Art by Avery Boruch

Ten-year-old Avery Boruch currently exhibits her work at the Newport Art Museum.

I’ll admit that sometimes I see a work of art, and I think — my kid could paint that. Ironically, that’s not what I thought yesterday when I saw the work displayed at Meeting Street Cafe by Rhode Island artist Avery Boruch, who as it turns out, is 10-years-old. Her works range from ethereal to passionate, not exactly what you’d expect from such a young artist, but then again she has been exhibiting her work professionally for six years.

Dancing Feet by Avery Boruch

You can currently see her work at the Newport Art Museum as part of the Newport Annual Juried Members’ Exhibition. Not surprisingly, she’s the youngest artist ever to be included.

Avery Boruch

Current shows include:

Solo Exhibition at Meeting Street Cafe
Providence, RI

Newport Annual Members’ Juried Exhibition (through May 22, 2011) at Newport Art Museum
Newport, RI

Rhode Island Summer: Beaches and Ice Cream

This little ice cream shop on Succotash Road is the perfect post-beach stop.

Basically in my opinion any day is a “10” if it involves swimming and ice cream.  Happily this weekend consisted of quite a lot of both.  (Note: I’m not opposed to more than one ice cream in a day if there’s also more than one swim in a day).  But the most pleasant surprise was the soft serve at the new ice cream shop at Lockwoods Marina where we stopped after a few hours at the East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingston.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a soft serve that tops Frosty Freez in Middletown, RI, and this one certainly doesn’t. Still most soft serve is simply terrible, tasting more like dyed ice than something deserving of the name ice cream.  But the soft serve at this new little shop, located on Succotash Road next to Capt’n Jack’s, had a surprisingly creamy, smooth consistency with good flavor.  If you’re not into soft serve, they also serve up homemade hard ice cream and yogurt, many with cryptic names like Mushy’s Monsta Mix and Mo’s Moose Tracks, but the cheerful staff can offer an explanation or even a taste.  They also have a man-made fish pond outside over which the kids love to dangle their dripping cones.  It’s the perfect treat, and if you’ve just come from a swim at the beach, you’ll have earned the calories.

Scarborough State Beach drew crowds as early as Memorial Day this year.

Rhode Island State Beaches

In 2010, the annual parking pass inclusive for all seven of the RI state beaches costs $30 for residents.  Day rates for residents run $6-7/day.

East Matunuck State Beach (mentioned above)
The walk into the water is a tad rocky and the sand isn’t as soft as some of the other state beaches, but it’s quite popular with families and is an easy walk to the beach from the parking lot.
950 Succotash Road
South Kingston, Rhode Island

Burlingame State Park & Beach
Sanctuary RD. (Route 1)
Charlestown, Rhode Island

Charlestown Beach & Camp
Charlestown, Rhode Island

Fort Adams State Park & Beach
I guess this is technically a beach but it’s so tiny it doesn’t really feel like one. Most of Fort Adams State Park, which is gorgeous, dangles over rocky cliffs. You can also rent a boat from Sail Newport here. As for the beach part, there’s a small roped off area that has calm water for swimming. It’s definitely popular with families.
Harrison Avenue
Newport, RI, 02840

Goddard Memorial State Park & Beach
1095 Ives Road
Warwick, Rhode Island

Misquamicut State Beach
Arguably, Westerly boasts some of the best beaches in the state. This one has over a half mile of coast. Hence, it’s one of the most popular and tends to fill up on nice weekends.
257 Atlantic Avenue
Westerly, Rhode Island

Roger Wheeler State Beach
This beach (known to locals as Sand Hill Cove Beach) has calmer waves due to the breakwaters that protect it from the open ocean. Not surprisingly, it’s more popular with families or anyone looking for a more relaxed ocean swim. You certainly won’t see any surfers here, although there are still a few eager boogie-boarders.
100 Sand Hill Cove Road
Narragansett, Rhode Island

Salty Brine State Beach
On the same strip of land as Roger Wheeler, the Salty Brine is also protected by the breakwaters. The downsides: it’s a smaller beach than Roger Wheeler and is closer to the boats at Galilee (and thus any oil or other substances that might come with them). The upside: the town of Galilee is only a few steps away, which means a much tastier lunch or dinner than the typical greasy beach stand.
254 Great Road
Narragansett, Rhode Island

