Good restaurants know that in order to stand out, they need to start with high quality ingredients. The “farm to table” movement brought this theory to the forefront, but that’s what good restaurants had been doing all along. For the most part, people have come to ex- pect this in higher-end restaurants, but don’t look for it in more casual spots. The exception: Tilly’s Cheesesteaks in West Kingston. Management wanted to bring Rhode Island quick service and a casual spot that highlighted local ingredients, and they have succeeded.
Tilly’s is located on Kingston Road, close to the train station and URI campus. The space is warm and inviting, due in part to its friendly staff. There are wooden booths on one side and a bar that looks out over the street. On a nice day, outdoor seating is also available at picnic tables in front. When dining in, you order your meal from the cashier located close to the entrance, but in- stead of a pager, you are given a playing card. When your food is ready, they call your card: “King of Hearts, your food is ready!” The restaurant does not have a liquor license, but they do serve some thick, awesome milkshakes. Their decadent flavors often come topped with an Allie’s Donut, and they also have cold brew New Harvest Roaster iced coffee. The last time I was at Tilly’s, I picked up a to-go order and brought it with me to Whaler’s Brewing, a quick ten minute drive away.
In addition to great cheesesteaks, Tilly’s also has some good side dishes. I usually start with an order of their excellent Deviled Eggs. The eggs are filled with a creamy mixture of egg yolk, scallion, and hot sauce, and topped with crispy fried onion strings. Try to eat just one; it’s impossible. I have also started with a bowl of their Spicy Pickles, because I’m a sucker for good pickles. These are definitely not for the faint of heart; there is a nice mix of pickled cucumbers, radish, carrots, and banana peppers.
For your first visit to Tilly’s, you should start out with the Tilly’s Philly (half or whole). Tilly’s brings in fresh bread every day, so the rolls are perfect – crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The meat is hand-shaved Angus beef. The cheese sauce is house-made from Cabot cheddar cheese. This homemade cheese sauce is like the traditional Philadelphian Cheese Whiz, only better (not a surprise if you know what’s actually in Cheese Whiz). The only other addition to the sandwich is caramelized onions. You can upgrade your sandwich with fry bread instead of a roll, which is equivalent to eating your cheesesteak on a doughboy.
The other sandwich I love is the PB&J. This is not your mother’s version, and there is neither peanut butter nor jelly. First of all, “PB” stands for pork belly and “J” for jalapeño. The pork belly is tender, flavorful, and not at all chewy. It is topped with jalapeño queso, pickled onions, jalapeño mustard, lettuce, tomato, and cilantro.
Sandwiches are served with a side of house-made tortilla chips, or you can upgrade to fries for an additional $1.50. If you’re getting your meal delivered or taking it to go, I recommend sticking with the chips. They’re excellent and good for scooping up the cheese sauce that most likely oozed off your sandwich. The shoestring fries are good, but they have to be eaten immediately. On Mondays, Tilly’s offers a special of Prime Rib sandwiches, and on Tuesdays, they feature chicken tenders and chicken tenders sandwiches.
If you are headed to an event at URI, if you are taking the back way to the beach, if you are getting on or off a train, or if you are headed for a day of South County brewery-hopping, Tilly’s is ripe for a visit. Even if the line to order is long, it moves quickly. Just more evidence that quality ingredients make all the difference.