Great food is popping up all over the island

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 12:15pm
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Some say necessity is the mother of invention; in the case of some new pop-up places, Covid-19 was the spark that lit an innovative fire in three entrepreneurs. Three Sisters is housing two exciting new dining options, and The 1661 Farm and Garden homes another. Each place is super small and prepares everything to order, taking care with ingredients, textures and taste. During a busy summer when there are lots of people eating lots of mass-produced food, it is a special treat to slow down and discover the simple good food that comes out of the tiniest of kitchens. Each place only prepares meals to-go but do offer on-site seating at picnic tables with shaded areas to relax and enjoy your food.

My day of take-out-every-meal started at A&A, the new breakfast pop-up at Three Sisters. Helmed by chef Adi Mandel and his wife Alison Carley, A&A already has garnered good buzz from locals and island workers for their low prices and amazing breakfast sandwiches.

Their story begins when Covid shut down their mainland jobs and they decided to come back to the island where they had both worked before. Like many of us who suddenly had unexpected time to think and plan for “what’s next,” Alison and Adi discovered a desire to create something all their own. Alison talked to Brigid Price, her long-time friend and proprietor of Three Sisters, who suggested that they might try to make a go of a breakfast spot and voila, A&A started planning how to put out simple delicious food in a tiny, shared space.

Luckily Adi “loves small kitchens, I love being creative and finding ways to adapt and make the space and food work with what we have.” Alison noted that “Brigid’s philosophy is that everything is possible; she designed the outside order station and all the systems to keep the place covid-safe,” A&A espouses the same protections shared by the other two businesses in this space: Names and phone numbers are taken with every order (for contact tracing if needed) and all take-out containers are compostable. Ingredients are top-notch— there’s real maple syrup that comes with the not-too-sweet but oh-so-good French Toast casserole, local—that’s Littlefield Bee Honey in the honey-whipped butter served with a delicious banana muffin—and customizable for each person. “How do you like your breakfast?” Adi asks of each order. “Do you want your eggs runny or firm? You can add tomato, avocado, arugula—I make each sandwich the way you want it.”

Though they only opened a few weeks ago, Alison already knows the names and orders of several regulars who come most every day. The egg sandwiches have a great reputation among islanders, especially the “Jersey” served with crispy, salty Taylor Ham, cheese, and a perfectly cooked egg that oozes oh so gently when you take a bite. The crunch of the ham contrasted with the softness of the Italian roll is like eating a happy sigh. My favorite was the “Hopped Up,” which refers to Adi’s own coffee-and-bacon jam creation that gives you a hit of smokey, meaty bacon, a hint of maple syrup, caramelized onions and coffee in every bite. Not only is it amazing, it’s addictive—I want to buy it and put it on everything breakfast ever.

If you’re looking for lighter fare, homemade granola topped with fresh fruit will hit the spot, and every week there’s a special—it might be dollar banana pancakes, it could be sausage biscuits with gravy, or muffins made with local blueberries. Dave’s coffee completes the meal, which you can eat outside on the picnic tables next to the shop or take home with you. The food reheats beautifully; I ended up eating the French toast casserole for lunch and it was still eggy and buttery, bursting with cinnamon and hints of caramel. Open every day from 7 to 10:30 a.m., A&A is a great way to start your day.

Farmstead Refreshments, the new food truck at the 1661 Farm, is a lovely new place to grab some lunch. Kelly Walsh had plans in motion to get the food truck up and running this spring, and then Covid struck. Undaunted by the challenges that emerged from the pandemic, Kelly persevered and opened on July 1st serving a variety of smoothies, salads and menu items that are homages to “food truck food.” Kelly sources as much as possible from 1661 Farm and Farm Fresh RI, and it’s a treat to drink a pineapple and kale smoothie while looking at the garden where the kale is growing. That same garden grows the zucchini and yellow squash and other vegetables that are cut up and glazed with a light teriyaki sauce for the popular stir fry n’ rice bowl that is filling yet light in taste and texture. A Polynesian Poké Bowl has a built-in following from Kelly’s days at the Farmer’s Market and Topside, and tasted just as I remembered. A fistful of raw Ahi tuna that’s marinated in a sesame-tamari sauce was super fresh and succulent, mixed with red onions and seasoned rice that let the tuna taste dominate each bite. 