Scarborough State Beach – North & South
This is a picture-perfect beach with soft sand across a wide beach and clear water. It definitely gets crowded and is quite popular with the youts (i.e. teenagers) so it’s a bit harder to keep track of kids especially when you nod off. On one visit, we heard three announcements for lost kids in a two-hour period. There is abundant parking at these beaches, so on a crowded day you’ll still find a spot in the auxiliary lot but it’s quite a hike.
870 and 970 Ocean Road
Narragansett, Rhode Island

Show me the pancakes: a search for Rhode Island’s best

The Gold Standard: My beloved pancakes from the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, Massachusetts. Photo by möca.

Why is it that I’m always reading blog posts and newspaper articles about great breakfast places that turn out to be subpar? Surely, I am not the only pancake purist in Rhode Island. After having eagerly gone from diner to hotspot and back again in my quest for Rhode Island’s best pancakes, I’ve decided I am going about this all wrong. When I discovered the best pancakes near Boston, I discovered them not through a blog (if those even existed then) nor through a magazine or newspaper article, but through an accountant friend who happened to live in the area and really liked pancakes.

Here I am with my Deluxe Town Diner pancakes.

Here’s how I know that the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, Massachusetts has amazing pancakes: it is the only thing I order there. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted by tuna melts, homemade stews with fresh (not frozen) vegetables, and burgers with sweet potato fries. But the pancakes made with sour cream and buttermilk are just too good: they rise to thick height and remain fluffy, perfectly browned, made the size of your plate in a stack of three (or two if you so choose, but you’ll be sorry), and smeared with butter with a side of real maple syrup.

I know Rhode Island is the smallest state, but I refuse to shrink my expectations accordingly. So, fellow citizens, I beg of you: show me the (amazingly good) pancakes. Post a comment with your local favorite, and I promise to go, eat and report back.

Surely Not Rhode Island’s Best Pancakes List
(or the places I’ve tried so far)

Note: My criteria for the perfect pancake includes: 1) fluffy texture; 2) neither too wet nor too dry; 3) excellent flavor, more specifically a well-orchestrated recipe of ingredients that culminate in a caramelized flavor balancing salty and sweet; 4) made and served with real butter; and 5) served with real maple syrup.

Despite a wonderful old-fashioned diner atmosphere amidst the strip malls, you won't find the best pancakes at Star Diner.

Atlantic Grille
Middletown, RI
Why not? One of the RI Monthly reader’s choices for best breakfasts, this is truthfully the only place I can stand to eat pancakes on Aquidneck Island. Yet they are no match for the perfect pancake (decent flavor, but not fluffy enough) and fail to provide real maple syrup.

Corner Café
Newport, RI
Why not? Such a cute little spot, but they use margarine — a deal-breaker in my opinion.

Eddie & Sons Diner
Providence, RI
Why not? Here you’ll find decent pancakes (although too light indicated not enough caramelizing butter, sugar, salt), but nothing spectacular, and the diner lacks real maple syrup.

Gary’s Handy Lunch
Newport, RI
Why not? Although I love this place for its atmosphere and enjoy their thin old-fashioned french toast, their pancakes are thin and mealy.

IHOP (The International House of Pancakes)
Middletown, RI
Why not? There is no better option when you absolutely need pancakes at 1 am and are too lazy to make them (yes, it’s happened to me). But, let’s face it, as good as they may taste at that moment, we all know that IHOP is not the real deal.

Providence, RI
Why not? Generally their pancakes have fairly good flavor, although they are always too flat and light. Plus they lack consistency: a few times, the pancakes were metallic, which Geoff says is an indicator of too much baking powder. They serve them with real butter but artificial maple syrup.

Mel’s Diner
East Providence, RI
Why not? According to Providence Journal’s food writer Gail Ciampa, these are “some of the best pancakes around.” No way. Slathered with margarine, these pancakes were bound to lose. They were the right color and thickness, but ultimately too gummy with the wrong flavor.

Modern Diner
Pawtucket, RI
Why not? Their pancakes had great texture (just a tad wet) and were quite fluffy, yet the flavor was wrong — not sweet nor salty enough.

Nick’s on Broadway
Providence, RI
Why not? In general, breakfast here was terrific, but the pancakes sadly not so. Cinnamon in the batter definitely doesn’t fit the bill.

