We recently spent three days in Newport, RI for a short vacation. No real reason to go there in particular except we’ve been there before and hadn’t had a chance to do any of the mansion tours. As an unplanned bonus, we had breezy 70-degree weather and avoided a sweltering weekend in the 90s here at home. It was relaxing, the weather was great, we did a few things, and just got away. We also did quite well in terms of eating. As I was in vacation mode, not blogging mode, I took zero food photos. So, again, enjoy these reviews through the glory of plain text.
We stayed at Rhea’s Inn By the Sea. It’s a small inn, I guess a B&B, technically in Middletown. Like ~9 rooms small. It’s not cheap, at least on the weekends, but it’s a 5-minute walk to a beach that would otherwise require pricey parking, 1/2 mile walk to the north end of the Newport Cliff Walk. You can also walk to more than a half dozen restaurants and bars and a pretty good ice cream shop. The queen suite we had was roomy with a real dorm fridge, not the pathetic hotel fridges that, if you’re lucky, slightly cool the exterior of a beverage container. The separate freezer section kept ice packs frozen and our ice cream leftovers safe for the next day. The room and hotel were very clean and simply appointed. Breakfast is in a small kitchenette area, continental-ish. If I recall correctly – bagels and bread for toasting, fruit, coffee, tea, couple kinds of juice, few kinds of cereal, granola and fruit bars, large muffins, various packaged snacks – mostly bulk boxes of stuff from BJs. There was plenty for us. We also had a great balcony that we used every day. As we were on the 3rd floor we could see the beach/water and get a nice breeze. We sat out there for a couple of hours every day. Free basic cable with a TV in the sitting room and bedroom.
On the negative side, the free wi-fi wasn’t strong in our room, a repeater would probably help. Also, traffic was almost constant and loud. You are on the main drag coming from Newport. With the weather improving, there are also many, many motorcycles. We found after the first night, putting the HVAC unit in the bedroom on vent provided enough white noise to blot out a lot of the noise.
We arrived late afternoon and didn’t do much until going out to dinner. We were able to walk to dinner every day. Friday we went to the Atlantic Grille. Laidback feel, mix of tourists and locals. Our entertainment was a couple with three small, horribly-behaved kids that shouldn’t have been there (not because it’s not family friendly, it is, but because they were not able to behave). When he wasn’t yelling at the kids, the guy was apparently not enjoying his dinner. Afterwards he was asking about how his meal “was prepared” (look at the menu, this is basically a diner/seaside seafood joint). He actually complained that ‘he didn’t expect his entree to be prepared in such and such a way’. The way it was prepared, that surprised him and as he described, was explicitly how it is described on the menu. Word for word. Thankfully they left before we got our food. The waitress told the table next to us that this jerk is known to them and he ‘writes online reviews’. Good luck to those restaurants, because he doesn’t even read how the food is supposed to be prepared to compare to what he gets. Jerk.
Anyway…my wife got a nice baked cod that she got with green beans and sweet potato fries. The fries ended up being an entire basket of fries, like an order of fries quantity. I got…drumroll…the fried scallop plate with fries and green beans. I haven’t found anywhere locally that has great fried scallops and I can’t imagine any are as fresh as on the Rhode Island coast. They were good, well cooked, with a decent breading that had poor adhesion. I didn’t care for their tartar sauce, much too relish-y, though. We both liked our meals. After we ate we stopped at the Cumby across the street for a gallon of spring water (the tap water was fine, but not that tasty) to put in the fridge.
On the walk back to the inn we stopped at Clementine’s Homemade Ice Cream to get ice cream for later. I got a small cup (that ended up being 2 large servings), of good Chocolate Brownie ice cream. The brownie chunks in it were really tasty, but overall it wasn’t anything outrageous. The other choice was also a small (quite large) cup containing two flavors – Strawberry and Cookie Dough. Also good.
On Saturday we got up sort of early to try to get reservations for a tour at Chepstow. This small mansion is only open Sat/Sun for a limited time and only for a half dozen daily tours of 10 people. They recommend getting there by 10 with the first tour at 10:30. We got there right about 10 and all tours were already sold out for the day. Given that the Breakers was the only other house open at the time, that probably explains the demand. So we headed over to the Breakers instead and enjoyed looking around there. Just outside of the Memorial Day/Labor Day period, it was busy but not insane and about as busy as we could stand.
Then it was lunch time so we tried the International Pocket Cafe in Middletown (they also have a location at URI). It was a great choice and we would be there A LOT if there was someplace like this near us. We both got souvlaki, one lamb and one chicken, plus some falafel to share. The souvlaki was very nice and they make them up like Subway, which is GREAT. Instead of just loading up the wrap with lettuce and onions, you pick what you want on it. We both got smears of hummus and I think a tahini sauce (they put it on the wrap before adding the other ingredients). I also got tomatoes, feta, just a little lettuce, and I think some cucumber. It was really good but the sauce was SUPER GARLIC SAUCE. We both liked it, but wow, garlic breath for hours. The falafel, shown on the website, is a little weird. The size of Little Debbie mini doughnuts, they’re fluffy and light, without a strong flavor. We probably wouldn’t have bothered if we’d know how large and filling the souvlaki was. They’ve got an extensive menu with a strong combination of premade ingredients and made-to-order. I could eat here a lot before getting bored.
