Brendan Takes On Rhode Island

Published on February 4, 2024


Rhode Island is a place I had never thought about, let alone really understood prior to a press tour I somehow tripped into this past October. It was somewhere between Narnia and Finland on the made-up ranking of places I knew were real but didn’t ever think I’d get to visit one day. To be frank, I usually got it confused with Long Island, like all the time, simply because they both have “island” in the name.

So gather round, y’all, and let me spin you the tale of my whirlwind tour of The Ocean State, which was full of giant meatballs and towers with zeppelin landing platforms.

I was invited to attend a group trip with travel writers from across the country who all happen to live in cities with direct flights to Providence. Orlando is blessed with three different airlines to choose from that offer direct flights up the coast, including JetBlue, Frontier and Southwest. I was plopped on JetBlue and had a great time with a suspiciously (though welcome) flight lacking children and young families.

Hobbit Houses And Sporting Clubs

That’s right. I said “Hobbit Houses.”

Tucked away in Washington County, or what locals refer to as “South County,” is a mostly rural part of the state with just under 130,000 residents. It’s full of untouched woodlands, parks and nature for those who like their scenery with more trees and less people. Our tour took us to the luxurious campus of The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences in Richmond.

The Preserve is a sprawling luxury resort that caters to the type of client who wants to hop on a helicopter out from New York for the weekend to shoot some game birds with friends, and then hop back to the office on Monday. They have an onsite hotel with rooms larger than my duplex College Park apartment, with heated bathroom flooring and full kitchens, a luxury spa, indoor and outdoor target practice ranges, fishing, clay shooting, equestrian trails, hiking and golf.

But the pieces de resistance were the onsite Hobbit Houses. The way The Preserve puts it, the original Hobbit House on the property was simply a stylized root cellar, sunk into the side of a hill until one day a guest’s daughter pointed at the round door peeping out of the hillside and started babbling incessantly about Frodo Baggins like Smeagol being tortured in Mordor. Fast-forward a few years later when the owner (allegedly) convinced the Tolkien estate to give The Preserve the rights to actually say “Hobbit” in the name, and they now have two fully functioning Hobbit-style event spaces for hosting pop-up dinners and events.

Maker’s Mark is a sponsor of the houses, where The Preserve hosts regular candlelit bourbon-tasting events and multi-course dinners featuring local game like pheasants shot and prepared onsite alongside root vegetables and Yorkshire puddings cooked on beautiful cast iron cookware. The interiors feature impressive stone floors and stacked stonework reminiscent of Cyclopean walls from Ancient Greece. The conversation flowed as easily as the whiskey, and the trees around the Hobbit Houses were strung with fairy lights, making for an amazing last night in Rhode Island.

The following morning we were treated to massages in the beautiful OH! Spa before being whisked away to the airport via private customized Bentleys.

While sitting in Providence Airport, watching the season premiere of The Gilded Age, which was filmed in some of the very mansions I’d toured just days before, I couldn’t help but nod my head in sympathy with all of the fictionalized rich cuties on my laptop, knowing full well how decadently delicious Rhode Island was, already planning a return trip.

Providence

I don’t know what I was thinking I’d find in Providence, but what I found completely surprised me. It’s one of the oldest cities in New England, founded by a Reformed Baptist religious exile in 1636 who christened the area “God’s merciful Providence,” when he arrived with his posse of religious troublemakers. The city is compact and radiates out from its center, Market Square, where we were put up at the intimidatingly modern The Beatrice hotel, named after the owner, former mayor Joseph Paolino’s beloved mother, Beatrice Temkin, a staple of the Providence social scene until her passing. The logo is actually in Temkin’s handwriting.

The Beatrice is Providence’s most luxurious hotel. Period. And the first of its kind to be built in years. The entrance to The Beatrice is a breathtakingly tall lobby, with floor-to-ceiling windows that enclose a former alleyway between two office towers, complete with exposed brick and impressively large plants and lighting fixtures. The 47 rooms all vary in size but feel more like extended stay condos than downtown hotel rooms, with Dyson Supersonic hair dryers, Mascioni linens, heated toilet seats and a bidet that I got stuck on for 10 lovely minutes because I didn’t know how to turn it off.

Bright-eyed and sparklingly clean, I was treated to a delectable dinner at the Bellini Providence, located adjacent to the hotel lobby, which was filled with beautiful women in cocktail dresses, and hardened men with hands that looked used to holding a lot of money. And faces that looked used to spending said money. The restaurant is led by a fourth-generation member of the Cipriani family, who own Harry’s Bar Rome, featured in the film La Dolce Vita. The patriarch, Giuseppe Cipriani, is credited for inventing carpaccio and the original bellini drink. Hence the name of this new Providence flagship restaurant.