Oatley’s Restaurant
North Kingston, RI
Why not? I had high hopes here with the homemade breads and muffins, but ultimately the pancakes missed on both flavor and fluffiness.

Star Diner
Rumford, RI
Why not? Pancakes were greasy and burnt. By the taste, I highly doubt they were made with butter in the batter or on the griddle. And they don’t serve maple syrup.

T’s Restaurant
Why not? Pancakes were dense and dry with lousy flavor. They’re also served with a butter ‘blend’ (aka margarine), blanketed with powdered sugar, and a side of phony syrup — need I say more?

Top Photo Credit: möca

Off Leash: Dog Parks in Rhode Island

Friend or foe?  Without a leash, I never know...

Friend or foe? Without a leash, I never know…

Sometimes I think it is my personal mission to inform dog owners of the local leash law.

The other day, I even called the local police to report a golden lab who wandered aimlessly in King Park in Newport, RI. After a few minutes, I did see a police car drive down Wellington Ave — impressive. But about a half hour later and block away, I passed two women attempting to leash that same dog — not as impressive.

“Is that your dog?” I asked the two women.

“No,” one of them said. “But he has a collar and we’re going to phone the owner.”

“Oh, I said, “I called the police earlier but I guess they didn’t find him,” I answered.

“Thank you so much,” she said.

When I was a young child, my dad was bit by an unleashed dog, and I’ve never forgotten the memory of his bloody hand in the car afterwards. I guess that’s why I’m a bit afraid of unleashed dogs (especially when they’re chasing my toddler at a children’s park). So, I’m all for the law that requires that you keep your dog on a leash. Is it really so much to ask? I don’t care how nice he or she is, how gentle, how old. If your dog needs to run around, then run alongside your leashed dog. If you can’t manage that, then take the poor creature to a dog park — I’ve listed them all below to help you out. If you can’t even manage that, are you sure you want a dog?

And if you don’t heed my advice, just remember I have the number of Animal Control, and I’m not afraid to use it (or post it, see below).

Rhode Island Off-Leash Dog Parks

Haines Park Dog Park
On the west side of Haines Memorial State Park
Rt 103
Barrington, Rhode Island

Bristol Paw Park (coming soon)
Bristol, Rhode Island (not yet live)

Newport Dog Park
At the base of the Pell Bridge, across the street from the Newport Playhouse.
Connell Highway
Newport, Rhode Island

Gano Street Dog Park
Gano Street and Power Street (adjacent to basketball courts)
Providence, Rhode Island

Warwick Dog Park
In Warwick City Park down the road, past parking on the right.
Asylum Road
Warwick, Rhode Island

To Report an Un-Leashed Dog

Call the (non-emergency) number for your local police station or one of the animal control offices listed.

Animal Control
Providence, Rhode Island
(401) 243-6040‎

Barrington Police Animal Control‎
Barrington, Rhode Island
(401) 437-3936‎

Bristol Dog Pound
Bristol, Rhode Island
(401) 253-4834‎

Central Falls Animal Control‎
Central Falls, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 727-7411 x3106‎

Charlestown Animal Control Shelter
Charlestown, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 364-1211‎

Coventry Police Department: Animal Control & Rescue
Coventry, Rhode Island
(401) 822-9106‎

Hopkinton Animal Control
Hopkinton, Rhode Island
(401) 377-7785‎

Lincoln Town Animal Control
Lincoln, Rhode Island
(401) 333-0950‎

North Kingstown-Exeter Animal Rescue League‎
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
(401) 294-1115‎

Pawtucket: Animal Control Officer
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
(401) 722-4243‎

Portsmouth Animal Control
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
(401) 643-0136‎

Smithfield Animal Control‎
(401) 233-1055‎

Animal Rescue League‎
Wakefield, Rhode Island
(401) 792-2233‎

Tiverton Animal Control
Tiverton, Rhode Island
(401) 624-6624‎

Warwick Police: Animal Control Officer
Warwick, Rhode Island
(401) 468-4377‎

West Greenwich Animal Control‎
West Greenwich, RI
(401) 397-8999‎

Animal Rescue League Westerly‎
Westerly, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 596-2090‎

Richmond Animal Control‎
Wyoming, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 766-6571‎

Where Am I From? It’s Complicated…

The stairs in our new house.

