Cranston and Warwick commuters who take the Route 95 South exit to Allens Ave./Narragansett Blvd. have seen many changes at 800 Allens Ave. Those of us who go way back remember the orange roof of Howard Johnson’s. Many fondly remember Ocean Express. There were others, including the last tenant, Cactus Grill.
If you paid attention, you would have noticed rapid changes to the site, as partners Tom DeJorey of Edgewood, Jason Brown and Michael McHugh renovated the old building into an attractive, classy, innovative restaurant that they have named The Barstow.
In renovating the building, several layers of flooring were removed until they found the original Howard Johnson’s tile floor, keeping part of it in the dining room.
McHugh, who comes to The Barstow after six years at Juliens, explained that the name comes from the famous Barstow cast iron stove manufacturer that played a major role in Providence’s history.
“We wanted to offer Rhode Islanders something different,” Michael said. “Our menu has a Mediterranean flavor consisting of healthy, fresh, locally grown food served in small, medium and larger portions.”
The open kitchen is behind the attractive bar, which boasts an extensive selection of wines and draft beers, plus a bartender who knows how to make some signature mixed drinks that accompany a menu like you have never seen in these parts.
“We concentrate on the excitement and fun of dining, as a couple or as a group,” McHugh said. “We encourage sharing and trying a variety of snacks and small plates.”
The small plates are all $3 or less, with all of the ingredients prepared fresh in house. We started with the house flatbread, which is dipped in chili oil and maloon salt. ($3) and then munched on seared feta cheese with cornmeal crackers ($3). Four cauliflower fritters and tahini were equally shared ($3).
McHugh emphasized that not only does the food have a Mediterranean flavor but also the method of leisurely dining and sharing. Dinners run from medium plates ($6-$9) to full meals ($12-$17).
Joyce and I shared a Moroccan spiced beef kabob, with artichoke, arugula and citrus bulgar ($9). The taste combinations are as exotic as some of the ingredients.
Don’t be afraid to ask the knowledgeable waitpersons to explain some of the unfamiliar ingredients. Jeremy, our waiter, a Johnson & Wales senior from New York City, was most helpful identifying herbs, vegetables and other items that were unfamiliar to us.
We also shared the most expensive item on the menu: roasted pepper wrapped Rhode Island swordfish ($17), a combination of tastes like nothing we have ever experienced. The swordfish was perfectly cooked, surrounded by a saffron cous cous, fall greens and a pistachio topping. A lesson for Joyce in how Michael perfectly prepared the cous cous followed, and now she knows the secret of cooking it so it doesn’t stick to the pan.
The Barstow has three desserts, plus homemade ice cream, like everything else, all prepared in house. I had the grilled carrot and parsnip cake, which was topped with golden raisin chutney and whipped yogurt ($6). It was like nothing I had ever tasted before, and like so many of the dishes, it combined a variety of tastes perfectly.
Joyce had the dark chocolate meringue cake, topped with cardamom cream, citrus and green tea. Unbelievable!
We’ll be back, because we just have to try the slow roasted Rhode Island lamb stew, apricot mostardo baked pork loin, plus the rest of the tantalizing snacks, like crispy onions and crème fraiche, whatever that is. Amazingly, while many of the ingredients and combination of ingredients were foreign to us, the tastes were so satisfying, and you leave feeling quite comfortable and satisfying without paying outrageous prices.
The Barstow is open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for brunch. They have a small function room and will open an outside patio in the spring. Their phone number is 785-1818.