Since 1899, the Independent Man statue, spear in hand and anchor at his feet, has seen Providence through tribulations and triumphs alike from atop the dome of the Rhode Island State House.
Representing the Ocean State’s spirit of thought, action and fortitude, the muscular golden sentinel now keenly symbolizes the city’s resilient response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“One of the best things about Rhode Island—America’s smallest state—is our ability to mobilize quickly and all work together,” said Kristen Adamo, president & CEO of the Providence Warwick CVB. “Our governor, our mayors, our partner destination marketing organizations, and the Rhode Island Hospitality Association are all collaborating to keep Rhode Islanders safe, to keep our partners in business, and to plan to rebuild stronger and better than ever before.”
Hard-hit areas include event venues, hotels and the city’s celebrated restaurant industry.
Photo: Independent Man atop the Rhode Island State House; Credit: Visit Rhode Island
Around 2005, Adamo, then director of communications, led an initiative to establish culinary tourism as “a cornerstone” of the bureau’s leisure marketing efforts.
Key ingredients included graduates of leading culinary educator Johnson & Wales University (JWU), founded in 1914, that were choosing to stay in Providence. They gave the scene “big-city talent without big-city prices,” Adamo recalled.
These chefs were already working creatively with fresh Narragansett Bay seafood and other locally sourced ingredients. And the city’s ethnic diversity nourished a true melting pot of global cuisines.
The strategy was a hit, culminating in the readers of Travel + Leisure naming Providence America’s No. 1 Food City in 2012. Integral to the city’s remarkable overall renaissance, it was equally successful in attracting groups. The destination’s image and appeal only grew stronger as meeting planners and delegates discovered the restaurants of Federal Hill, Providence’s historic Little Italy, pioneers like Gracie’s and Nicks on Broadway, and a harvest of chef-driven concepts.
Currently, Providence restaurants that can are surviving on curbside pick-up and delivery operations. Many are seeking support under GoFundMe’s COVID-19 Small Business Relief initiative. All share the official state motto of Rhode Island—hope—that this cornerstone industry will have its own renaissance once the crisis passes.
[Related: Experience Providence Like a Local: The Insider’s Guide to Where to Go, Eat and Stay in Rhode Island’s Capital City]
In the meantime, keep these group-ready restaurants and their local peers top of mind for your future Providence bookings.
Head of the Class
Graduates of JWU are synonymous with Providence’s culinary success. One star alumna is Ellen Slattery, whose mantra of “wish it, dream it, do it” and creative seasonal menu has kept Gracie’s at the peak of critical acclaim since 1998.
(Photo: Lobster dish, Gracie's; Credit: Providence Warwick CVB)
Renowned for stellar service—cookies are placed in your car when you valet—Gracie’s premier event spaces include the intimate wine room and private dining room for 50 seated guests or 75-capacity receptions. Small groups can take baking classes at Parisian-inspired sibling Ellie’s.
Another star on Providence’s culinary scene is three-time James Beard Best Chef: Northeast semifinalist (2016, 2017 and 2020) Derek Wagner, who first wowed diners with his contemporary spin on American classics at Nicks on Broadway in 2002. In 2019, he opened Nicks on Westminster in the Financial District, with adjacent new 47-room boutique Hotel Beatrice nearing completion.
Providence’s other 2020 Beard semifinalist is James Mark, whose Asian-inspired sensations include Big King and north at The Dean close by the convention center.
Other Beard-nominated JWU alumni running premier restaurants include Champe Speidel of Persimmon and Ben Sukle of Oberlin.
The following concepts are some of the most beloved dining establishments in Providence that are all no strangers to hosting groups.
Seafood-driven local favorite Hemenway’s hosts 60-capacity events in the Regatta Room, which overlooks the Providence River and downtown Providence, and more casual Oyster Bar.
Updating the expansive marble lobby of a landmark 1902 bank building, The Dorrance is downtown elegance defined by its hand-crafted cocktails, New England fare and versatile event hosting for up to 375 guests.
The new world cuisine at romantic Café Nuovo fuses flavors from around the world. The restaurant’s prime perch at the Gondola Landing on Providence's Riverwalk makes for an impressive space. Inside, both intimate and large-scale business and social events can be hosted in the domed glass and marble rotunda, main dining room and outdoor piazza.
With Providence then in recession, the 1990 opening of the original Capital Grille seemed an unlikely bet. Yet, the restaurant flourished, and remains a top fine-dining option for private events.
Photo: Interior of The Dorrance; Credit: Providence Warwick CVB
Open Canvas for the Culinary Arts
In 1636, renegade preacher Roger Williams founded the Providence Plantations as a haven for individual liberty and inclusion. Today, the spirit of his “lively experiment” is an apt reference for the diversity and creativity of the Providence restaurant community, where unique food experiences abound.
