Postcard From Tom: Providence

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, plays host to a colorful mayor, a top university, a handsome waterfront and some fine places to eat. Here are three picks:

CASERTA PIZZERIA (121 Spruce St., 401-621-3618):

Forget smoked salmon and sun-dried tomatoes. This longtime pizzamaker in Federal Hill is strictly about the basics: mozzarella, pepperoni, olives, anchovies and mushrooms. Take your pick from a handful of toppings to be scattered on a thick and slightly crackling cushion of crust. The brief menu is available for carryout or eating indoors, amid stucco walls, arched windows, beer signs and, sometimes, a blasting radio. Small (six-piece) pizzas $4.50-$7.25.

L'EPICUREO (238 Atwells Ave., 401-454-8431):

"The chef buys good meat," a waiter tips us off as we settle in front of a small open kitchen with our menus. In another life, L'Epicureo was a butcher shop, its chef and co-owner, Tom Buckner, one of its employees. Heeding the server's advice, we're rewarded with delicious house-made sausage with clams, garlic and creamy white beans, and a juicy veal chop served with a crisp risotto cake. No less savory are the pasta puttanesca and breaded cod. Honeyed lighting, wood floors and snug seating add up to a modestly romantic retreat. Dinner entrees $15-$32.

MILL'S TAVERN (101 N. Main St., 401-272-3331):

The hottest ticket in town right now weighs in with wood paneling, planked floors, a great wine list and a modern American menu with a slight New England bent. From the raw bar come littlenecks on the half shell and crab claws with spicy mustard sauce; the wood-burning oven issues venison chops with black pepper oil and wine-braised beef short ribs. This is gutsy and generous food, down to the Portuguese bread pudding and Roquefort cheesecake for dessert. Dinner entrees $16.50-$27.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company