Comfort food is alive and well in Providence. Chefs refine and expand on what’s possible for the simple dishes we know and love. On the West Side, The Slow Rhode combines Southern comfort with a Northeast twist. Chef Paul Harrington tells us his favorite dishes, why he makes nearly everything in-house and one piece of feedback he loves to see.
I hear you make most everything by hand, from scratch.
Working with my hands is the biggest thing. Everything we do here, we do by hand. We make all our sausage in-house, we butcher our own fish and we do a little bit of meat butchery, too. I like to take raw ingredients and turn them into a finished product. I don’t like to buy prepared mustards or anything like that. The only prepared thing that we serve here is our ketchup.
The Slow Rhode focuses on Southern-style comfort food. Do you stay true to traditional recipes or do you mix things up?
We put our own twist on things. The gumbo is the only dish we’re really strict about. The way we serve our pimento cheese, for instance, is sacrilegious to Southern people. It’s traditionally served cold with bread on the side or as a sandwich. We toast slices of baguette, spread the cheese on it and then warm it under the broiler. It’s not proper, but we like it. We’ve been criticized a few times from Southern diners, but oh well.
Are there any examples of how you get creative with the menu and bring in new ideas?
I recently put a Banh Mi on the menu. It’s a Vietnamese sandwich. We do it with chicken liver mousse, pickled carrots, cilantro, coconut, peanuts and a house-made chicken sausage. We make the sausage by grinding up the meat, peanuts, rice and ginger together with spices. It’s pretty simple to make, but the flavor is impressive.
What’s one of your favorite things to eat at The Slow Rhode?
One of my favorite things is the burger. I love burgers. We get consistently good feedback on it, so it has turned into a staple on the menu. We use grass-fed beef, sweet onion jam, cheddar cheese and iceburg lettuce between a Martin’s potato roll (my favorite sandwich roll). When Pat and I were first talking about creating a burger for the menu, he asked what kind of bread we should use and we both said, “Martin’s!” at the same time.
Many chefs tend to be perfectionists. How do you approach the craft of cooking?
I’m a stickler for technique, but I don’t fuss over plating things with flowers and micro greens. That’s where I get lost with fine dining. I don’t feel the need to drop an herb on the plate to make it look fancy. I’d rather just work on perfecting the cooking techniques, plate it naturally and send it out to the guest while it’s still hot.
For instance, we have soft shell crabs on the menu right now. We pan fry each one with clean oil every time. So the oil needs to be hot enough, but not too hot so it burns. Then you have to turn the crab at the right time, get it in the oven and make the set (sautéed greens, asparagus, a little bit of butter and white wine) to finish simultaneously.
From a technical standpoint, everything has to be executed at the right time, in the right order, or the finished dish isn’t right.
Is there an experimental dish that you were surprised by?
The pan-roasted hake is one of my favorite specials right now. It’s a filet with a basil-almond pesto, sautéed radish tops and peas. When I first thought about it, I figured it was just a typical dish of the season. But then I tasted it and was like, “Whoa, that’s incredible.” I never cooked hake before, so I was surprised how well it came out.
What type of feedback do you appreciate from your guests?
I just like to see clean plates. If you see a clean plate, that can’t be a bad sign. And we’ve got pretty good feedback so far. Brutal feedback can be good sometimes, too, because you’re forced to face your mistakes. I keep track of all the reviews on Yelp because that’s where you’ll get some of your toughest criticism. Most people don’t want to tell you or the server that stuff while sitting in the restaurant.
The Slow Rhode
425 West Fountain Street