Wednesday, May 28, 2008

REVIEW: Felicia's Coffee- ** / $$

Felicia's Coffee calls itself "Rhode Island's ultimate coffee house." They've won awards for their coffee roasts. The inside is fabulously appointed and inviting. They have a wide selection of foods, baked goods, and reading material. And most importantly, it's not very good.

I had been meaning to visit Felicia's for some time. They've been around for well over a decade, and can be considered one of Rhode Island's "super cafes." The inside is huge and, combined with the spacious outside sitting area, is probably Rhode Island's largest cafe. The main room is filled to the brim with fliers for local events, magazines, cereal racks, coffee supplies, and drinks. Out of every cafe in Southern New England that has had the honor of hosting my ass for a time, I can't think of one that had more cool stuff crammed into it than Felicia's. The inside is one of my favorites.

The large display and preparation area takes up a full quarter of the interior. This is not wasted space. They have an enormous selection of available roasts, bested only by Coffee Exchanges, more gourmet, offerings. Those very roasts have also won a number of awards, so if you're on the hunt for locally roasted beans, you must come here. Felicia's makes no mistakes in their support foods, with a wide variety of pastries, baked goods, muffins, bagels, and breakfast stuffs. Everything from brownies to bagels is on full display and looking good.

And good they are. The brownies are dense and fudgy, the danishes were moist, flakey, and buttery, and the pies are very flavorful. I especially liked the danish. More buttery, less flaky, and not as much cheese as some of the others I've had. The scones are good, but low on flavor. I still liked them well enough and would get one again if I felt the need for a scone. The muffins were decent, but the blueberries used were weak, the cake was dry and spongy, and it was in general a below-average muffin. Not bad, but not good either. The bagels are good and the selection is excellent. In fact, the baked goods selection is generally excellent. Cakes, pies, cookies; if you've got a sweet tooth, you will love this place.

It was the quiche where things fell apart.

The quiche was a small, egg cake mixed with spinach. I'm not sure if they were supposed to offer it to me warmed, because they didn't and really should have. It was pretty nasty. Cold and dry, it was like eating an egg-flavored piece of soft rubber. Maybe I should have arrived earlier in the morning to get one fresh, but if they're only good fresh, take the unsold ones and throw them out when they get cold, because this was unacceptable.

And with a place called Felicia's Coffee, so what if the quiche is bad, it's all about the coffee, right? Well, they fell on their face, here, too. Two lattes, two days, both bad. Espresso was decent, with a well-chosen roast, but it was on the weak side with very little body. The lattes on the whole were watery, and the milk was steamed very, very poorly. Just look at the photo. Giant bubbles, a complete lack of texture and sweetness, and, I saw, warm milk as a base. You never, EVER, steam warm milk. It must always be cold. Fat in milk, the stuff that actually makes the boundary between the liquid and air, thus forming the bubbles, is most stable and best at taking on air at low temperatures. If you use warm milk, you will have progressively larger, fewer bubbles that quickly dissolve in the liquid.

The coffee and cappuccino weren't much better. Coffee was watery and bitter. We tried to put band-aids on the cups with milk, cream, and sugar, but to no avail. It just wasn't a very good cup of coffee. The cappuccino was way too milky, and the espresso suffered from the same weakness found in the latte. I was, I'm not kidding, shocked. I was expecting, if nothing else, a good cup of coffee at such a famous place. I was expecting highly-trained baristi capable of whipping up an excellent cappuccino. I really was! Instead, I got drinks that were seemingly made by a rank amateur. Not the worst I've had, that would be exceptionally bad, but nowhere near good.

The selection of things to add to your coffee is pretty well in the crapper, as well, so you can't even cover up how disappointing the actual drink is. Sugar? Check. Milk/cream/H&H? Uhh, nope. They add it for you. Honey, cocoa, cinnamon, turbinado sugar? Nowhere in sight. You'd probably get blank stares if you asked for something exotic, like nutmeg. If you want to take control away from the customer, make sure your drinks are flawless and the recipes interesting. If you are simply providing coffee, let me decide the details.

