Warren is undergoing a restaurant renaissance at the moment and there are several very experienced kitchen veterans leading the growth. The latest restaurant to open is headed by Peter and Janet Devine. The Devines have run a catering business out of Barrington for many years, and in practical New England Yankee fashion, they took the well-established business name and attached it to their new restaurant: Simply Devine. The Devines also decided to open their restaurant in a spot where one had already existed, which inevitably leads to the very typical Rhode Island con- versation of, “Have you been to Simply Devine?” “Where’s that?” “The old Nat Porter Inn.”
However, what would seem to be a very practical move of opening a restaurant in an existing one’s shell turned out to be a major undertaking, as the over 200-year-old building had been empty for three years by the time the Devines purchased it. While dining there, Janet, a very attentive front of the house host, stopped by our table to see how everything was. Of course, we had to ask about the work that went into restoring the place, as it looked stunning.
Janet told us they painted every room, refinished the floors, remodeled the kitchen (which will also serve as their catering kitchen now) and had a new roof put on the building. It is a beautiful restoration, clearly staying true to the history of the building and the surrounding neighborhood. One major change would probably be that the many fireplaces, which I actually lost count of, have been converted to burn gas. I’m sure this is more efficient and safe, but there’s something about burning wood that would have added to the historic look and feel of the space.
Another major change is the renovations made to their gorgeous bar. In fact, my wife and I both agreed that as nice as our table in the dining room was, next time we visit we want to have a seat at that bar. I have a feeling you’ll have to come a little on the early side if you want that spot, as the restaurant, which has only been open for a little over a month now, was packed at 7pm on a Saturday night. But those people weren’t there just for the décor. Peter Devine was working away in the kitchen, turning out some very good casual American dishes.
We started with the Lobster Cake with Tarragon Aioli ($10) and a cup of Meat Chili ($4). Both were great starters for the evening. The lobster cake was light and flavorful, with very little filler. The chili was classic and satisfying, like a cup of comfort food should be. There were also two Starters for Two on the menu that drew our eye for a future visit: a Seasonal Antipasto for Two and a Spanish Tapas for Two, a great idea to have alongside the usual Clams Casino, Chowder and Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, which are always Rhode Island crowd pleasers.
For dinner I ordered the Baked Stuffed Shrimp ($23) and my wife had the Chicken Cardinal ($16), which was chicken, brandy, butter, basil and plum tomatoes with a touch of heavy cream over linguine. Again, good examples of traditional comfort food, but not in any way typical or boring. The shrimp were perfectly cooked with a hearty heap of stuffing on top that wasn’t over loaded with cracker crumbs. It was very well-executed, as was the pilaf and green beans that were served alongside. In fact, I made special note of how perfectly the green beans were cooked. They were blanched to a vibrant green and nicely crisp. The Chicken Cardinal had a nice combination of flavors that was warm and pleasing when heaped upon some good pasta.
There was also a menu page of salads and sandwiches for lighter eating, though as I saw a burger pass by our table, it looked great to have on a night out for a burger and beer. The beer list would be perfect for that, with three on tap, including (almost) local favorite Narragansett, and 10 more available by the bottle. The wine list had 12 whites and nine reds, all by the glass. There were some good choices, but I’d like to see them vary it a little bit from the usual suspects.
In addition to working the front of the house, Janet is also a pastry chef. Dessert was definitely a high point of the meal. In fact, when you enter the restaurant, the room to the right of the entrance houses a well-lit pastry display and looked like it could be a nice place to stop in and enjoy a homemade dessert and coffee in the late afternoon while shopping on Water Street or nearby Main Street. Everything on the dessert tray looked delicious. We ordered the Walnut Tart ($7) and the Peanut Butter Cupcake ($3). Even after eating everything else, we happily polished those desserts off.
As if the major undertaking of restoring an 18th century inn wasn’t enough work, the Devines are now running a restaurant six days a week in addition to their thriving catering business. It’s clear they’ve figured out the right combination to make it all work.