Three Years in Providence, and Counting… (or the Pros and Cons of Moving to Providence, RI)

Making a snowman this winter at home in Providence.

Making a snowman this winter at home in Providence.

I recently received an email from a reader who, in researching a potential move to RI, stumbled upon my post A Year in Providence. Noticing that the post was a few years old and that we appear to still live in Providence, he wanted to know my “updated thoughts about the area.” So here they are for you, reader, and for those of you curious about making a move to the Ocean State.

When I wrote A Year in Providence, I commented that it was the longest we had lived anywhere within the prior six years. In just one more year, it will become the place that I have lived the longest in my life. As scary as that sounds (even to me), I can honestly say that I feel at home here in this small city in the smallest state. That said, no place is perfect. So if you’re considering moving to Providence like I was a few years ago, I will provide you with my own now more-seasoned pro and con list.


Cons: The public schools still largely fail to impress in Providence, which is why many people moving to RI who hope to use public schools opt for nearby towns like Barrington or East Greenwich. Sadly, people don’t move to Providence for the schools; they move here despite the schools.

Pros: That said, I do have friends with children at Paul Cuffee Charter School and Vartan Gregorian Elementary who seem extremely happy. Also Nathan Bishop Middle School went through a stellar 35-million-dollar renovation, and no one doubts the reputation of Classical High School.

Perhaps because of the apparent lack of quality public schools, Providence boasts some amazing private schools (Wheeler, Gordon, Moses Brown, Lincoln). Unlike some cities where money isn’t even enough (good timing and connections are also essential), in Providence’s private schools, there are often spaces available for newcomers. Keep in mind too that all of the private schools do offer financial aid — and you might be surprised to qualify for it since they check not just your income but your expenses.

If paying over twenty grand per year for your child’s education is a deal-breaker, there are plenty of terrific lesser expensive local options–we have friends happy with the parochial Bay View Academy, Ocean State Montessori, and the Jewish Community Day School. I’ve also been impressed on recent visits to the French-American School of RI which packs in a lot of learning, language and cultural immersion for less than half of a typical private school tuition. Another option for K-5 is the Henry Barnard School, a laboratory school at Rhode Island College which offers private school education for one-third of the standard cost. However, this is one of the only schools here where I’ve seen an actual waitlist.

As a side note, I’ve found no shortage of great daycare and preschool options in Providence.

City Life

People who have lived in Manhattan know two things: you live in inches, and you live within a five block radius of your apartment. You live in inches because every square inch of your apartment is precious (which is why we’re storing one of my NYC friend’s grandfather’s photo projector in our Providence basement). And you live within a five block radius, because, for most everything, there’s no need to leave. Within that, you’ll find your post office, banks, bookstores, cafes, restaurants, yoga studios, gyms, playgrounds, etc.  When we lived in Manhattan, Geoff and I would count the number of restaurants we could access by crossing only one street, which would quickly hit double digits. Because of this, Manhattan has a much more neighborhood feel than you might expect–the postal workers on Hudson Street still greeted me by name even years after I had moved out.

Cons: Like Boston, in Providence most people who can afford it have a car. Although we can access several restaurants, a playground, two bookstores, several cafes, a post office, and an independent movie theater all within a few blocks of our house, we still drive most days. Even our pediatrician’s office is only a few blocks away (and yet in the winter, I find myself driving there).

Pros: Although we don’t generally live in a five-block radius, I do think Providence in this area gains an advantage over surrounding suburbs and nearby cities like Boston: Providence maintains a friendly, small-town atmosphere with a diverse population and urban culture. Where else other than Providence will you regularly run into your Governor at your local coffee shop?

Plus, if we made it a priority to walk more, we could. On the upside, we have succeeded in having only one car (and two Zipcar memberships).


Cons: Unlike New York City, there probably is not something for everyone in Providence. In particular, I’ve heard single friends complain that it’s not as lively as other cities.

