There are many things to love about Wickford. This historical district in the southern end of North Kingstown is a lovely place to spend the day. Who doesn’t love walking through the locally owned shops, grabbing lunch at the Beach Rose Café, sitting for a while on the bench overlooking the boats in the harbor or even renting a kayak for a water view tour?
I grew up in Wickford, though many of the places I visited back then are now gone. I had my first taste of pâté from Wickford Gourmet Food and sampled my first cold soup at a little café called Peaches. My first apartment was in Wickford, and my easy access to the fresh meats and fish of Ryan’s Market was all I needed to be persuaded to sign the lease.
Back then as it is now, Wickford tends to slow down around dinnertime. The streets once bustling with people ignoring the crosswalk law become deserted when the sun goes down. Zoning laws and sanitation concerns have quelled any desire to invent a dining district here, and Tavern By The Sea has been the lone sit-down restaurant choice available.
This past July, seeing the amazing potential, Long Island restaurateurs, Karen Bruno and Chef Jack Mutell, converted the Wickford Diner on Brown Street into a restaurant called Tate’s Italian Kitchen. The old diner side of the restaurant is a classic Worcester lunch car built in the 1920s and Tate’s uses this space as its bar and kitchen. The additional shop space has morphed into the restaurant’s dining room.
Tate’s has a rustic charm about it. The distressed wooden floors, wooden beam ceilings and the outdoor patio lights strung throughout along the ceiling provide a cozy, folksy feel. The restaurant is named for Chef Mutell’s teenage daughter, and the sense of family pervaded the restaurant. The waitstaff took a casual approach with its customers, but in this homey place, it fit perfectly.
The menu is farm-to-table Italian cooking at its best, and it’s ever-changing based on what the restaurant can get that’s fresh and delicious. They post daily menus on their Face-book page, so you can check ahead to see if there’s something that catches your fancy. Chef Mutell makes most everything from scratch – including the bread, some of the pasta (the rest is imported from Italy) and dessert. Although the restaurant does not have a full bar, it does provide a small, yet reasonably priced, Italian wine list and a small selection of beers.
On the night I visited with my vegetarian cousin and partner in food adventures, we started off with a glass of Laluca Prosecco ($10), a glass of Col di Sasso Cabernet Sauvignon ($8) and a Peroni on tap ($5). With our drinks, we nibbled on the housemade bread and all agreed it was addicting – chewy and dense with a crispy crust.
When it was time to order our antipasti, it was my cousin who was the big winner. Her Roasted Beet Salad ($11) was dressed with tangy pistachio vinaigrette and served with an enormous deep fried, goat cheese ball. I suffered from orderer’s envy as I ate my fresh, Caesar Salad ($9) garnished with two foccaccia croutons. My friend’s Crab Cakes ($11) were good and fresh, with a very mild, spicy remoulade.
The best part of Tate’s menu is the pasta section. Both my cousin and friend ordered pasta dishes, and both raved about them. From the samples I took off of their plates, I had to agree – the pasta was darn good. My cousin had the Fusilli Calabrese al Pesto ($18). Her plate was filled with perfectly cooked, al dente pasta, coated with a scrumptious pesto sauce. Mixed throughout the pasta were some earthy sun-dried tomatoes, and the whole dish was topped with a healthy dollop of ricotta cheese. My cousin was in vegetarian heaven. My friend saw the words “truffle butter” next to the Tagliatelle ($18) and was immediately sold. Not a fan of mushrooms, the kitchen removed the mushrooms from the dish, and my friend happily twirled her way through her portion of pasta. Not only was the pasta homemade, but the accompanying parma prosciutto, crisp cooked peas and umami filled truffle butter created an amazing dish. For my entrée, I decided to be different and ordered the Halibut ($24). It was perfectly fine: the fish was extremely fresh and seared well. The tomato, lemon and basil topping was very good. I was slightly disappointed, however, in the sides (a large roasted potato wedge and some broccoli rabe), but it was all really well-prepared. It was just that, next to those pasta dishes, my fish seemed ordinary. On a different occasion, my cousin visited Tate’s with a group of friends and had the Eggplant Parmesan ($18), and she declared it the best she ever had in a restaurant. It didn’t beat her Italian grandma’s version, but it came close.
With a small restaurant, many desserts are usually brought in from a local bakery or taken from the frozen foods section. Chef Mutell, not wanting to sacrifice quality or freshness, has chosen to make his desserts from scratch, but only offers one each night, and I think that’s smart. On the night we visited, our waitress asked if we wanted “New York Cheesecake made by New Yorkers?” We chuckled, thinking most Rhode Islanders might not consider that a good thing (think Yankees vs. Red Sox). The Cheesecake ($5) was creamy in the right way and provided a nice sweet end to our dinner.
Wickford is never going to have an abundance of restaurant choices, but adding Tate’s Italian Kitchen to its repertoire has upped its standing for foodies. On the warm, August night we were there, the restaurant was full. Some customers had walked from their Wickford homes, some had come in on their boats or dinghies (really) and some like us had driven in from out of town. We savored the gorgeous night, the delicious food and the feeling of family the restaurant evoked. After our dinner, we walked around town marveling at the historic buildings and snapped some pictures of the full moon over the harbor, wishing every night could be this perfect.
Tate’s Italian Kitchen
64 Brown Street