The last time I was at Poor People’s Pub, I was drinking ale in the sunshine, a woman was hula-hooping and a tight reggae band called Root Down Hoe Down was smashing down the wicked wall of Babylon. Given it was a random Sunday, it’s tough to feel more like you’re on vacation than that, and all it took was a ride on a ferry. I spoke with Ross Audino, head chef at Poor People’s Pub and co-owner alongside his wife Brenna. The same joy-focused think tank that gave me my Sunday “Rehab Brunch” experience is dreaming even bigger, with bacon. June 11 is Bacon Fest on Block Island. There will be bacon, there will be lots of it and eating it will make you a good person, because all food is donated, and proceeds go to Block Island Conservancy, an organization dedicated to protecting Block Island’s Natural Heritage.
A bacon festival on a windswept island; this is my sort of romance novel. What’s this all for?
One of the big things we’ve tried to do at the pub is give back to the community as much as we can, and we do that through our food. We host the Bacon Fest through the Block Island Conservancy and do bacon hors d’oeuvres. Other chefs get to come and participate and be a little competitive. Every year it’s different chefs from different restaurants. We’ve seen everything from chocolate-covered bacon to lamb bacon. Every year it changes, every year it’s gotten a little weirder.
How do I know if I am one of the chosen? I mean, erm, how do I get in?
You buy a wristband and then you can walk through. All the chefs have their own table set up; you can either load your plate up or try as you go. People mostly hang out outside, the cocktails are flowing and you get to eat. It’s fun.
You said you and your wife “own a restaurant on Block Island somehow.” Can you elaborate on the somehow?
My wife and I met working out on BI at another restaurant, and we kind of realized that we’d never be able to afford to own a place out here, so we ended up leaving the island. We’d both been here a long time. I was cooking and she was managing restaurants. We moved to Boston, and I got a phone call saying that a space had become available on the island.
Then, a day later I got a phone call from our friend who is now our business partner, Bo Keating, saying he wanted to open a new Poor People’s Pub. The rest is history I guess. We both put our noses down, Bo mortgaged his house and we opened a restaurant on a wing and a prayer. Every day is a struggle, but we love it. We are going into our sixth season now. We’ve had a lot of support from the community.
I saw Conch Fritters on your specials menu, as well as Duck Pho. However, you can also just get a hot dog. What are you going for with your food?
I’ve got a great team of cooks and chefs and it’s important for us to be creative and keep it fun. I think even with our basic stuff we really like to surprise our customers and give them the best thing that we can. Our motto is nothing fancy, just good grub, and we like to be able to give the masses nice food at a good price.
I love to see the local farms on the menu. Who are you featuring?
We work with Sunset Farm and Sprague Farm pretty closely. Every year I purchase as much beef and pork from them as I can. Sunset Farm is in Narragansett, and Sprague Farm is here on Block Island. In the summertime, we get about 75% of our produce from Sunset Farm.
I saw a brand new smoker on your Facebook. Did you get new toys this winter?
We do a lot of pig roasts at Poor People’s Pub. One of our niches is smoking things, so we’ve been having a lot of fun. Anything from fish, to whole pigs, to vegetables, we’re playing around being creative with something new. We usually do pig roasts for parties and events to kind of make it a special thing, like Bacon Fest, or, we have a big season opener party. We try to get the skin kinda crispy, and keep the meat nice and juicy. Start it with high heat and then it just slow cooks.
33 Ocean Avenue, Block Island