Pros: Maybe it was because our apartment looked out over a pulsating Seventh Avenue, but when we lived in Manhattan, I used to feel guilty staying home on Saturday night. Now, with children ages five and two, we don’t have much time or energy for nightlife. Still, we enjoy great restaurants, theater and museums. We picked Providence because we believed it fit our lifestyle for this time in our lives–a place with some of the best aspects of a city (good food, shopping, arts) without some of the worst (traffic, crowds, cost).

One of my friends who was down on Providence before we moved here admitted that we’d eat well. And she wasn’t joking — we have better restaurants (and food trucks) than many cities, and Providence often makes national top ten lists. We’ve got great farmers’ markets, farms, and craft/local art stores. We don’t have the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the RISD Museum houses some impressive art (Van Gogh, Monet) in a museum you can actually get through with kids. We’ve got quality theater (Trinity Repertory, Providence Performing Arts Center). And of course, we benefit from the residual culture from Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Rhode Island (which has a Downcity campus), Providence College, and Johnson and Wales University.

And for those urges Providence can’t sate, Boston is under an hour away and New York City under three hours by train. In the last few months, we’ve taken the kids to Boston for the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science; and last Memorial Day weekend, we took the kids to New York City for Central Park, Times Square and the Natural History Museum. Still, it’s nice to come home to Providence.


Pros: In my opinion, Rhode Island has the best beaches in New England. Massachusetts beaches (yes, even the Cape) are too cold in my opinion. RI has low-key rocky beaches (Little Compton), protected soft surf beaches (Sand Hill Cove), and open ocean waves (Westerly).  Add to that great parks, well-maintained playgrounds, and definitely the best zoo in New England. Plus, unlike other states, driving out to the rural country of Rhode Island takes only a few minutes. In a few miles outside Providence, you can access dozens of farms for berry and apple picking, and small towns for some local charm.

Cons: RI has no mountains, so in-state skiing is restricted to the modest Yawgoo Valley. Still, it’s not a far drive to Vermont or New Hampshire.

Real Estate

Cons: Unfortunately for us, real estate has not been a great investment in Rhode Island in the last few years (see WPRI story). Every few months either Geoff or I get a serious bout of malaise at having given up our NYC West Village apartment for our house in Providence. I think it’s time to admit that Geoff was right when he said, “we are condo owners”–we don’t really like painting rooms, refurbishing bathrooms, or dealing with plumbing issues on a hundred-year-old house.

Pros: On the upside, this may be a great time to buy in Providence. And right now, you certainly can get a lot more house for your money here than Boston, for example. For us, Providence offered a house where we can walk to the city (and train) but still have a yard, driveway and plenty of room for home offices and guests.


Cons: Job options need to improve here. We have a bit of a catch-22 on our hands here in RI: people can’t live here without jobs, and since people can’t get jobs here, they don’t move here. The jobs and the people come and go together, in other words. RI has trailed the nation with one of the worst unemployment rates (see USA Today story). And we really need to stop placing high on lists like our recent second place in “worst state to do business” (see Providence Business News story).

Furthermore, corruption still exists here clearly. If the botched 38 Studios deal doesn’t make that strikingly obvious, nothing does. Similarly, RI was doing great with attracting Hollywood film, but they cut the film tax credits which left the state dry compared with neighboring Massachusetts where film is thriving.

Pros: I do have faith in some of our new leaders–I trust Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Governor Lincoln Chafee. I believe they will make honest, clear-headed decisions. Like one reader wrote, what RI needs is some “forward thinking and concerted effort on the part of business and government leaders.” The more people that move here because they want to and because they feel commitment to improving the state, the more likely it will be that we’ll succeed. Maybe that will be you too…

Couët Farm & Fromagerie: Local cave-aged cheeses


Thankfully, the proprietors offered me a sample, or I might have missed this recent addition to the Wintertime Farmer’s Market. Couët Farm & Fromagerie makes cave-aged cheeses from raw milk in Dudley, Massachusetts. We purchased the Evelina—a rich raw sheep’s milk cheese with a delicious natural rind.

