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EAT THIS CITY: Chef Matt Varga Shares His ‘Can’t Miss’ Food Experiences In Providence

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We’re rounding out 2015 with Providence, R.I. in our new series, EAT THIS CITY. Happy New Year to all!

Providence, R.I., is situated one hour from Boston, three hours from New York City, three hours from Portland, Maine, and a hop skip and a jump to Cape Cod. This tiny capital city in the Northeast experienced a culinary renaissance in early 2000, and now there are endless farm to table options, and scores of locally sourced goodness to fill your belly. The locals flock to the farmers markets every week, and are truly committed to supporting their community.

Matt Varga, Executive Chef of Gracie’s, isn’t a Providence native, but he went for culinary school and never left. He hails from Connecticut where his Italian family had dinner ready at 6 p.m. every night and no one ever missed it. He’s been cooking since he was old enough to work, and recalls quite fondly his big break coming on his 16th birthday (when he was promoted to fry cook from dishwasher).

He loves the camaraderie and creativity of restaurant life, and getting to work with his hands. Gracie’s is a cozy but upscale spot in Providence that features locally sourced New American cuisine. The condensed environment of the city makes it feel as if it’s bursting with creativity, and he marks it a top culinary destination in the U.S., on par with San Francisco and New York.

Here are 15 places to get you started (after you visit Matt at Gracie’s).

PIZZA

Figdini Wood Fired Eatery

Figidini is my pizza of choice because they offer a unique menu of traditional Neapolitian style pizzas, and seasonally inspired small plates. Their pizza is fresh, authentic, rustic, and delivers a satisfying crispy crust. All the food is cooked using wood fire, and I’d consider it a must-see when visiting downtown Providence.

TACOS/MEXICAN

Talulah’s Taqueria

I know I have been a good boy when a barbacoa and bean burrito is waiting for me after a long day. Jake and his team really know how to layer that flava. Don’t forget to try the carnitas and wash it all down with an agua fresca.

 ASIAN

Apsara (Elmwood)

I was first turned on to this place a few years ago when I met my Cambodian chef friend Neath for lunch. I’ve found myself coming back over and over because the food is just that good. Make sure to try the black pepper chicken wings, which are so crispy and delicious, especially with the vinegar sauce. I also love the roast duck with baby Shanghai and ginger. The Natang is a must with those crispy rice cakes and spicy meat sauce.

STREET FOOD

Mama Kim’s

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Don’t miss the pork kimchi, it’s delicious, spicy and flavorful. My wife loves the beef bulgogi, which is also outstanding. Located around college hill, it’s definitely worth the search.

SWEET FOOD

Seven Stars Bakery

A morning staple for me, I just can’t get enough sticky buns in my life. The coffee is on point and so are the ham and cheese croissants. Freshly baked bread and other treats too!

FINE DINING

Persimmon Provisions

A very special restaurant, run by husband and wife team Champe and Lisa Speidel, Persimmon is located just a short drive from Providence, in Bristol. Champ is an artist when it comes to food and his techniques are spot on. He treats each ingredient with care and precision. The service is also impeccable. They really have it down here. I would absolutely suggest their tasting menu, you won’t be disappointed.

CASUAL DINING

Broadway Bistro

One of my favorite spots to eat is Broadway Bistro. I love the ribs and grits, and the pea green salad! Try the crusty hen when it’s on the menu, and definitely check to see what Ben is running on special.

VEGETARIAN

The Grange

While Chef Matt hasn’t eaten at the restaurant, he hears nothing but good things about Chef John Dille, and has heard no one misses the meat!

BRUNCH

Nick’s On Broadway

The best brunch I’ve had in Providence! Nick’s specializes in simple, high-quality, farm-to-table food. Everything is delicious, fresh, and locally sourced.

FOOD IN THE CITY

Olneyville New York System

I like my wieners “all the way” with yellow mustard, onion, celery salt, and meat sauce served on a steamed bun. Don’t forget the coffee milk!

UNIQUE CULINARY EXPERIENCE

north

A favorite of mine, north never disappoints. James and his team are constantly pushing to give their guests a unique eating experience. The flavors are bold and in your face. They create a balance of spicy, sweet, bitter and sour notes that is unmatched and unexpected. Get the dan dan noodles with squid, piled high with cilantro and shredded mutton. The noodles are thick, short, and chewy, and soak up all the flavors. They also serve the best Dr. Pepper in town.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Haribo Gummies!!!

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HANGOVER FOOD

Kitchen

I wouldn’t know about this, I don’t get hangovers. But if I did have a hangover, I would be looking for a banging breakfast from Kitchen. Kitchen is a truly tiny joint, but they deliver a dang good breakfast. Everything is on point, but their croissant French toast, served with rich amber syrup, is a standout.

DATE NIGHT

New Rivers

A favorite date spot for my wife and I. Chef Beau’s ever changing menu is creative and inspirational. Start off with some charcuterie and oysters then try the handmade pasta. I love the small plates and fresh salads too. Definitely save room for a lemon curd tart and some cookies. The restaurant is intimate and warm, and the service discreet and professional.

RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND

Chez Pascal

Owned and operated by Matt and Kristen Genusso, Chez Pascal is perfect for any occasion. Their seasonal French inspired menu is constantly changing utilizing the highest quality of locally sourced ingredients. Matt is a master of all things Pork, his charcuterie plate is a must. The onion soup gratinée is the best I have ever had and the duck is always on point. Stop in for Lunch and have a bite in the Wurst Kitchen where you can enjoy house made sausages and small plates.

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier-level chef in a different city sharing their hometown eating tips! Revisit MemphisOrange CountyBoston or Detroit here.

See you next week!

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