The poor coffee is a transgression nearly beyond forgiveness. Felicia's is a place that advertises itself heavily on its awards and its coffee. As such, it damn well better be good. You can't say you're the ultimate coffee house and then only have decent baked goods. Get the basics right, first. I like to use Starbucks as an example, here. It is doubly important for any cafe in East Greenwich, since there's a Starbucks right on Main Street. Starbucks is the baseline, the bar, the requirement. They have a decent selection with decent quality. In general, a solid three-star place. If Starbucks offers it, you should. And importantly, your quality better be on par or better, for if not, you have no reason to exist. Here, Starbucks is better in the most important way: drink quality. If Felicia's had given me better coffee, I'd add a full star, but a coffee house with bad coffee just doesn't fly.

UPDATE- 8/23/2008: I am revoking a half-star. I realized after going over some of my other reviews that the rating of Felicia's did not fall in line with other cafes I have reviewed. I feel the downgrade to "edible" is more accurate and fully represents my disappointment.

Felicia's Coffee: **
Price range for two: $6-$10

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5757 Post Rd
East Greenwich, RI 02818

Monday through Thursday 6:00am to 8:00pm
Friday & Saturday 6:00am to 11:00pm
Sunday 7:00am to 5:00pm

Thursday, May 22, 2008


On my recent trip to Portland, I stopped into a retail location for Stonewall Kitchen, makers of all things jammy. I bought a jar of strawberry jam which was very good. Not too sweet, good flavor, fabulous texture; all of the things you'd want from some good, hand-made jam. I have to admit, at the time, I thought the logo was familiar. I just assumed I had come across it online, or something.

No, no. Not online. Very much in person. Stonewall Kitchen is fucking everywhere. Dave's? Belmont Market? Roch's? Yesiree! And here's the really funny part, I paid $7.95 for my jam, placing it at a stunning four dollars more than Smucker's. After much deliberation, I decided that Stonewall wasn't worth that. So what do I find? It's CHEAPER at other stores. A full two dollars cheaper. $5.95 for the exact same jar of jam. Well, that means the retail location is 100% tourist trap.

I have some negative emotions about Stonewall Kitchen, now. Not only did I get ripped off at their own location, but I also got chided by (very nice) employees for trying to take photos. Saying that they were directly told to not allow photographs of the interior; something about their layouts and designs being stolen. Because, you know how espionage is rampant in the cutthroat jam industry. Ridiculous.

As such, I don't think I'm going to buy anything else from Stonewall. A store policy that makes me feel like a criminal and prices aimed at ripping people off don't exactly elicit positive emotions.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Queen, a Knave, Some Tarts, and MURDER.

In my review of Cafe Nuovo, I expressed disappointment in their entrees. I did rave about their desserts, though, and after a recent trip, both observations stand. I had hoped to get a baked Alaska, but was much chagrined to find it not currently on the menu. I could have gone with my old standby, crème brûlée. I could have gone with the chocolate mousse that I found so delectable, last time. I could have, but didn't. I opted for the fruit tart, and oh... my... GOD am I glad I did.

This tart was mind-blowing, and there's no other word for it. It's easily the best fruit tart I've ever had. All the fruit was fresh as can be, the fruit jam blend was utterly scrumptious, the vanilla gelato was rich and creamy, and the respberry, strawberry, and mango coulis added both artistic flare and well-matched dipping to each, mouth-watering bite. This was a perfect dessert. I loved each and every bite. No, it didn't have any custard as most fruit tarts do these days, but that's ok. This tart takes the crown for my favorite dessert in Providence from Al Forno's Croque-Mademoiselle. It's just really, freaking good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

QUICKVIEW: Stonebridge Restaurant- +++ / $$$

I was in Connecticut for Easter Sunday, quite awhile ago I know, and went to one of the restaurants having Easter dinner. As with all Easter dinners, it started in the early afternoon, had lots of low-priced, bland food, and was aimed squarely at the geriatric crowd. I'm talking really geriatric. One woman nearby our table was on oxygen. So why am I writing about this old folks home with food? Because if you're on your way through, I would highly recommend stopping by.

I couldn't really gauge the restaurant on its entrees, since they came from a special menu, limited in selection, and easy on the spices. Their dessert menu was also riveting, chocolate cake or carrot cake. Diabetes much? But they did have their full appetizer menu available, and this is the reason why I'm harping on. Coconut encrusted shrimp? Dee-lish! Crab cakes with two different types of aioli? Some of the best. Ginger root soup? Unnnhh, ok, not everything was a hit.

