5 Questions with Cindy Salvato of Savoring Rhode Island in Providence
Cindy leads behind-the-scenes tours of New England’s quintessential Italian neighborhood, Federal Hill. Before that, she taught pastry arts at Johnson & Wales University and in the Culinary Special Program at Boston University.
1. I hear Providence is known for its Italian food scene. Can you tell me about it?
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, approximately 54,000 Italians settled in Providence in an immigrant neighborhood known as Federal Hill. The early Italians brought their regional specialities with them and, out of necessity, created new dishes that we now call Italian American cuisine. Who doesn't like Italian food?
2. As a foodie, what neighborhoods should I check out when I visit Providence?
There are some great neighborhoods in Providence. Federal Hill has Atwells Ave and Broadway. You'll find great Italian on Atwells and more innovative new cuisine on Broadway. Other great neighborhoods include Thayer Street and Down City. South Water Street is home to Bacaro and all along the South Main Street neighborhood there are fabulous restaurants – New Rivers, XO Café, Hemenways and Mills Tavern. Don't forget to take in the food trucks on Kennedy Plaza.
3. What influence does Johnson & Wales University have on the food scene in Providence?
It draws young foodies to our city. I came to Providence to teach at JWU when I was 30. It keeps the food vibe fresh. And we've had some exceptional graduates stay in Providence, like Derek Wagner, chef and owner of Nicks on Broadway.
4. What is "Rhode Island style" calamari?
I'll never forget my first plate of Rhode Island style calamari. It was pan fried and tossed in a little garlic butter and served with hot pepper rings. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It's seems impossible for a local restaurant to leave calamari off the menu; people have tried, but it's so popular! Each restaurant makes their own version, but the common ingredient is the pepper rings and no matter what, the dish cannot include marinara or any other tomato-based sauce.
5. What's a quahog? What do I do with them?
A quahog is a hard shell clam; they can be small or large. I love to make clam sauce with smaller quahogs, or eat them on the half shell at the raw bar. But even more popular is the Stuffie! A Stuffie is made with chopped clams, bread crumbs, onions, celery and butter. This mixture is baked in a large quahog shell. David Stone, author of Stuffie Summer, rated the Stuffie at Matunuck Oyster Bar as the best in Rhode Island. I agree. The quahog is full of potential. It is used in our clam chowder (clear broth here in Rhode Island) and in our clam cakes (fried fritters).