Updating the landmark 1895 Tilden-Thurber building, Yoleni’s is the U.S. flagship of a family-owned Greek gastronomic enterprise. Replicating the Athens original, this welcoming two-level cafe, restaurant and artisanal food market serves and sells savory Greek food and other fare. Plus, catering, tastings, event hosting and cooking classes.
[Related: 6 Historical Offsite Venues in Rhode Island]
One block from the convention center, Murphy’s is an old-school classic from 1929. With the establishment since 1979, owner Ruth Ferrazzano is famously described as “the Swedish woman with the Italian last name who runs an Irish pub with a Jewish deli.” For gourmet comfort food in a convivial setting, this is a small group must.
Opened in summer 2019 across from the dramatic new Providence River Pedestrian Bridge, Plant City is the first plant-based food hall and market in the country. Conceived by food futurist and wellness entrepreneur Matthew Kenney, this 10,000-square-foot venue comprises four vegan restaurants totaling 225 seats under one roof, with an outdoor patio. The Matthew Kenney Group specializes in customized event and catering services.
Photo: Interior of Plant City; Credit: N. Millard
Reflecting the eclectic tastes of late owner Sylvia Moubayed, an inveterate globetrotter and art collector, CAV Restaurant sets the stage for exuberant events with enchanting decor and a menu to match. Rentals include the Antiques Room and outdoor courtyard, with 125-person buyouts available.
South of Providence in Cranston, Rhode Island, the acclaimed Chef Walters Cooking School offers a comprehensive program of recreational cooking, baking and wine classes and corporate team-builders. RI Red Food Tours is also a good group tour option, offering walking tours that blend culinary discoveries with stories of Providence history and architecture—private customized programs included. Popular annual food events and festivals for group tie-ins include:
- Providence Restaurant Weeks in January and July
- Eat Drink RI in April
- Crave RI in June
- Rhode Island Seafood Festival in September
- Ocean State Oyster Festival in September
Historic Federal Hill is Providence’s Can’t-Miss Italian Dining Spot
Named in 1788, Federal Hill was settled by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. Just west of downtown, Providence’s storied Little Italy greets visitors with a gateway arch featuring the La Pigna (“The Pine Cone”) sculpture, a traditional Italian symbol of welcome and abundance.
Lined with mostly Italian (plus other global cuisines) restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, grocers, wine shops and boutiques, the main thoroughfare of Atwells Avenue and storied DePasquale Square are magnets for meeting and convention customers.
Here are some group-ready restaurants contributing to Federal Hill’s recognition as one of the nation’s top culinary destinations—buon appetito!
Angelo’s Civita Farnese
Named for founder Angelo Mastrodicasa and the tiny central Italian town of Farnese, Angelo’s Civita Farnese has served authentic Southern Italian comfort food since 1924. Angelo’s survived the Great Depression through resourceful solutions such as its famed meatballs with French fries. The ambiance includes original community tables and coin-operated overhead model railroad, all proceeds of which benefit Rhode Island children's charities.
Opened in 1914, Camille’s is another Federal Hill landmark, with pan-seared halibut among Executive Chef Peter Coccurello’s signature dishes. There’s live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, with versatile rentals for eight to 90 guests and Sunday buyouts subject to availability.
Joseph and Esther DeQuattro’s trattoria-style Il Massimo is a perennial award-winner, serving multi-regional fare with ingredients sourced locally and direct from Italy. Menu standouts include the charred octopus, fig pizza and spaghettoni alla carbonara. There’s a bright upstairs 110-capacity event space, and the monthly drag show is a smash. Other DeQuattro Group interests include catering and nearby Pano e Vino, offering a 43-capacity private room with fireplace and 18-capacity room with Atwells Avenue views.
Photo: Il Massimo Spaghettoni all Carbonara; Credit: Jeff Heilman
Authentic “Tuscan soul food” is the highlight of Siena Restaurant, another serial prize-winner from brothers Anthony and Chris Tarro. A menu favorite is classic Bolognese sauce over delicate golden egg noodles. Rentals include the 40-capacity back dining room, 30-person patio and full daytime buyouts for 100.
Constantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante
Specializing in special events, family-run Costantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante offers evocative spaces such as the 100-capacity outdoor patio under a canopy of twinkle lights and flowers on DePasquale Plaza. Accommodating 75 guests, the second-floor dining room overlooks the plaza and its famed fountain. Groups also have the 18-capacity private dining room and 30-person Lounge. The family’s Venda Ravioli food emporium sells gourmet Italian foods and provides event catering.
Serving authentic Neapolitan cuisine, lively Trattoria Zooma flexibly hosts business and social events along with themed group experiences including pizza and pasta making, wine tastings and dinners; and private, full-restaurant “Taste of Italy” culinary tours of Sicily, Tuscany and other regions.
Providence Warwick CVB
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