If you’ve lived in Providence for a decade or more, you probably still remember when the abandoned Masonic temple haunted the city’s skyline like a hollow gray tomb. In 2007, the construction that halted 78 years earlier was finally completed and the building was vibrantly resurrected as a Renaissance Hotel. Temple, the hotel’s original restaurant, closed at the end of 2012, and this fall Public Kitchen & Bar opened in its place. The basic layout of the restaurant remains the same, but new colors and materials, like antiqued mirrors, give the space a distinct feel.
We were seated in a horseshoe-shaped side booth, a private nook for a romantic meal given the right company. We started with cocktails; I ordered the Repossessed ($12), a smoky tequila-based cocktail flavored with bell pepper, mescal smoke, lime and Sriracha, served with an alderwood smoked black sea salt rim. If this combination looks good to you on paper, you’ll probably like it as much as I did. My husband got the Whiskey Hollow ($12), a fall riff on a whiskey sour with maple syrup and rosemary. Public Kitchen & Bar’s menu is best described as upscale comfort food.
None of the menu items seem fussy, but signature touches and creative ingredients take them beyond the basic versions. The dinner menu is divided into Soup/Salads, Small Plates, Pizza, Sandwiches, Large Plates and Sides, each with a few well-picked offerings. The menu demonstrates how they’ve risen to the challenge of a hotel restaurant – to offer crowd-pleasing choices that everyone expects, like a hamburger or steak, alongside must-have dishes for Rhode Island visitors like clam chowder and lobster roll sliders. A focus on comfort food might prompt some diners to consider the prices high for the “simpler” dishes (like the $17 burger or $14 mac and cheese), but with quality ingredients, the pricing is pretty much on par with comparable restaurants.
The Chef’s Bar Bites Board ($16) seemed like the perfect way to get a taste of several menu items and a feel for the chef’s abilities. On the day we visited, the board featured Buffalo-style Cauliflower, Super Food Salad, English Muffin Pizzas and Beef Sliders. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’ll try anything “buffalo” at least once, but I felt no shame in loving this Buffalo Roasted Beet Salad Cauliflower, lightly fried and saturated with spicy flavor. The Super Food Salad is available on the regular menu and consists of farro, pomegranate, spinach, mint and hazelnuts in Chardonnay vinaigrette. I love grain-based salads, and the flavor combination of mint and hazelnut was spot on. The English Muffin Pizzas paired mild mortadella with a surprise burst of pistachio. Expertly cooked Beef Sliders, basically miniature hamburgers, established why friends raved about the restaurant’s hamburger entrée.
For our main course, we shared the Fried Chicken n’ Waffles ($17) and Lobster Sliders ($16). The chicken was listed as a large plate and the sliders as small, but the amount of food was similar. Cheddar jalapeño waffles were smeared with herb butter, topped with buttermilk-fried chicken breast and surrounded with dots of brown butter maple glaze. Public’s version of the popular dish is somewhere in the middle on the casual and fine dining chicken and waffles continuum. I can’t say it’s the best chicken and waffles I’ve ever tried- that honor is reserved for Bouchon in Las Vegas, which sets the bar astronomically high. Still, it was delicious and will hit the spot for anyone with a chicken and waffles craving, not an easy one to satisfy in Rhode Island. The three lobster roll sliders were on par with lobster rolls I’ve had in state, but to our surprise the star of the dish was the pile of perfect homemade Old Bay potato chips.
When we spotted the Chef’s dessert Board ($13) on the menu, we hoped it would be as diverse and exciting as the appetizer board - and it was. Two small mugs held Matcha Crème Brûlée. Mini Carrot Cakes were topped with swirls of cream cheese frosting. A stack of airy Almond Meringues promised not to fill us up too much and a single homemade Snickers- esque candy bar sat in a swirl of caramel. It was a dessert lover’s dream and ideal to share.
We enjoyed the whole meal, but were especially impressed by the appetizer and dessert boards. These two dishes really showed off the kitchen’s creativity and would make an ideal light meal for two - one I’d like to repeat someday.
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