As manager Rick Erickson concluded his tour of the patio at Jacky’s Galaxie at Waterplace, the reservation phone rang at the host station. As if on cue, the caller asked, “Is the outside patio open tonight?”
Along with the first strawberries and flip-flops, a sure sign of summer is when the outdoor tables emerge at virtually every restaurant in the city. Sometimes literally a table or two outside the front door, ranging all the way to an authentic Tuscan piazza and a charming European courtyard, the restaurateurs of Providence know what we who dine out often are hungry for between Memorial Day and Labor Day. We want to dine al fresco. And the choices are almost too many to count.
When asked where they would dine outdoors in Providence in the summertime, some of the city’s most savvy diners and observers of the local restaurant scene responded with the classics. Outside Venda and Costantino’s in DePasquale Square on Federal Hill was a popular choice, as was Café Nuovo. The newest places in town were quick to get in on the al fresco scene. Rosalina on Aborn Street between Washington and Westminster set out sidewalk tables when it opened in May. And the patrons of Lazuli Salon on Ives Street in the emerging Fox Point neighborhood were eager to try the new Tallulah’s Taqueria just open across the street with its fresh Mexican and its picnic tables.
The patio at Jacky’s Galaxie has a distinction. In addition to the commanding view of Waterplace Park, it is one of the few restaurants in town with outdoor seating that face toward the Providence skyline. Most of the downtown eateries’ al fresco sections have their orientation away from the city. The private balcony ambience is in keeping with the neighborhood of luxury condominium residences. It gives a feeling of familiarity even to a first-time visitor. The patio seats 50 and all who are at the tables or on high stools at the counter running along the rail get the same view.
Seats are at a premium and while technically available during all hours the restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. on, Erickson explains the unofficial rules of the house – specifically of the deck. “The sun is directly overhead from noon until approximately 2:30 p.m. [in summer],” he began. “The deck is open to the skies to give an uninterrupted view of the stars all evening. So it is wide open in the sunshine as well. With the bright sun shining straight down, it makes things mighty warm during lunch time.”
Most midday guests prefer to take their view from the air-conditioned side of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the dining rooms.
Luxe Burger Bar has a three-season, semi-enclosed patio space tucked into the Restaurant Row concourse on the city side of Waterplace Park. While its neighbors from Union Station, to Capital Grille, Bar Louie and Ri Ra all have outdoor tables, Luxe has a large space that would be equally at home at a seaside spot but fits right into its urban surroundings.
Café Nuovo is the third of what may be referred to as the “Big Three” outdoor dining sections overlooking Waterplace Park, along with Jacky’s and Ruth’s Chris. Nuovo is the longest tenured of the downtown patios. Reservations are requested far in advance of any WaterFire night, along with graduation and parents’ weekends at the city’s colleges.
The outdoor piazza has been called “the absolute perfect place to watch WaterFire.” Like its nearest neighbor, it too has a commanding view of the Providence skyline. And for those who prefer a climate-controlled view, Café Nuovo has what are described as glass-curtain walls looking out onto the piazza, the river, the gondolas and the skyline. Many patrons are surprised to discover that the romantic gondolas navigate the river nightly, in addition to their WaterFire evening voyages.
CAV is seven-tenths of a mile from the action among the braziers of Providence’s signature attraction but has its own unique version of patio dining. Proprietor Sylvia Moubayed often talks about her “courtyard” on my radio show. This is where she can be found on weekend mornings for brunch along with numbers of devoted fans who have discovered the European-style charm of the flagstone patio bordered by the brick buildings that once housed the Imperial Knife manufacturing facility. Hundreds of flowers carefully planted to bloom throughout the spring and summer add color to the space. Diners at CAV are making the courtyard a regular stop not only for weekend brunch and nightly dinner but also for cocktails and appetizers to start out the evening.
Red Stripe’s sidewalk dining area opens on to Angell Street for a different take on al fresco dining. In addition to its outdoor tables, the restaurant’s signature brasserie windows are detachable. This means in fair weather, tables next to the windows become part of the great outdoors or close to it, while keeping the charm of the interior of Red Stripe.
Virtually every restaurant in Providence offers some type of al fresco dining. Even on this brief eclectic tour, there are enough outdoor tables to fill almost an entire summer.
Bruce Newbury’s “Dining Out” food and wine talk radio show can be heard on WADK-AM 1540, WHJJ-AM 920, online and through mobile applications. He can be reached by email at Bruce@BruceNewbury.com.