Couët Farm & Fromagerie

Find them at the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmer’s Market

Rebelle’s Artisan Bagels Pop-up


We’re continually looking for great bagels, so when we learned Rebelle’s Artisan Bagel would open a pop-up at Kitchen, we picked up half a dozen. The malt, onion and caraway smell filled the air on the ride home, as the bagels cooled from hot to warm. They definitely passed the Heisen-Bagel test. They’re working on planning a pop-up schedule for next month. We’ll be there.

August 2017 – They now have a brick & mortar location.

Rebelle’s Artisan Bagel
Doyle Ave. & Camp St.
East Side of Providence, RI

Knead Doughnuts


Providence is not lacking doughnut shops, but until recently, most were the fast food chain variety. PVDonuts arrived, and Knead Doughnuts (pictured above) opened in downtown Providence last month.

I will remain loyal to Allie’s Donuts, but 20 miles is a long way to drive for a doughnut. Knead Donuts also offers a variation on the theme. The raised doughnuts have a brioche-like texture with a crunchy shell, and the cake doughnuts are densely packed with flavor—sour cream and vanilla. Perhaps, the most surprising aspect is the beautiful space.

Knead Doughnuts
32 Custom House Way
Providence, RI
(401) 865-6622


Tom’s Bao Bao: Chinese Steamed Buns

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Last night, we thought we’d check out the grand opening of Tom’s Bao Bao on Westminster Street in Providence. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones. After waiting in line for about 10 minutes, we decided to head to Faust down the street for yet another fine meal.

But we promised the kids to return for breakfast—well, Sunday brunch at least. This time, there were only a handful of people in line, and the service was fast.

We tried several kinds of bao—sweet potato, vegetarian, chicken, pork, and beef. For the uninitiated, a bao is similar to the pork buns in  Chinese dim sum—it’s basically a steamed doughy bun filled with vegetarian or meat ingredients. My favorites were the vegetarian, which contained lots of greens and tofu, and the fragrant sweet potato.

Tom’s Bao Bao
326 Westminster Street
Providence, RI

Providence Artist Holly Wach Hosts RI Show

"Surrender" by Holly Wach

“Surrender” by Holly Wach

One of my favorite things about living in Providence is meeting people who are doing what they love, and good at doing it — like Holly Wach.

A recent transplant from California, Holly hosted her first Rhode Island show last weekend out of her home studio in Providence. There, I had the chance to tour her studio, learn about her process, and see her art up close. I even purchased a print of “Surrender” pictured above. Let’s just say it reminds me of someone I know.

Holly’s art will be featured in a solo show at the Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art at Missouri Valley College this December, and she’ll be representing Rhode Island in “Figure 50 2016,” a juried online interactive map featuring one artist from every state.

You can explore some of her art on her website and sign-up to be hear about her upcoming shows.

And if you think you might have what it takes to be an artist yourself, she also offers private art lessons.

Holly Wach
Artist in Providence, RI

May Breakfast, A Rhode Island Tradition

Johnny cakes with strawberries.

Johnny cakes with strawberries.

To give you that Revolutionary War feel, you might be greeted at the door.

To give you that Revolutionary War feel, you might be greeted at the door.

Since moving to Rhode Island, Geoff has wanted to attend a May Breakfast, an annual tradition since 1867 in celebration of Rhode Island’s Independence Day—May 4, 1776, the day Rhode Island declared itself independent of the British crown.

Currently, the May Breakfast usually takes place at a local church between late April and early May throughout the state, and it often doubles as a fundraiser for the hosting organization. We finally made it to one today at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. The girls definitely took advantage of the all-you-can-eat menu of fresh cut fruit, johnny cakes, pancakes, french toast, custom omelettes, bacon, sausage, and an array of baked goods—including strawberry-rhubarb pie.

A traditional breakfast.

A traditional breakfast choice.

Volunteers from the community bake goods, cook food, serve coffee, and bus tables, so it truly feels like a community event.

Perhaps it makes us officially Rhode Islanders now that this has become our annual tradition as well.

