestone, I darted into a nearby gift shop and bought her a pair of slippers; they had nothing else, and it was the only shop still open. Corinne walked several blocks in those hilariously unfashionable shoes. O’Brien’s Pub provided us with a funny story about a night turned upside down by a broken shoe, but Scales & Shells acts as our Newport food pinnacle.

Scales & Shells is what you come to expect from a high-class eatery specializing in pasta dishes. Delicious calamari and tasty shellfish like scallops, shrimp, lobster, and fish dishes in substantial portions make Scales & Shells a standout. I first visited with Corinne, her aunt Kat and cousin Joe. Kat was in town visiting, so we planned a dinner out for the four of us to enjoy a meal at a trendy local eatery. We had reservations, but the place was packed. Luckily, we were seated quickly because you instantly become ravenous as soon as you walk in and take one deep breath. As someone who loves pasta dishes, especially those with shrimp and scallops, Scales & Shells was the perfect place to enjoy quality local ingredients and seafood and shellfish home to the region.

Entertainment & Significance by the Ocean

“There comes a point when any reasonable man will swallow his pride and admit he made a mistake. The truth is… I was never a reasonable man.”

– Evan McGregor (Young Ed Bloom) from Big Fish

There is more to Newport than the food, but today, food took precedence. It is at those restaurants, cafes, and bars above that Corinne and I began our journey. A journey into adulthood and young love leading to marriage, a relationship of nearly twenty years, and going. We are, in our way, foodies, so it makes sense that our relationship was, and might still be, centered around food. Newport gave that to us, but it offered various forms of entertainment that helped us explore the city and learn about each other. While the food was our tranquility during those years we resided in or around Newport; we enjoyed Newport’s beaches, historic district, an oceanfront path of wonder, and the various festivals and parades that made their way into and through the historic city streets.

Monuments to Truth & History

On the corner of Marlborough St. and Farwell St., a green area called Liberty Square, a massive old tree towards the back and a younger, smaller tree to the front. A monument, the city’s first of its kind and long overdue, will be placed in the middle of the square in 2022 “to commemorate the enslaved, their descendants, and the major role of Newport in the American slave trade.” Historic cities like Newport and even neighboring Bristol and Providence have taken steps to acknowledge their part in slavery. Newport was the central hub of New England slavery in the history of the slave trade. Although it took time to establish a monument acknowledging its complicity, this is the right thing to do. As a public historian, I was pleased when I saw the sign informing tourists, and locals alike, of the future monument.

Now, if one wants to observe the historically vital locations in Newport, Liberty Square might be a fitting place to start. I liked exploring Newport’s history, in my way, of course. Corinne and I explored the old streets taking note of the historic homes and visually stunning colonial architecture. It made sense that we made Salem, MA, our residence a decade later. History is infectious. We took pictures near the impressive churches, strolled through the roughly two-century-old cemetery, and walked along the harbor, overwhelmed by the city’s maritime legacy and troubling connection to slavery. The Museum of Newport History, housed in a building built in 1772, two years before the Declaration of Independence, is a beautiful piece of Newport history.

Mansions & the Cliff Walk

While Newport Historic District downtown is a historical time capsule, and the waterfront area is stunning, most people are pulled away from downtown, passed the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and to Bellevue Ave., home to the Newport Mansions. I think of all the things Newport is known for or recognized; the historic mansions are it. These massive homes line Bellevue Ave, Ruggles Ave, Narragansett Ave, and Ochre Point, which runs through the gorgeous Salve Regina University property. The Mansions include Rough Point, Belcourt of Newport, the Vanderbilt’s Marble House, Seaview Terrace-Carey Mansion, Ochre Court, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Breakers, and Rosecliff, featured in the 1974 film, The Great Gatsby – all dot the landscape of Newport representing America’s Gilded Age.  

Newport Mansions Preservation Society acts as the headquarters for preserving the numerous mansions that illustrate life as it was during a far different time. Corinne and I walked these grounds innumerable times. I don’t find the era of American history to which these mansions belong exciting. I have no interest in those Netflix series that would easily be at home in such luxury accommodations. Therefore, I rarely dug deep into the history of any specific mansion. Close to The Breakers is one of the best parts of scenic Newport; the entrance to the gorgeous Cliff Walk and a path along the sea hugging the coast to Newport’s Ocean Drive Historic District. For its part, Ocean Drive passes several tourist points like Brenton Point State Park, Portuguese Discovery Monument, and Reef Estate Tower “Bells.” It concludes with the 19th century built Castle Hill Lighthouse.

