Here in South County, I cannot think of a more iconic restaurant than Narragansett’s Coast Guard House. Perched on a rocky ledge overlooking Narragansett Bay, the granite building has become a symbol of Rhode Island dining. For generations, customers have flocked to this restaurant for special occasions, functions and drinks on the famous rooftop deck.
Built in late 1883, the building was created as a station for the United States Life Saving Service, which later became known as the Coast Guard. The building was designed by famous architects McKim, Mead & White who also designed Rhode Island’s State House, the Boston Public Library and New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. In the 1940s, the Coast Guard House restaurant was established offering seasonal meals of locally harvested seafood. Finally in 1979, it was transformed into a year round dining destination.
In October 2012, Rhode Islanders collectively watched the news in horror as the Coast Guard House sustained massive damage during Superstorm Sandy. The storm broke through all the restaurant’s windows and punched a hole through the building by pushing one of the kitchen’s walk-in coolers
through the back wall. Although the kitchen sustained most of the damage, the building was left structurally intact. The restaurant’s owners vowed to not only rebuild but also use that opportunity to improve on the space.
In the summer of 2013, the Coast Guard House reopened its rooftop deck while it continued to renovate the first floor dining room. On July 17 of this year, the dining room finally reopened for dinner service, and I was looking forward to my visit. On a recent Sunday night, I brought my parents and a friend to check out the new space, and we were blown away! The pictures online don’t do it justice. The restaurant always had a nice view of Narragansett Bay, but now it’s spectacular. A section of the restaurant which had previously been enclosed with a cinderblock wall has been opened up to expose a wall of windows. The kitchen and downstairs bar area switched places, providing the kitchen more protection from future storms and offering bar patrons more room and a breathtaking view. The décor is classy, yet casual with lots of dark wood and transparent images of Narragansett’s past.
I was thrilled to have a prime window table with an expansive view of Narragansett Bay. Even on the foggy night I was there, we could see all the way to Beavertail Lighthouse. We started the night with a round of cocktails, and I couldn’t resist ordering from the menu which boasted cocktails made with New England Spirits. My Bee Barb was made with Nantucket’s Gale Force Gin (apropos for this location), lemon, honey simple syrup and Burlesque Bitters. It was so tasty, I ordered another. My father went with his standard Ketel One Martini and said it was excellent, particularly the crisp olives which accompanied it. They also had many reasonably priced options and a wide variety of both beer and wine. My mother had a glass of Prosecco, and my friend wanted one last Sam Summer since it was on draft and almost out of season. Drinks are elevated when the glassware is exceptional, so I would be remiss not to mention the gorgeous glassware our drinks came in. With our drinks, we were served fresh, warm bread with honey butter. Our empty bread basket showed our appreciation.
The new menu at the Coast Guard House has something for everyone – from a $10 hamburger to a $29 lobster dinner and everything in between. The star appetizer we sampled was Tempura Shrimp ($10). The shrimp were perfectly cooked in an impossibly light, crispy batter, seasoned with a soy-ginger and garlic sauce and finished with scallions, sesame seeds and peanuts. The portion was large but didn’t last long at our table. We also sampled the Lump Crab Cakes ($13), which were filled with large chunks of crabmeat without much breading, but they had plenty of peppers and celery. The crab cakes were served with a cilantro/chili relish which gave them life. The Lamb Scottadito ($12) was comprised of four well-seasoned lollipop lamb chops. They were served over a chickpea cake and finished with a delightful arugula pesto. For a salad course, we ordered the Three Beet Salad ($9) and found it fresh and tasty, especially enjoying the fig balsamic dressing.
Feeling like a splurge, I wanted to order lobster, and our waiter recommended the Lazy Lobster ($29) with garlic butter. The lobster was fresh and scrumptious, and the garlic butter made it all that more decadent. It was served with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. My friend chose Lobster Ravioli ($25) after seeing it was house made. She really liked it, especially the cream sauce which accompanied it, saying it was better than the typical pink vodka sauce. My mom ordered the North Atlantic Salmon ($22) and loved it, saying the varying corn side dishes (succotash and corn custard) were full of “late summer flavor.” My father tried the daily Pasta Special ($29). The fresh saffron infused mafaldi pasta was amazing, and it was topped with Puttanesca sauce and a mélange of seafood (lobster, shrimp and scallops).
Our waiter was excellent and attentive. He discreetly noticed we were celebrating my friend’s birthday and had a candle in our dessert. She chose Tres Leches cake, and the light sponge cake was served on top of the three milks (condensed, evaporated and heavy cream) which was a nice change of pace from the traditional cake usually already soaked in the milks. The cake was served with tropical fruits (pineapple and papaya). It was nice and light, and we ate every bite.
The Coast Guard House is back and better than ever. There are some restaurants who can’t rebuild after a disaster (Providence’s La Moia for one), but the Coast Guard House used Superstorm Sandy’s damage as an opportunity to improve. It’s definitely worth a visit to check it out.
The Coast Guard House | 40 Ocean Road Narragansett | 789-0700