We always try to discover a different restaurant during Providence Restaurant weeks. Our discovery was even better last year when we discovered Warwick’s Iron Works Tavern. We not only found a menu featuring outstanding haute cuisine but also a building steeped in history.
Iron Works Tavern, site of the historical Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works at 697 Jefferson Boulevard, built by industrialist Thomas Jefferson Hill in 1867, is connected to the new Hilton Garden Inn, across the street from T.F. Green’s new parking garage that connects airline passengers via a people mover to the airport.
The restaurant is in the original offices of the Iron Works and has been meticulously restored, maintaining the original 30-foot ceiling, high beams and bricks. Most notable is the eight-foot, 300-pound solid oak front door. The original bricks of the demolished adjacent factory were used in the construction of the modern hotel.
A framed article by the late Don D’Amato, former history professor and Beacon writer, telling the history of the Iron Works, hangs proudly on one wall, surrounded throughout the restaurant by original photos of the men and women who worked in the factory. The second floor has also been carefully restored, featuring a large meeting space, complete with its own kitchen and bar, plus private meeting rooms, all with the original woodwork and windows. The original steep staircase remains, but an elevator has been installed, making the entire facility handicapped accessible.
Owners Joe and Lori Piscopio owned the Jefferson Grill across the street. Lori said she would look at that beautiful building and see its potential. Three years ago they started putting in 100-hour weeks with the dream of turning the old building into what has become a Warwick landmark.
A good sign of a successful restaurant is the ability to keep its staff. When we dine at Iron Works, we look for Chuck Humphries, who Lori says she “stole” from the Capitol Grill. The Central Falls native has over 21 years in the business and knows how to take care of his customers.
While the history and the beauty of the facility could fill a book, the eclectic menu is an equal partner in making the Iron Works Tavern one of the “must do” destinations, for not only airline travelers and hotel guests but for everyone in Rhode Island who enjoys fine dining.
I remember the “real” Rhode Island clam chowder I enjoyed during my Restaurant Week luncheon. Served in clam broth with the tender morsels ground up, not diced, it had the perfect blend of potatoes, onions and celery ($3.95 lunch/$4.95 dinner).
Iron Works has a true Rhode Island flavor. For appetizers, try the Point Judith calamari: Rhode Island style with hot peppers or Asian style with a sesame glaze and scallions ($8.95). Their fried smelts, not found in many restaurants, are made with house-made vinegar and onion sauce ($7.95). Sesame Crusted Ahi tuna is served raw with Wasabi Aioli, seaweed salad and siracha ($12.95). Rolled stuffed eggplant ($8.95) is a favorite, brought to Iron Works from a recipe developed at the Piscopio’s former restaurant.
Chef Duffney’s signature stuffed pumpkin is back on the menu for the early fall season, and it is something like we have never experienced.
“Customers start asking for it in September,” Lori said. “It has become an Iron Works tradition.”
A fresh pumpkin is filled with scallops, dried cranberries, spinach, focaccia croutons and brown sugar rum butter and served over a saffron cream sauce, resulting in a savory taste experience. We couldn’t remember when or if we had ever eaten freshly cooked pumpkin.
Iron Works has daily luncheon specials under $10, including pizzas, burgers, salads, entrees and sandwiches. My advice is to go on Mondays and enjoy Chef Duffney’s signature meatloaf.
Speaking of signature dishes, Iron Works offers one that we have never had anywhere else. My favorite meal, until the other night, was a slow cooked lamb shank. Iron Works has a dish to top that.
Visitors from Vancouver were enjoying the Pork Osso Bucco at the next table, tempting us to both order the same dish – something we rarely do.
Something else we hardly ever do is agree on our favorite dish, but the braised pork, served in a rustic tomato sauce over fine linguini, was so tender and delicious that we have been raving about it ever since. At $18.95, it was worth every penny.
Lori says that the clientele is a mix of tourists, hotel guests, local business people and Rhode Islanders who are recently discovering them. Corporate, political and family parties are filling the classy upstairs rooms almost every night. The upcoming opening of the Ocean State Theatre Company just down the street will give theatregoers another dining option.
With so many fine restaurants to choose from in Rhode Island, we can truly say that Iron Works is one of the best. Restaurant hours are Monday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. and Sunday from 3-10 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended. Call 739-5111. Visit their attractive website at www.the ironworkstavern.com.