We used the afternoon to visit the Green Animals Topiary Garden, the only other Preservation Society site open when we were there. It was OK, some of the ~15 or so topiaries were interesting, but given the time of year there wasn’t much blooming, early flowers had gone by and summer hadn’t bloomed yet. Fortunately the helpful ticket seller upgraded our Breakers tickets to a 2-site ticket so we only paid like $8 for here each instead of $25, which was in line with the value.
Back to the hotel for some resting and balcony sitting. We walked to the sort of famous Flo’s Clam Shack for dinner. It was busy, but we started before we were starving, so it was OK. You order at the window, after standing in line, then get a buzzer for picking up your food. We got a fish and chips platter and…dum dum DUUUUM…a fried scallops platter. It seemed like a long time to get our food, exacerbated by the fact that we could see the pick up window and there just wasn’t anything coming out, not just our food. But it was pretty much worth the wait. The fries were fries, but good. The fish portion was huge with very puffy batter. The fish was very tender, which is good and bad, it was very crumbly. But reportedly good. The scallops were very good. The batter wasn’t anything special, which let the fresh sea scallops shine. Their tartar sauce was very good, which should be expected. It was a large portion and delicious. Dessert for Saturday was the rest of our ice cream from Friday.
On Sunday we tried Chepstow again, getting there about 9:30. It was the last time it was going to be open for who knows how long. It had only been open for a month and before that hadn’t been open for three years. There were already people lined up at the gate, but only about a dozen. They open the gate and we march in at 10, only to find out that they don’t sell tickets there, despite the website saying that tickets could be purchased at all houses. Oh well, this is clearly a common problem because the women did make out our tour reservation for 2:30 and put it aside while we bought tickets via smartphone. It wasn’t that bad, although despite having an apple pay option, it will say your card isn’t valid. Paying by card direct went right through. We just cut back in line (everyone does this) and show our bar codes for scanning, then we left with our ticket to return later.
We used the morning to check out part of the Cliff Walk. We did about a mile of it, heading south to 40 Steps where there is currently a detour due to a partial collapse. We decided to turn around and walk back to the inn at that point in order to be able to get lunch and return to Chepstow for our 2:30 tour. My researching via Trip Advisor had us end up at Scratch Kitchen & Catering in Newport. Big tip, there is a roomy, free parking lot for customers behind the storefronts where Scratch is located, just look at the aerial on your phone map. Presumably due to covid they’ve set up a small outdoor eating area out front where they do semi-effective full service. We chose this option with the beautiful weather. Scratch, as you can see on their menu, specializes in upgraded grilled cheese sandwiches.
My wife got a Plain grilled cheese with tomato and a side salad with interesting maple mustard dressing. I got the soup and half sandwich which came with a drink, side, and cookie. A pretty good deal. I got their NE clam chowder, which, as seems typical of RI from restaurant reviews I read, is thinner and closer to broth than creamy thick soup expected in MA or ME. It was really good with plenty of diced potato and a lot of tasty clams. My half sandwich was the Deluxe Traditional and it was fine, but not very memorable. My drink choice was unsweetened iced tea, which was hands down the worst iced tea I have ever had in my entire life. It’s actually hard to understand how they made it because it didn’t really taste like tea or anything else. Fortunately I also had a glass of water. My side was the “spud nuggets” that I expected to be tater tots. Nope. This was cut little squares of a potato casserole kinda thing. It wasn’t terrible, but it was overcooked or too often reheated and pretty hard, plus they should really be called sage nuggets, because that was pretty much the only flavor. The cookie was a semi-crispy cakey chocolate chip, which was pretty good. Could have had more chocolate. All in all it was pretty good. We’d go back.
With a little time to kill we walked down to the water from Scratch then drove to Chepstow for our enjoyable tour there. The contrast with the Breakers was almost comical. For our last dinner we walked to Tickets Bar & Grille. I had seen recommendations to sit upstairs, which we did, so we had a pleasant view of the water. This was a good thing because the service was not great and we were there a pretty long time. For now I’m still giving service establishments the benefit of the doubt and not blaming individual servers, though. I will say that the neighboring table finished their dinner, was given a dessert menu, was given and ate dessert, and left in the time it took our server (different server) to offer us dessert after we had finished and pushed our plates aside. Our selections were the Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo and, you’ll never believe it, Fried Scallops. Yes, I had them 3 nights in a row. It took a pretty long while to come out despite not being busy. The scallops were a little weird. Some were light, just at the edge of cooked enough, while others were clearly over fried and quite dark. Strange. They were all edible and I finished them all. Their tartar sauce was mayo heavy and just so so. When we finally got to order it, I got the homemade chocolate chip bread pudding I was craving. It turned out to be mediocre. It was a large serving that we shared, topped with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and a scoop of cookies and cream ice cream. The bread pudding itself was very cakey and not really what I had in mind, but, well, it got eaten.
And that’s it. We relaxed, we got a little sunburned, we saw some sights, and I ate a lot of scallops. Flo’s had the best overall clams and tartar sauce. And it was nice to be surrounded by people that pronounce scallops correctly 🙂