We discovered the Narragansett Café years ago, when we’d go there to hear Jack Smith and the Rockabilly Planet perform “Tear It Up” as Jack walked on tabletops and the bar, without ever spilling anyone’s drink. Music is still the big draw at this Jamestown landmark, and really good food has been added to the repertoire.
New owners (they also own the very upscale Jamestown Fish on the other side of the avenue) have updated the beloved cafe, which attracts an equal share of townies and tourists, but the classic roadhouse ambience is still evident. There are now four flat-screen TVs, lots of nautical touches and a wall of fame dedicated to the musicians who help make the place famous. But the pool table and much-used shuffleboard game remain, as do the shabby chic scuffmarks on the door and walls. It’s still the Narragansett Café that we’ve loved for decades.
Back in the day, we spent many a Saturday night at The Ganny – that’s what the locals call it – and it was always packed. Still is, considered by many to be the best neighborhood bar and the best place to hear live music in southern Rhode Island. Dropping in on a recent quiet Thursday, we were able to sit at a table next to the fireplace, often lit on cold, damp evenings.
The menu is packed with honest pub fare as well as a few fancy dishes, all at very affordable prices, with nothing close to $20, not even the steak dinners. Here are the dishes we have tried – nothing disappointed us.
Every now and then I crave chowder and clam cakes, and stuffies if they’re available. Here you can get the Chowder Combo ($6.75), a cup of very good chowder (pictured left) with a couple of clam cakes on the side. Our waitress asked if I wanted oyster crackers for the chowder, but before I could say no thanks, she said: “No, you look like a dunker to me.” Meaning that I would be dunking my clam cakes into the hearty chowder. “How did you know?” I had to ask. “You look like a New Englander to me.” That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. And so I dunked a golden brown clam cake and took a bite. The surface was just crunchy enough, and the interior just chewy enough for this lover of clam cakes. The Rhode Island-style Stuffies ($5.95 for two) consisted of quahog shells packed with a dense combination of finely chopped clams, breadcrumbs and seasonings. A dash of Tabasco sauce was all that they needed.
Staying on this nautical course, I had the café’s famous Fish & Chips (pictured below, $10.95 at dinner, $7.95 for a smaller lunch portion). The fish, usually cod or haddock, is dipped into a Sam Adams beer batter and then deep-fried. When my fork cut into the generous pillows of fried fish, it revealed a perfectly cooked, super-moist white fish. Beneath the fish were plenty of skinny fries, also nicely done. On the side was a fresh-tasting coleslaw.
For appetizers ($4.95 to $7.50), I recommend the gigantic onion rings, the buffalo chicken wings served traditionally with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing, and especially the Steak Quesadilla. The quesadilla is enough for one person as a lunch item, or two to four people as an appetizer. It is loaded with shaved steak, diced tomatoes and peppers, cheddar cheese and black olives with sour cream and salsa on the side. This was one of the most flavorful and satisfying appetizers I’ve ever had.
At dinnertime, you won’t go wrong when ordering the Chicken Parmesan ($12.95) served over a large portion of linguine in a pleasing tomato sauce. The boneless chicken breast is pounded to a uniform thickness, coated with seasoned breadcrumbs, pan-fried until golden brown and topped with grated Italian cheese that melts down into the chicken. Another satisfying meal.
If you prefer a hearty sandwich at dinner, try the Philly Cheese Steak ($7.50) or the Gansett Burger ($8.50), served with your choice of potato chips, potato salad, macaroni salad or coleslaw. We found the potato salad to have a bit too much mayo, but the macaroni salad was perfect and brought back memories of family cookouts.
In my book, the Philly Cheese Steak is right up there with the Steak Quesadilla. Super-thin slices of beef, fried onions and melted provolone cheese are packed into a large, fresh torpedo roll. Just describing it makes me wish I had that sandwich in front of me right now. The Gansett Burger was just as respectable, eight ounces of ground sirloin grilled to my specifications (medium) and topped with sliced ham and my choice of cheese (cheddar). The ham gave this classic American dish a slightly salty kick.
At lunchtime, by all means go for the deli-style sandwiches ($8) – your choice of ham, steak or turkey, with your choice of cheese and your choice of roll. My fave is the turkey topped with cheddar on a bulkie roll.
It’s clear that the Narragansett Café really does offer something for everyone... everything, that is, except dessert. But when we chow down at The Ganny, we can’t even think about dessert.