Thursday, August 30, 2007

REVIEW: The Pump House- *** / $$

The Pump House plays, for Rhode Island gourmets, something of a red-headed stepchild to founding chef Normand LeClairs more famous, and much better but now defunct, Red Rooster Tavern. The Old Rooster's house was recently sold to some development or another and will in all likelihood be turned into another God-forsaken office complex. For me this is truly a sad day. The Red Rooster was a first-class restaurant at a time when South County had no others. Things have changed, obviously. Providence got Al Forno and a slew of other high-end establishments, South County became a national vacation destination, and little Rhode Island is so full of good restaurants that it's hard to pick where to eat. But still, my heart falls back on the Red Rooster. But this review is not about The Rooster. It's about The Pump House. Does it carry on its rich heritage in the absence of its father?

The Pump House is quite obviously a different animal from The Rooster. It's much more relaxed, with a rustic charm to the decor that's warm and cozy and distinctly Rhode Island. The age of the building has not been hidden, with visible aged wooded creaking and bending in all directions. It's a really fabulous dining area precisely because of the lack of architecture. It's a trip into history to a much greater degree than the near-by Coast Guard House.

Service is always good, but it's usually busy, even on weekdays, so expect a fifteen minute wait. Sat, you can partake of the salad and soup bar, which always has baskets of house-made bread. It's a good selection and it's all-you-can-eat, so the price is right.

Appetizers and entrees are all very basic. This is a restaurant that's aiming to be nothing more than a neighborhood haunt. Prices are excellent, as would be expected of a haunt, so the lack of inventive dishes can be forgiven. Moreover, I have never considered mozzarella sticks to be a waste of space on a menu. In fact, I think any menu can be made better with their addition. The French onion soup is a standout. I thought it was excellent. The sandwich selection is decently large and everything is well done and very cheap. Good sandwiches, I guess, is all that can be said. Their Fish & Chips needs to be mentioned, since it's basically whatever they dragged in out of the ocean that morning, fried up and served. You don't get fresher.

For the entrees, the prices are excellent. Only two dishes crack the $20 level, and those are the filet mignon and a sirloin/stuffed shrimp surf 'n turf. This place is very, very affordable. There is a heavy emphasis on fish, and being so close to the ocean the ingredients are quite good. Some standouts are, obviously, the very cheap filet and the butter rum chicken. Especially the butter rum chicken. Lip-smacking tasty, that was. Still, it's a generally unimpressive selection. It has everything you'd expect, and it's all well-prepared, but not much more. Most importantly is how bland everything is. I can only assume The Pump House is catering to the over-175 crowd, since the entrees are not only unsurprising, but frequently bland as all get-out. This hypothesis is supported when the average age of the dining room at peak hours may very well hit the triple digits. Not bad, but bland. If I was either five or five-hundred, I'm sure I'd love it. Desserts are the expected standards. Cheesecake is always a safe bet, and here is no different.

So, I guess, The Pump House does not carry on the tradition of the grand old Rooster. It chooses to be something entirely different. It's not trying to be world-class. The elderly clientèle that packs the dining hall every night tells me that not only are they trying to be something else, they're succeeding with flying colors. In that sense, maybe they deserve five stars. Maybe they're smarter than me. Maybe their food is the result of a culinary master knowing his audience perfectly. Perhaps, but the Rooster wasn't that, and I think this place does nothing to rise above its status as neighborhood haunt. It's good, certainly better than most places with these prices, and if you're nearby it's worth a stop, but otherwise The Pump House is unremarkable.

The Pump House: ***
Price range for two: $40-$60;

The Pump House
1464 Kingstown Rd
Wakefield, RI 02879

Dinner: Monday through Saturday 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Sunday 12:00pm to 9:00pm
Lunch: Tuesday through Friday 11:30am to 2:30pm
Pub open 2:00 p.m. to closing.

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