To find the May Breakfast near you, you might want to check your local churches or do a search for May Breakfast with your town name, since there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive list of them across the state. Or here are a few other resources:

Strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Warwick Beacon/Cranston Herald
Providence Journal


Den Den Café: Korean food on Benefit Street

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I’ve now been to Den Den Café for Korean food at least a half dozen times, and it’s one of the few places in Providence that we often bring visitors. Their variety of dishes seems to have something for everyone in the group—noodles, soups, rice dishes, vegetarian or meat-heavy.

Their menu features many of the standards like Stone Pot Bibimbap, Agedashi Tofu, and Kimchi, but I’ve also discovered some new favorites here to add to my list—Kimbap, a korean seaweed roll (my favorites are the vegetable and the tuna rolls), and Tofu Kimchi, a spicy combination of kimchi with soft tofu served on a hot stone plate. Our daughters love the Bento Boxes, especially the Teriyaki Salmon, but my favorite is the Chicken Karaage, ginger garlic deep fried chicken.

When it’s crowded, a host/hostess will help you find a table before you order at the counter, and they always bring your order to your table for you. I’d also recommend reserving a table in advance if you’re planning on showing up with a group on a weekend night.

Den Den Café
161 Benefit Street
Providence, RI



Brown Women’s Hockey at Meehan Auditorium

Watching the game, changing seats, and picking their favorite players.

Watching the game, changing seats, and picking their favorite players.

We’re not big sports fans in our house. So the first day my older daughter played Little League, I realized that it might help her to know the rules by actually watching a few games (we then discovered the Paw Sox). Now with our younger daughter playing ice hockey, a friend suggested that we join them for one of the Brown women’s hockey games.

Waiting to give high-fives to the players as they re-enter the rink.

Waiting to give high-fives to the players as they re-enter the rink.

This weekend, we attended our first game. The women’s hockey games at Brown are thinly attended, despite being free to the public. When my older daughter asked if we had bought the seats we were in, our friend joked that we had bought the whole section. But the low attendance makes it easy to change your vantage point, mid-game. And when the team lined up to re-enter the rink, our girls would run to greet them and lean over to give each player a high-five as she entered.

We found the game packed with plenty of action, and the fans in attendance enthusiastic. There’s also a well-stocked snack bar, which came in handy since my younger daughter was hungry even though we had just eaten dinner. The girls even chose their favorite player — Conway because she was ‘so fast’ — although she was briefly displaced by Najjar when she scored.

And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, they even ‘caught’ an errant puck to bring home as a souvenir.

Our own little hockey player.

Our own little hockey player.

Meehan Auditorium
235 Hope Street
Providence, RI (find the remaining home games in the 2016 schedule)

Christmas Eve Dinner at Rosalina in Providence

The traditional caprese salad is made even better at Roslina with burrata cheese.

The traditional caprese salad is made even better at Roslina with burrata cheese.

It wasn’t quite a Griswold Christmas Eve, but it was close. First, it was hard to get into the spirit when it was about 65 degrees on Christmas Eve as we walked downtown to see A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Theatre. It got worse when we discovered we had arrived at the wrong time, and the show we had tickets for was just letting out.

Then, later that night after the girls left cookies for Santa, we discovered a bat flying through our house. And it got away.

Gnocchi, also made better with burrata.

Gnocchi, also made better with burrata.

Fortunately, our day was redeemed by a late lunch between those two events at Rosalina, which for me included a caprese salad made with burrata cheese, kumato tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil followed by gnocchi sorrentina baked with tomato, burrata and basil.

The girls both ordered the meatball sandwiches, and Geoff had the eggplant, mozzarella and marinara sandwich. Since there was no burrata in any of the desserts, we settled for some blood orange and coconut gelatos, along with a cheesecake ‘imported’ from the Carnegie Deli.

I think Geoff was a bit disappointed to skip La Vigilia (the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of Seven Fishes) – but not me. I’ll take a meal full of burrata and marinara any day, including Christmas Eve.

And things are looking up. We caught the bat. And Trinity Rep kindly helped us get tickets for another night. And it seems it’s finally freezing outside (be careful what you wish for).

50 Aborn Street
Providence, RI 02903

Trinity Repertory Company
201 Washington Street
Providence, RI 02903