Back in the day, just about everyone went to the Barnsider’s Mile & A Quarter, a restaurant so popular it had two locations in little Rhode Island, one at the old Rhode Island Mall in Warwick and the other off South Main Street in Providence. This was a classic restaurant of yesteryear, famous for having the best salad bar in the state. But salad bars became passé, and one by one the Barnsider restaurants closed.
So anyone who’s been around for a while will be curious about the new Mile & A Quarter, which has opened in the same but totally renovated surroundings at 334 South Water Street in Providence. The restaurant’s name refers to the length of a horse race, but don’t expect that theme to be running through the stylish interior. This is a big, handsome restaurant with a large bar at the entrance and a spread-out dining area, offering river and city views from the best seats in the house. The colors are neutral with lots of dark leather and wooden floors. The walls are hung with oversized paintings and unusual posters. The craftsman-style lighting offers warm earth-tone touches of color. I especially like the small bar in the dining room, where you can enjoy a quiet aperitif or a nightcap.
Virtually the same eclectic menu is available at lunch and dinner, with additional entrees available at night, many with strong Mediterranean influences. Jeff Paquette, formerly of Andreas and Spain, is the talented chef in the kitchen, offering new and unusual dishes as well as Rhode Island staples such as Point Judith calamari and a grilled Margherita pizza. The more intriguing appetizers ($10 to $14) are the grilled octopus, kataifi (Greek pastry) wrapped sea scallops and lamb kefthedes. The latter was my favorite, a dish of small meatballs made from tender ground lamb baked in tomato sauce with feta cheese and topped with the most perfectly grilled garlic crostini I’ve ever had.
There are four salads ($7 to $9) on the menu, and one soup, a shrimp and butternut squash bisque.
Lunchtime sandwiches ($10 to $14) include a prime burger, all natural chicken, and a surprisingly sweet artisan BLT on focaccia bread – from the tomato jam, which I liked very much. The roasted mushroom melt is a panini, with a rich mix of goat cheese and Gruyere. The crab cake and avocado sandwich sounded so promising, but next time I would deconstruct it and remove the tomato and Bermuda onion that overpowered the delicate flavors of crab and avocado. On the side were some truffle fries, which were good but I would have liked more truffle flavor.
The current dinner menu has ten tempting entrees ($15 to $24), a well thought out mix of beef, lamb, chicken, seafood and pasta. Filet mignon and Black Angus sirloin are listed for grilled meat lovers, both with potato puree and either wilted spinach or Brussels sprouts as the vegetable. Sure to be a popular winter dish is the Chianti braised Colorado lamb shank. The seafood possibilities include grilled Atlantic swordfish, pan-seared sea scallops and pan-roasted Scottish salmon. Italian food lovers will be interested in the rigatoni al carbonara, the rosemary noodle ragu and the wild mushroom risotto.
We tried two of the three desserts ($7 each) on the menu, and they were fantastic. Three profiteroles, filled with mascarpone and ricotta cheese, were drizzled generously with a thick dark chocolate sauce. A thick serving of incredibly smooth cheesecake was even better than that, topped with a mixture of sweet berries. We hated to see it end.
In keeping that unusual Mile & a Quarter name, perhaps owner Andy Mitrellis is hoping his place will be a thoroughbred in the city’s burgeoning stable of excellent restaurants. Mitrellis has operated a number of restaurants on the East Side, including Andreas, Paragon, Viva, Spats and the Better Burger Company. The general manager is another familiar face – Mario Panagos, formerly at Paragon on Thayer Street.
If you never went to the old Mile & a Quarter, you might find it a bit hard to locate. It’s tucked in between South Main and South Water streets. Just look for the big blue sign and the matching awning. If you time it right, you just might catch a spectacular sunset at dinner.