I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned off of Waterman Avenue into the Vine Yard East parking lot. It’s a nicely designed building off a stretch of Route 44 in East Providence that’s not exactly known for dining. The restaurant’s website describes itself as having a “casual, down-home atmosphere,” so I brought my family with me. Since we were going out to eat with two little girls, we went on a weeknight, early in the evening, around 5:30 pm. The restaurant was relatively quiet at that time, though it certainly filled up by the time we left around 7pm, and it was understandable why. We had a very nice meal at reasonable prices with great service. Vine Yard East seemed very much like a neighborhood restaurant and it looked like the neighbors have welcomed it to town.
Upon entering the restaurant, the first space you walk into is a large bar area with the usual big-screen TV and well-stocked shelves of liquor. I found it especially attractive that the bar is completely separate from the dining room. I’m not opposed to televisions in restaurants as long as it’s clear that that’s the mission of the place: to dine while staring at a sporting event. Otherwise I find them to be an unnecessary distraction. We were shown into the dining room that is decorated in deep reds and a light beige, colors reflecting Vine Yard East’s “wine influence.”
As soon as we sat, we were brought house-made potato chips with barbecue sauce, which they offer instead of bread service. I was immediately curious because an offering like that could go one of two ways: either successfully, or as a novelty when what you really wanted was bread. Happily, it was the former. The chips were excellent, thinly sliced and fried perfectly crisp — something that could easily go wrong if you’re not paying enough attention to the frying. The sauce was light and tangy, not just a doctored ketchup. It was a perfect little opening treat for the kids as well.
We started by ordering the New England Clam Chowder ($6.95), Crab Cakes ($10.95) and VYE House Salad ($8.95) from an expansive menu. In addition to the starters and soups and salads there are sandwiches, grilled pizzas, entrees and pasta, as well as dessert and some of the usual kids options. The Clam Chowder had great flavor. It was loaded with bacon, which can never be a bad thing, but also was a nice thickness without being too gloppy and heavy. The Crab Cakes were very light, almost airy, which gave the crab a lot of room to stand out, unlike the over-breaded cakes you sometimes get. They were served with pickled onions that, coupled with celery in the cake, added to the dish’s overall freshness. The VYE House Salad was made up of mixed greens, granny smith apples, dried cherries, toasted pecans, gorgonzola cheese and maple balsamic dressing. It was certainly an abundance of greens with the rest of the components working together well. I thought it was a credit to the salad that, while there was a lot on the plate, there wasn’t a ton of dressing to overpower it all.
At this point we ordered some drinks, and here was the one part of the Vine Yard East experience that puzzled me a bit. For a restaurant that is named, designed and “influenced” by wine, I found the wine selection a little lacking. I certainly didn’t expect a massive, multi-page wine list at a casual restaurant, and I did appreciate that there was some variety from the usual California and Australian bargain brands you’ll see at some places. I’m not saying they should remove the $4.75 a glass house pours – that’s very welcome in this day and age – but I felt there was room for a slightly better selection. Vine Yard East has a Wine Club ($50 for a one-year membership) and I’d be curious to see what they offer during members-only tastings and specials.
For dinner we selected the VYE Pork and Clams ($16.95), the Veal Tenderloin ($20.95) and a BBQ Chicken Pizza ($12.95). We also ordered a Mac and Cheese ($3.99) for my daughters. The Pork and Clams – a braised pork shank, roasted potatoes, olives and littlenecks in a spicy garlic broth – was recommended by the wait staff as a specialty and I was glad they suggested it. The shank was perfectly cooked with the meat falling off the bone, but not stringy or soupy. The BBQ Chicken Pizza with smoked gouda, sliced red onion and cilantro was good. I’m not a big chicken-on-pizza person, but the rest of my family loved it. I’d like to try another one of the pizzas and see how the dough tastes with a more traditional topping of sauce and cheese.
The Veal Tenderloin was served with butternut and pear puree, bacon roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, and topped with a veal demi. It was the clear star at our table. The veal was perfectly grilled, beautifully pink and juicy. The butternut squash and pear puree was outstanding. It was a great compliment to the veal and just delicious on its own. There was a lot of sweetness from the roasted squash with just a touch of tartness from the pear, plus the texture was silky smooth. The Brussels sprouts were nicely cooked. All three of these dishes were very well presented, from an elegant look for the veal tenderloin plate to a strong, rustic plating for the pork shank.
The Mac and Cheese was a little thick for my tastes, but both flavorful and plentiful,. My daughters ate it up without complaining, and that’s a better endorsement than I could ever give.
While on the topic of my daughters, I want to mention that the service was excellent, not only in providing for the kids – which our servers did wonderfully – but throughout the whole meal. Even as the dining room filled up, we were very well taken care of the entire time.
Vine Yard East doesn’t have a set dessert menu; they offer items that are made in-house that day. We chose the Pumpkin Cheesecake with Almond Brittle, which was so enjoyed by everyone at the table that I barely got a taste. But that was all right with me – I was very happy with the Chocolate Brownie with Peanut Butter Chips and Peanut Butter Mousse. Yes, it was as rich as it sounds and even if I wasn’t sharing, I don’t think I could have finished the whole thing. We would gladly return to Vine Yard East to try some different things, or just to have that veal and butternut puree again. It’s the kind of place that calls for repeat visits, and what more could you ask from a neighborhood restaurant?