One of the most beloved restaurants in Warren’s eclectic downtown culinary scene was Eli’s Kitchen, the brainchild of Food Network show Chopped champion and award-winning chef Eli Dunn. It was a favorite not only for Warrenites but for Rhode Islanders of all coasts and counties.
When Eli’s closed at the end of 2020, many local foodies were too forlorn to focus on the potential of what could take its place. As an OG appreciator of Warren eats, I felt the same sting when we lost the predecessor to Eli’s: Bebop Burrito. I didn’t want to move on, but I was so happy when I did.
The cozy space on 40 Market Street changes hands once again, this time to Hunky Dory. Co-owners Sam Duling and Joanna Ray were both employees of Eli’s Kitchen when it shuttered, so it’s no surprise that Hunky Dory continues many of chef Dunn’s values – including serving comfort food and a strong dedication to sourcing their ingredients from local farms. With this in mind, I couldn’t wait to try what the duo had up their sleeves.
First up was the Smoked Baffoni Chicken Wings, which are stunning in presentation alone: A dry-spice base is striped with thick, sweet, Alabama white barbecue sauce. These wings are a great introduction to what Hunky Dory has to offer. You’re getting a meaty, smoked chicken wing with a clearly Southern-inspired combination of peppery heat and a tangy, mayo-based sweetness – a one-two punch of bold flavors from two very different directions.
Another starter on the table is their delectable Pimento Cheese. Served with several large sheets of seeded cracker, the ultra-rich cheese is topped with candied jalapeños, offering a striking and welcome contrast. This was, bar none, my favorite pimento cheese experience (and yes, I do mean experience).
Thoroughly impressed with the appetizers, I was ready for the main course. The Fried Chicken Sandwich is a thick, satisfying breast with a peppery, crunchy fry. It was a larger sandwich than I expected, in the best way. With a dollop of ramp leaf ranch dressing and pickles, this big boy is served on a Martin’s sesame seed potato roll. With just a hint of bite to it, this is what a fried chicken sandwich should be.
The Smokehouse Sandwich is a combination of bratwurst, smoked onion, more of those incredible candied jalapeños, and some Carolina gold barbecue sauce. It’s a sweet (and slightly mustard-y) left turn from the Fried Chicken Sandwich, and although bratwurst is often the main player, this sandwich features a rotating cast of sausages from local farms.
Finally, we arrive at the Hunky Burger. The HB is a Stony Creek Farm smash burger delicately topped with Cabot cheddar, onion, dill pickles, and special sauce. Smash burgers give you a crispier, thinner patty than traditional burgers, and chef Duling pairs them with their steal-the-show steak fries. Crunchy, and so thoroughly potato-forward, Hunky Dory fries are worth the trip alone.
For a northern coastal town, Hunky Dory is covering an underrepresented style, Southern cuisine – and they’re serving it with care, grace, and white barbecue sauce.