I wonder what J.P. Morgan and John Jacob Astor would think of The American, one of the newer establishments on the Providence restaurant scene. Their portraits hang high on the olive green walls of this stylish eatery, and they look down at people eating food bearing their names. The J.P. Morgan is a fancy roast beef sandwich, and the John Jacob Astor is a gourmet burger. Both items are on the lunch menu at The American.
The American is dedicated to those turn-of-the-century industrialists (and we’re talking 1900, not the most recent turn of the century) who made our country great. The restaurant is housed in what used to be the Rhode Island Locomotive Works, a steam locomotive manufacturing company in business between 1867 and 1906. The brick building in which we dined used to be the workplace for more than 1,400 men who produced thousands of steam engines during that time period. In 1906, the company merged with the American Locomotive Works (ALCO); the production of locomotives was moved to New York, and the building was then used to manufacture the Alco, a version of the French Berliet luxury car and the finest car produced in the United States prior to World War I. The business folded in 1913 because of poor sales, but the plant manager,Walter P. Chrysler, went on to found the Chrysler Corporation.
The American clearly occupies hallowed halls. It most definitely has the feel of a men’s club with its dark woodwork, blazing fireplace and fine appointments. The menu is a curious mix of the elite and the common, from Oysters Rockefeller and pricey steaks to daily specials that range from Spaghetti and Meatballs to Fish and Chips. The American is the third restaurant in the Adirondack Restaurant Group, joining The Abbey (also in Providence) and Buster Krab’s in Narragansett.
Anyone following a high-protein eating plan will appreciate the Steakhouse Bacon ($3.50), a rather unusual appetizer on The American’s menu. This is one long strip of premium smoked bacon, close to a quarter-inch thick, and well cooked so that most of the fat has been rendered. This is a meaty first course, with not a carb on the plate. It was more than enough to share with Brian. He enjoyed his bites of bacon with a beer, and I liked mine with a glass of Pinot Gris.
Our second appetizer, the Mussels and Fries ($12), was almost a meal in itself. One pound of locally sourced mussels was presented in a large white bowl, with an accompanying bowl for us to place the shells. Every mussel was open, steamed in a subtle dijon cream sauce with plenty of garlic, so itwas easy to extricate every little nugget of seafood. I only wish there was some good bread on the table so that I could have sopped up some of that flavorful broth. Instead, we made do with the extraordinary fries that had been drizzled with truffle oil and dusted ever so lightly with Parmesan cheese.
We continued this theme of sharing with our salad course. I loved every bite of The American ($10), mixed field greens tossed with sweet and savory ingredients: dried tart cherries, red onions, toasted walnuts and plenty of fresh Gorgonzola. Everything was lightly coated with a creamy garlic and cracked pepper dressing.
One of our entrees was quite expensive, and the other was a bargain, again indicative of the elite coexisting with the common man. Brian chose the 10-ounce Filet Mignon ($35), and I selected the Yankee Pot Roast ($15). Our side dishes ($5 each) – Smashed Idaho Potatoes and Sautéed Spinach – were large enough to share. Every single component of this main course was excellent. The delicious steak was at least two inches thick and cooked medium, exactly as ordered. It came with a choice in toppings. Brian went with the caramelized onion and blue cheese crumble on the side, but found he didn’t need it. Every bite of his unadulterated filet mignon was thoroughly enjoyed. The slow-roasted pot roast was pure nostalgia on a plate. No knifewas needed to cut the tender chunks of beef surrounded by baby carrots and onions in an au jus. The smashed potatoes were just that, smashed, not mashed, so lumps were to be expected. The spinach was the biggest surprise, almost tasting like broccoli rabe with its heady flavor of garlic.
There are but four desserts on the menu: Apple Crisp, Mississippi Mud Pie, Key Lime Pie and Boston Cream Pie ($7). We hadn’t had Boston Cream Pie in years, maybe even decades, so that was our choice. This classic all-American dessert did not disappoint with its two layers of moist yellow cake, a custard filling between the layers and a dark chocolate icing over the top. Again, this was perfect for sharing – although it tasted so good, I wished it were all mine.
Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.