The restaurant was very attractive. The dining area was well-dressed, but unremarkable, and the outside was loaded with the trappings of a dynamite summer deck area. Tables, umbrellas, lighting, and outdoor speakers all but guaranteed fun times on hot nights. This was all situated by a river, the old stone bridge (duh), and a waterfall. Yeah. There was a freaking waterfall right next to the restaurant. Sorry for the picture quality, it was dusk by the time I took the photo. Combined with the heinously quaint street on which Stonebridge, a gourmet shop, boutiques, a cafe, and any number of other cute little shops lay, the area and atmosphere are top-notch.

Opening the dinner was a very good bread selection. Warm and seemingly freshly baked, the plain Italian and focaccia bread went fabulously with the little butter florets that were squeezed onto butter plates. They prepared us well for the appetizers. I like my crab cakes very crispy. I know that's sort of sacrilege for those raised on the softer Maryland style crab cakes, but I like some differing texture to offset the soft, lump crab. These were nice and crispy. I don't think they were deep fried, since they were light and not greasy, but I guess anything is possible. The two aiolis accented the cakes perfectly. I was very impressed.

Next up were some coconut battered shrimp with a sweet pepper relish. The shrimp were large, tender, light, and crispy. They went very well with the relish and saw double duty as an on-road snack on the trip back. Last were the pan-seared scallops, with pecans and gorgonzola. Perfectly cooked scallops went well with the balsamic vinaigrette and roasted pecans, adding a pleasant sweetness, but the gorgonzola was a bit strong for the mild taste of the scallops. I've also had better scallops, but who can argue about getting seven scallops for $10?

The soup was the real failure of the night. It was the du jour soup and just tasted weird. It was thick, and painted my tongue with a strong, gingery flavor, and had a peppery bite to it that wasn't so much as unpleasant but strange. Like, if I was starving, I would happily eat this, but since I'm not, I'd rather eat other things.

The dinners weren't bad. They were just a bit disappointing after the impressive appetizers. My stuffed shrimp were large, well-cooked, and the stuffing had smaller shrimp in it, so that was certainly fun. But all in all, the dinners lacked any sort of spice. Hell, anything. They were just food. The turkey was turkey. The mashed potatoes were just that. The vegetables were steamed. And the stuffing had the bare minimum of herbs to avoid making you feel that you were eating a pile of moist, hot bread. But as I said before, this was a special menu for a certain day, aimed almost undeniably at the older crowd. If I didn't live two hours away from the place, I think I would go back if only to confirm about the entrees what the appetizers promised.

Even for my short trip, I liked this place a lot.

Stonebridge Restaurant: +++
Price range for two: $45-$75

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50 Daniel St.
Milford, CT. 06460
203-874-7947 (Reservations Accepted)

Monday through Saturday 11:30am to 4:00pm
Sunday 11:30am to 2:00pm
Monday through Thursday 4:00pm to 9:00pm
Friday through Saturday 4:00pm to 10:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm to 8:00pm
Menu available in the Bar until 10:00pm Mon-Wed and until 12:00am Thurs-Sat

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Million Dollar Ad Budget Put to Good Use

A new Starbucks opened in my home town of North Kingstown. I'm actually kind of happy it did, because sometimes, I just feel like a Starbucks latte and coffe cake. Regardless, it's got quite a battle ahead of it. North Kingstown has one of the best cafes in the state, Updike's Newtowne, which pretty well thrashes the 'Bucks in quality of coffee used.

Regardless, Starbucks let their presence be known with one hell of a roar. Kind of like listening to a lion that's wearing a clown outfit. Yep, these signs just bleed professionalism.

Frozen Delight

I was poking around the local Dave's Supermarket and invariably found myself staring at the dessert case. I noticed a new brand, David Glass, and figured to give it a try. I tried his Cheesecake, which he advertises as so rich it serves eight.

Well, I'll start off with the bad. That's a complete lie. If you and a bunch of cheesecake lovers converge, you'll be lucky to squeeze four slices out of this. This was a small, freaking cake. See, in that photo, those are tea plates. Barely seven inches across. And for a six-inch wide cake, this thing cost a fortune. You can order this thing online for $18.95, and an eight-inch cake costs an bonkers $24.98. You can go down to a local bakery and get four, large slices of cheesecake for four bucks apiece. Or you can go to a restaurant and get a gargantuan slice of cake for usually no more than eight clams. This cake is definitely over-priced.