The stairs in our new house.

The other day an older couple stopped to smile at Madeline’s bouncy curls.  The man asked me casually, “Where are you from?”  This simple question always leaves me tongue-tied.

How do I quickly explain that we’ve spent many summers here in Newport, RI, even lived here year-round at one point, that we own a house here, currently rent another house here, but don’t really live here?  And if not here, where are we from?  Boston?  New York?

Since I don’t know where we’re from, I told him where we’re going instead:  “We’re moving to Providence.”  This, of course, prompted the whole Why Providence question, which I answered masterfully.  Not satisfied, he still wanted to know where we were from. So I told him.  Poor guy, but he asked for it.

I realize it’s odd when you can’t answer basic questions like “Where do you live?” “Where did you grow up?” “What do you do?” It’s like when someone asks, “How are you?”  They don’t want to hear your life story, they just want to hear “Fine.”  So over the years, I’ve learned to simplify.  If people ask me what I do, I pick something — usually writer, filmmaker, or publisher.  If they ask where I grew up, I say Riverdale (or the Bronx to sound edgier) since I did at least go to first through fifth grade there.  In Paris, I told people we were from New York because it was a place foreigners knew (and we did still own an apartment there).

If I do delve into the details of how we’ve spent the past decade, people assume there must be a good reason (“Military?” the old man asked us).  No, we’re not in the military or the CIA or the witness protection program.  I’m convinced we’ve been on the run from only one thing: ourselves.  In my defense, I will say that I was trained to move as often and as cavalierly as one might change their favorite purse.  By the time I was 11 years old, I had lived in nearly as many number of places.  At one point, I went to five different schools in five years.  And despite the fact that I vowed never to do this as an adult when I had the power to choose such things, I found it actually became part of my nature.  For Geoff, I think it was the opposite.  He spent his whole childhood in one Midwestern town where most of his former schoolmates now raise their families.  His grandparents literally went on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls 60-something years ago and haven’t taken a trip since.  But despite our different backgrounds, we’ve both tacitly agreed: If you keep moving, you can’t be stuck.  Which also might be seen as: something better might come along.

And that’s exactly how it hit me.  Because the first time I saw our new house, I didn’t want anything better.  I’ve never fallen in love with a house before, and it seems quite silly since it’s just a house, but I do love this house.  Geoff hesitated, but I knew that if we didn’t want this house then we must not even want a house.

So here we are, 10 days away from our closing date.  I am still careful how I phrase things to Geoff, and even myself.  I deny that we will acquire any clutter despite the fact that we’ll have more rooms than we can fill.  I convince myself that a house is not that much work after all.  And I most certainly, under all circumstances, refuse to call it settling down.

Newport, RI Rainy Day: Save the Bay

Save The Bay Exploration Center

Madeline touches a sea urchin at the Save the Bay Exploration Center.

What do you do on a rainy day in a place like Newport, RI where the summer activities include swimming, surfing and sailing?  Well if you’re among the super-cool, you’re surfing.  I know, because today we drove in the rain over to Easton’s Beach (“First Beach” to the locals) in Newport, RI where a half dozen surfers paddled out.

But if you’re looking for a more low-key adventure, then you’ll enjoy the Save The Bay Exploration Center tucked inside the beach’s rotunda.  This teeny, friendly aquarium features 14 tanks full of about 150 species that live in the Narragansett Bay.  One ‘touch tank’ allows you to reach in and hold the starfish, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and other sea critters.  The staff has abundant patience and knowledge to share with visitors. The center also has tanks with horshoe crabs, sea horses, and lobsters, as well as tables where kids can color, read or play games — all marine-themed, of course.

On rainy days, there’s no beach parking attendant which means you’ll save the $10-20 parking fee.  And your $5 admission (free for kids under 3) supports Save the Bay, an organization dedicated towards protecting, restoring and exploring Narragansett Bay.