After a light breakfast the next morning, we assembled ourselves for a crash course in the Providence foodie scene with the folks from Rhode Island Food Tours. We visited six local hot spots to try dishes like clam chowder at the delightful pop-up food garden overseen by Dune Brothers, and a plant-based, vegan food hall and marketplace called Plant City where I had the most delicious gluten-free pizza crust ever from the in-house pizza bar, Double Zero.

Post-lunch, we swapped hotels for The Graduate Hotel, which is located conveniently on the other side of Burnside Park from The Beatrice. Formerly known as the Providence Biltmore, this gorgeous hotel originally opened in 1922 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dinner was hosted at the amazing Massimo Ristorante on Federal Hill, which turned out to be my favorite meal of the entire trip. Federal Hill is the de facto Little Italy of Providence and has been since the late 19th century, centered on Atwells Avenue. It even has a giant sculpture of a pinecone hanging over the street, a sign of abundance, and the source of pine nuts which are a staple of Italian cuisine. Don’t call it a pineapple, or you’ll end up in some cement shoes by the river. Well, probably not, but you do you.

Newport

I was whisked away to Newport upon arrival by a peppy rep from Visit Rhode Island’s PR agency along with the incredibly gracious, professional and fashionable Lisa Lowry, who you may recognize from Better Homes and Gardens and Atlanta Magazine. The drive was full of fall colors, beautiful oceanfront properties, and handsome men straight out of a Fisherman’s Friend commercial—with a small side trip to Staples to try to find a replacement charge cord for my laptop because I’m dumb and left mine at home.

Our first stop was Hotel Viking to drop off our luggage and enjoy some free time in Newport, which I soaked right up. The hotel was built in 1926, just a few years before the Great Depression, and cost thousands of dollars to complete. The name came from some artifacts that were discovered on the site during construction that were attributed to Vikings at the time but were later discovered to be, well, not of Viking origin. But by that time the name had stuck.

The hotel, which recently underwent a massive $6.8 million renovation, sits on a hill overlooking the downtown waterfront and is within walking distance to a slew of local shops and restaurants. The waterfront itself I found very Disney Springs, in the sense that it was slick, modern and full of money. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, because as we all know from watching The Gilded Age, Newport is an old and new money Mecca. But just on the edge of that sanitized yuppiness is something more reminiscent of Mills 50 and Ivanhoe Village, with indie stores and fun drinking holes full of locals dotting the corridor. Head to Broadway if you want to try some of the best contemporary ramen bowls I’ve ever stumbled across at Boru Noodle Bar. I even found some affordable and rare vinyl just up the street at the Vinyl Guru Record Shop, which reeked of good marijuana, so I knew I was going to find some treasures as soon as I walked in.

The street network of Newport is notably twisty and turny since it was originally settled in 1639, so you can lose yourself in the small narrow streets surrounding the hotel. Which I was more than happy to do while perusing small art galleries and shops like the Royal Male, a family-owned business that specializes in bespoke British and European fashions that cost as much as a small e-bike, and has been in business since 1983.

Once all of the disparate writers arrived later that evening we made our way to the Midtown Oyster Bar at the waterfront and Bannister’s Wharf to engage in some awkward conversation over a fancy dinner. The space itself was an impressively large warehouse conversion with multiple bars and a rooftop lounge ideal for swirling fancy whiskey while wearing expensive fabrics that smell like privilege.

The next morning, we were whisked away to the newly completed CRU Cafe outside The Breakers Mansion, for some quick bites before heading on a tour of the grounds. The Breakers is considered one of the most impressive “summer cottages” in Newport, and was built by the Vanderbilts.

Lunch was had at the Newport Vineyards, a local Rhode Island winery and sprawling agro campus. It sits on 100 acres of family-operated farmland which has its own little microclimate straight out of Napa care of the adjacent Narragansett Bay and passing Gulf Stream, with 60 acres of vines.

The onsite Taproot restaurant is led by the adorable and super-talented Executive Chef Andy Teixeira, who has been with the property since 2016. Chef Teixeira prides himself on running a kitchen that makes everything from scratch, from the ketchup to the bread, with seasonal and local ingredients. I had their BLT specifically because every single thing was local; the delicious sourdough bread, the mayonnaise, the lettuce, and yes, the tomato. And I’m still thinking about it months later.

And with my beard full of bacon grease and a big smile on my face, we all piled into our shuttles and headed to Providence for our next adventure.

SOURCE: Orlando The City's Magazine - Brendan O'Connor


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