The Cliff Walk is unique in “that it is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District.” It is a scenic walk, roughly 3.5 miles “and about two-thirds of the walk is in easy walking condition,” while the rest is rugged and, as people learned a few weeks ago with a partial collapse of one section, unstable. The walking path curves “along the eastern shore of Aquidneck Island” and “is world-famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of Newport’s shoreline with the architectural history of the city’s city Gilded Age. Wildflowers, birds, and geology all add to this delightful walk.” Corinne and I first walked along the Cliff Walk on an incredible sunny September day, creating a remarkable memory. We entered First Beach, adjacent to The Chanler at Cliff Walk, a 19th-century mansion.

There is Always Time for the Beach

Newport is not lacking entertainment. Being near the ocean is always preferable, but I have watched shows in a large tented venue, been to a movie festival in a historic theater, and taken in the yearly Saint Patrick’s Day parade. One year, I invited my brother Bobby to town, and we enjoyed the parade. Then, a group of us went to eat at Zelda’s Newport. I ordered a burger and a beer, enjoying the welcoming atmosphere. Parades are lovely, but we had our fair share of apartment house parties and even an attempt to rollerblade. It did not go well. I put on a helmet and blades, took two steps, and went “ass over teakettle.” Newport offers a lot, but the sea is everything for landlocked visitors.

I love the ocean. That much is clear. It’s why I loved Fort Adams State Park in Newport. It has been home to the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival since 1981. However, not the exact location of the infamous 1965 Folk Festival where Bob Dylan played his electric guitar. Still, Fort Adams is historically stunning and has beautiful views of Goat Island, Claiborne Pell/Newport Bridge, Fort Hamilton, and the beautiful ocean. Named for President John Adams, who was in office when commissioned, Fort Adams acted as Union headquarters during the Civil War. Corinne and I would pick up sandwiches from Peaceable Market, drive out to Fort Adams, lay a blanket on the ground, and sit, taking in the splendid view.

First Beach is situated off Memorial Blvd, passed the entrance to the Cliff Walk, and before the quaint Atlantic Beach Hotel Newport. There are a few other beaches in Newport, but this is the one I remember fondly. It helps that a moment of comedic lore occurred one day when Corinne’s parents visited. Mary and Pat were in town for the weekend and brought their dog, Josie. She was a big dog, but she was the sweetest dog and is, to this day, deeply missed. Corinne wanted to take Josie for a walk and asked us all to join. Walking along First Beach, it was the off-season, so there were no crowds. It had snowed a few days before, so there were pockets of patchy snow and wet sand and soft ground. While walking Josie, Corinne showed signs of losing control. She tried to run to compensate but fell face-first into the wet, cold sand.

Beaches are for sunbathing and swimming, not necessarily walking and falling. We regularly went to First Beach to sit, lay out, and take a dip during summer. We brought food, usually from Peaceable Market, always with delight, and rarely found the experience tedious. Those beach trips characterized what we enjoyed most about Newport for Corinne and me. One minute we enjoyed breakfast on Broadway, the next moment, we spent money exploring markets on Thames St., preparing us for lunch downtown, and then walked along the Cliff Walk before laying down a towel and swimming in the ocean. Afterward, we had delicious seafood, followed by drinks. Newport is a seaside community, offering the sea and more.

Thanks For Visiting, Come Back Soon!

“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.”

– Billy Crudup (William Bloom) from Big Fish

Those Newport days seem now and maybe felt then, like an extended vacation. My most recent return taught me that. It was nice to retrace roads, walking paths, eateries, and historical sites that I had forgotten. My goal was to bring you along on a tour of the Newport moments that formed my story. I only hope such a tale has been enjoyable. Like all my posts, today’s post offers the history of me, and by reading, a part of me, and the experiences I had, live on somehow. As I learned in Big Fish, that’s all one could ask. Newport serves as a bridge, connecting me to Corinne and a future we couldn’t have expected but a life we are proud of living. It might not be a story with giants, fields of daffodils, or an uncatchable fish; no, it’s simply my story or our story, and it started in Newport.

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