Save The Bay Exploration Center
175 Memorial Blvd.
Newport, RI 02840

Hurricane Bill: Epic Waves in Newport, RI

Surfer Rides Wave Brought by Hurricane Bill

Hurricane Bill blew 10-20 foot swells into Newport, RI, but politely spared us the actual hurricane.  Last night, we read the surf report, which anticipated today would bring “epic” waves.  Although both First Beach in Newport, RI and Second Beach in Middletown, RI had large swells, the majority of the area’s bravest surfers headed out to the rocky coast of Newport’s Cliff Walk where they found the largest and certainly ‘epic’ (at least for Newport) swells — double overhead.  No, I was not among them.  In fact, I didn’t see one female surfer climbing in or out of the water.  So my surfboard remained safely in the basement, and I remained enviously on the shore.

Another video of RI surfing…

Olga’s Cup + Saucer

Homemade pizza with dough from Olga's Cup + Saucer.

Homemade pizza with dough from Olga's Cup + Saucer.

Olga’s Cup + Saucer began in 1988 as a seasonal bakery on a farm in Little Compton.  Over 20 years later, their popular Providence bakery makes delicious homemade breads,  scones, bagels, and other pastries using ‘traditional Artisinal techniques’.  Open for breakfast and lunch, their dishes like french toast, pulled pork sandwiches, and black forest ham pizzas all feature their homemade breads and doughs.   With their seeded bagels (more of a bready texture and covered with sunflower and other seeds) and their blueberry muffins (one covered with almond slices), you really can’t go wrong.

You can also find a selection of Olga’s pastries, breads and pizzas (as well as the ready-made dough) at a variety of farmers markets throughout the summer — Coastal Growers Farmers Market in Saunderstown, RI on Saturdays; East Greenwich Farmers Market on Mondays; and Aquidneck Growers’ Market in Newport, RI on Wednesdays and Portmouth, RI on Saturdays.  Yesterday we made a few pizzas with Olga’s thin pre-rolled dough — Geoff took the dough out of the freezer; added market tomatoes, local basil, fresh mozzarella from Narragansett Creamery, and some grilled mushrooms; and set them directly on the grill for a quick, smoky, and delicious pizza.

Olga’s Cup & Saucer
103 Point Street
Providence, RI

The Newport Antiques Show vs. Armory Antiques

The Newport Antiques Show offers fine furniture and art for antique connoisseurs.

Armory Antiques in Newport, RI features thousands of items from fine antique desks to retro Barbies.

In its third year, the Newport Antiques Show arrived in town this weekend to showcase 40 regional antique dealers selling fine carpets, antique artwork, etched wooden furniture, dishes, grandfather clocks, etc.  Not surprisingly, the show featured a lot of nautical themed objects like paintings of ocean scenes and miniature wooden boats.  The $12/person ticket cost supports the Newport Historical Society and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newport County.

I can certainly appreciate the beauty of fine antiques, but knowing very little about them makes guessing prices a bit like an absurd Price is Right.  For example, one painting I supposed worth $10,000 was being sold for $180,000.

The only thing I might consider buying was a 10×14 hand-threaded antique carpet from India circa 1920s sold by Oriental Rugs Ltd. At $9,500, it seemed a relative bargain (if you have the money) considering I saw much less interesting rugs for more money at ABC Carpet in New York City just recently.

Armory Antiques in Newport, RI features thousands of items from fine antique desks to retro Barbies.

Armory Antiques in Newport, RI features thousands of items from fine antique desks to retro Barbies.

We enjoyed the visit, but left empty-handed.  Since we hadn’t quite gotten antiquing out of our system, we decided to go to Armory Antiques on Thames Street in downtown Newport, a better bet for people like us who care only what they themselves like and prefer a bargain.  The store is open year-round with no admission charge and features antiques from over 100 dealers.  It’s a much rougher style of antique hunting — with a variety of retro games and toys like Barbie dolls (some clothed, others not), dishes stacked high, paintings leaning on furniture, and plenty of knick knacks.  Likely due to the economy, quite a bit is discounted.  I saw a charming painted wooden crèche in the form of a candle holder — when lit, the fan above swirls causing the figurines inside to circle like a carousel.  The price had been slashed three times down to “$95 firm.”  In addition, several of the vendors offered 25% off formerly “firm” priced items.

At Armory Antiques, it feels more like you might discover some treasure — not of value as an investment, but of personal value.  And in fact, an unsigned pastoral painting listed at $250 struck my eye, and I bought for $200 cash (see the photo at right).

Newport Antiques Show

Armory Antiques
365 Thames St
Newport, RI 02840