Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is bad folks. Real bad. For several weeks now I have been traveling back and forth between Rhode Island and Florida. What’s wrong with that, you say? Well this entire blog is based on provocative travel and food experiences yet it seems I can only talk about the amazing foodie culture around the Southern New England shoreline. I mean… geez… how many lobster rolls and clams can one man consume in the pursuit Maslow's self-actualization pinnacle. And with two more weeks here, there is no end in site. Any new blog reader would take a look and say, “That guy must live in Rhode Island”. I’m from Florida people! Oh well, I’ll just suffer through the myriad of dining experiences and make you put up with me writing about it –DON’T you move that mouse!!!!

Some experiences are timeless. After dining at the Mews Tavern in Wakefield, Rhode Island I decided I needed to know more about the history of the early American tavern. It appears that the first Taverns, called Ordinarys at the time, were actually mandated by the early Puritans. In the mid 1600’s gathering places were needed so communities had a sense of cohesion. Sometimes solutions are so simple. But of course one problem solved can often lead to a new problem. For reasons still a bit foggy to me, the Puritans had issues with drunkenness. And Taverns were the place for the seedier in the community to gather. Oh sure, there was mostly legitimate business conducted but much like today, there are always a few bad apples to spoil the bushel. So laws and fines were written to combat this moral debauchery. Laws like –“Only one tavern per town and near the court house”, blah blah blah.

An interesting character of the time was the Innkeeper. Apparently, some communities frowned on this person’s career choice. He was a lower class member of most towns. But the flip side of that is that he was often the most talked about and colorful character and he was well chronicled by sojourners. In a 1686 trip to Boston, one traveler from London writes about the Tavern and its proprietor:

"There was no one house in all the town more noted, or where a man might meet with better accommodation. Besides, he was a brisk and jolly man, whose conversation was coveted by all his guests as the life and spirit of the company."

Had I been alive in that time, I would have wanted to be an Innkeeper. So the evolution from there is rather natural and inauspicious. What we consider short car rides or even short plane rides could take days to accomplish back in the day and with no Motel 6 in sight, the colorful and sometimes dangerous Tavern was a watering hole as well as an overnight destination. They were found in every town no matter the size.

In the small town of Wakefield Rhode Island, a short drive from Providence, I found a wildly popular modern day Tavern. The Mews (as it’s called) serves fantastic pub fare with a page turning extensive menu. With no need for sleeping quarters any more, the space here is taken up by family tables and several bars throughout the maze of this structure. I believe there is even a wine bar on the upper level but I have not ventured up there.

The tradition of town gathering place could not be more true here either. You could miss Wakefield in a blink if driving by yet The Mews was disproportionately busy. As usual when eating alone, I headed to the bar to grab a drink and see the menu. Locals are friendly and conversive and I soon learn that this establishment is known for its unparalleled beer menu. So after ordering a local brew, I settled on a calzone in the fashion of a Philly Cheese Steak. This non traditional pairing of styles works perfectly together. Oh, I know there are purists out there that say a Philly Cheese is a Philly Cheese and a calzone is a calzone, but I say –Get a life!!!! This was damned good. The melted cheese over the tender shaved and peppery steak with sliced button mushrooms was quite reminiscent of several trips to Philadelphia. Then to have it wrapped up in a perfect calzone was just magical. I don’t say “perfect” lightly either. The crust had just the right thickness and crispness. It is made fresh daily and cooked in a wood fired oven. Unbelievable.

So heading back to my hotel, I imagined what it must have been like. Aside from the obvious modern conveniences, my night was like many nights experienced by other travelers dating back to the 1600’s here in New England. I am far from home, in unfamiliar territory, yet I find a place that is comforting and welcomes me. The food is fresh and the company hospitable. I enjoy my conversation and meal then head off to bed as the sun falls beyond the horizon.

Some experiences are timeless.


Anonymous said...

Love the blog! There's a couple of things about the Mews that you didn't mention. It used to be a stable (I believe that is the meaning of the word Mews) and in fact the floor of the bar slopes down towards the back windows (now overlooking the back parking lot). It was intentionally built that way to facilitate the shoveling of manure out the back of the building. The second interesting thing that many people miss is the progression of paintings hung around the barroom that depict a colonial era patron in the progressive stages of drunkeness. Check these things out when you go back.


Anonymous said...

Oh and one other thing- if you find yourself in the wine bar, walk just a little further till you can't walk any more, and you'll find yourself in the Marilyn Monroe room. Worth the walk, my friend.......rfs