Now, about the good, the cake. Yep. It can't be denied, this is some good cheesecake. Its texture was spot-on, and the flavor was smooth and sweet. The flavor was a bit weak, though. I expect cheese cake to taste very much like cheese, and this cake was lacking in that department. If you're a local, cheesecake from Emilio's Bakery, or if you're on the road, L'Epicureo, are more pleasing alternatives. Although, I guess they should receive some serious kudos for making a frozen cheesecake that can be mentioned in the same breath as fresh ones.

If it wasn't for the price, I think I would have been happier with my purchase. David Glass makes the best frozen cheesecake I've ever had, but at a price that puts it in the upper echelon of freshly-baked cakes from local producers; an arena in which it can't compete.

UPDATE 3/19/09: The cakes are available for around $9 at Dave's Market. This makes them far and away worth a purchase.

REVIEW: Three Sisters- *** / $

The little area on the northern end of Hope street is quite the gourmet mecca. Sitting between India and the plaza containing The Garden Grille, Rasoi, and LG's BBQ, and just down the street from such local luminaries as Chez Pascal and Seven Stars Bakery, Three Sisters has quite the prestigious company. Here, they're much more focused on take-out, with a heavy emphasis on sandwiches, salads, and ice cream. Rather standard in the world of the extended cafe business model. And you know what? That's just fine.

The inside is adequately appointed. The dining area isn't particularly notable. It feels a bit empty and glaring. Not the comfy, nestle-down-with-a-book sort of atmosphere you expect from a cafe. The large, paper prints outs for displays also don't scream professionalism. The chairs are pretty comfy, even if the couch is a bit beaten up. THe bench running along the wall isn't ergonomically amazing, but it gets the job done, as do the hard chairs abutting the small tables. All in all, an interior that gets the job done.

The espresso and coffee drinks are what originally attracted me. They use New Harvest, which does all its roasting about five minutes down the road, so one can only assume the beans are still warm when they get them. As expected, the espresso was rich and powerful. I've said it before, but New Harvest makes some of the best roasts in New England. They chose a dark, full-bodied blend for their espresso, so I obviously found them more than acceptable. I have always preferred the darker, richer roasts, as opposed to the light, acidic roasts. Although I prefer the latter for straight up coffee. It must be told, though, that the espresso to be had a bit down the street, at Seven Stars Bakery, is better. Their machine is much more impressive, and the baristi are more experienced. Still, Seven Stars closes at six, which leaves you SOL (Shit out of latte) if you want one at eight.

The food is... food. They invent nothing, but do the standards well. And with everything costing $5.95 or less, this is not a place where you can easily break the bank. In fact, unless you eat in amounts usually reserved for hippos, I think it's impossible. Smoothies are pretty good. They have a wide selection, with ten varieties filling the menu. The smoothies I got were a bit thin, but flavorful enough, and not very icy, all pluses. While leagues better than the smoothies I recently got at La Creperie, they aren't better than the smoothies at Fresh City... which is in Warwick. So if you want smoothies, this is a pretty decent place to get them. Ice cream was good, but the cookies and cream I got was a bit icy. Good chunks of cookie made up for that, though, and I enjoyed my cone a lot. They have a good selection of mix-ins, and a good selection of flavors. They're the only place in the area that serves ice cream, that I can think of, and since their prices are good, you should stop by.

Three sisters is a pretty good place. It's a blessing they stay open as late as they do, because sometimes you just don't feel like making a trek to downtown, or north to Lincoln Mall, to find a cafe that's open for nighttime visitors. Combined with good sandwiches and salads that compliment the coffee very well, and good smoothies and ice cream for dessert or hot summer nights, you would be well served to visit these three.

Three Sisters: ***
Price range for two: $10-$20

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1074 Hope St
Providence, RI 02906
Monday through Thursday 7:30am to 9:00pm
Friday 7:30am to 10:00pm
Saturday 9:00am to 10:00pm
Sunday 9:00am to 9:00pm

A Little Break

Took a little break there. I just didn't feel like blogging for a couple of weeks.

Oh? You got a problem with that? You wanna' start something?

Let's take this shit outside.