Sandwiches range from grilled pimento cheese and bacon to a lovely Cheesy Caprese and Pesto on grilled sourdough bread. Oozing with fresh mozzarella and and cheddar along with a hint of balsamic vinegar and a juicy tomato, this sandwich exudes summer in each bite. House-made tortilla chips dusted with sweet and spicy rub added a nice crunch to the dish. This is a place you can bring your kids to, the truck sits outside an exotic animal farm and they can watch the goats faint and the alpacas graze while they wait for their hot dog or grilled cheese that comes with a lemonade. Kelly’s motto is “Seed to Soul,” and it shows in every item on her menu, right down to the very refreshing Winnie Palmer, a berry tea with lemonade that tastes wonderful on a hot summer day.

Dinner put me back at Three Sisters for the new Sister Sister pop-up started by Brigid’s sister Molly. It’s familiar ground for Molly who started Three Sisters 22 years ago with Brigid, then moved to NYC to start her career as an actress. Fast-forward to March 2020 when everything shut down and Molly and her family decided to get out of the city and come back to their home on the island. Molly decided that she’d like to do a take-out dinner business with food that no one else on the island was doing, and make it organic, locally sourced, and unique. Out of these plans emerged Sister Sister, open nights from Thursday to Sunday. Molly’s friend Stu-from-Scotland, who had also left NYC early in the season, agreed to be the grilland-dessert man. Stu saw the virus as an opportunity, not just to cook with his friend but to spend quality time with his two children on an island he’s grown to love. The two began menu planning and food sourcing, working within the limitations of a shared space and a backyard grill for the cooking. Molly knew she wanted the best of the best but also wanted to keep it local, so lots of research went into choosing vendors in Rhode Island and nearby who cared about food and how it’s made as much as she did. Choosing Pat’s Pastured Hot Dogs was easy as this small private farm in East Greenwich raises their animals on grassy pastures, giving their uncured, organic beef hotdogs a meaty taste free of fillers and nitrates. Paired with a pile of smokey grilled Vidalia onions, small-batch-caraway sauerkraut fermented in Providence, intensely flavored Wickles pickles relish, and organic baked beans from Walnut Acres, this hot dog tastes of simple food made spectacular. Everyone at my house agreed this was the best hot dog they’ve ever eaten. Sister Sister’s other menu offering is equally amazing in its combination of flavors and textures. Local bread maker Iggy’s giant sourdough crostini is the crusty grilled base for two amazing meals.

The Mermaid sports three different kinds of organic mushrooms cooked down into their most umami form and are joined by tender bites of red and organic beets amidst a marinated kale salad with citrus notes and smoked seaweed salt adding another layer upon layer of flavor. A lemon zest and fresh thyme infused ricotta cheese holds it all together atop the crostini so each bite gives you a creamy, crunchy, sweet, tart and happy mix of tastes all at once. Our second crostini was equally enchanting— the Bodacious Crustaceous was light and luscious with Asian notes from a Japanese source’s fish sauce and overflowing with fresh Jonah crabmeat adorned only with a tangy citrus dressing. It is refreshing to eat crabmeat free of mayonnaise, topped instead with crunchy fennel, cucumber, jalapeño and celery tapenade which tasted as good as it looked. Tart blueberry lemonade accompanied our meals and we finished with a homemade peach crumble made by Stu. He makes the crumble “the same way my family always made it” and says he’ll change it up depending on what’s in season—look for blackberry crumble later in August with some blueberries and raspberries mixed in.

This is food that is made with care and intention, and that’s something special on an island that is full of special places. BYOB and park at a picnic table or take it to-go, treat yourself to a meal at Sister Sister and enjoy a good meal that will leave you feeling nourished and happy.