Let me get this out of the way:
I’m about to review a restaurant that’s sandwiched between a Banana Republic and an Applebee’s. You might think this is a demerit, but I see it as a testament to Rhode Island’s spirit of independence: a small, locally owned restaurant popping up amidst the chain stores (however nice) of Cranston’s Garden City Center. Brothers Carlo and Gennaro Slaughter opened Bistro 22
in Garden City a little over a year ago and it already has many dedicated fans.
We visited on an intermittently rainy day, but chanced an outdoor seat and ordered cocktails. In the Cage ($9) immediately caught my attention: a silver tequila, ginger and grapefruit concoction in a rocks glass with a ginger salt rim. My husband had the William Munny ($9), made with Rittenhouse rye, orange bitters, a twist of lemon and cherries soaked in Fernet Branca. Our waiter gave him an approving look, so we knew it would be a strong one. It was as masculine as its namesake, the protagonist of the western Unforgiven, portrayed by the iconic Clint Eastwood. The Fernet-soaked cherries had quite a kick, and luckily there were enough that I could talk my way into a couple.
We started with two appetizers. The Mussels “Fra Diavolo” ($10.95) were big enough to be a meal. A liberal portion of plump mussels were nestled in a bowl of broth with roasted cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers and thick slices of garlic. The four triangles of grilled bread were surprisingly absorbent, and the broth, with a perfect amount of heat, was so good we had to get out the spoon when nobody was watching.
The Bruschetta Trio ($10.95) had diverse toppings: a “caprese” pair with mozzarella, tomato and balsamic vinegar; one pair with ricotta and fresh herbs; and the last pair, my favorite, spread with Cambozola cheese and fig jam.
We shared a bottle of the Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner ($5). True to its name, it had a grassy, fresh taste due to dry hopping, the practice of adding hops later in the beer making process.
We shared a Caprese salad ($9.95) and the kitchen was thoughtful enough to send it out on two plates. House-made mozzarella, yellow heirloom tomatoes and a pumpkin seed pesto elevated this classic combination.
When I glanced at Bistro 22’s menu before our visit, it seemed like fairly standard American bistro fare: flat-bread pizza, a half chicken with vegetables, classic Caesar salad. But as we took a deeper look and selected dishes, I noticed many nuances that demonstrated creativity and added extra interest, especially on the entree list.
My husband ordered the Grilled Pork Chop ($23.95). The chop was glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce, topped with a fruit salsa and served with a generous side of hearty chorizo hash. I wavered but eventually settled on the Ricotta Stuffed Gnocchi ($24.95). Large, pillowy gnocchi were topped with pulled short rib, sliced mushroom ragout and a dose of truffle oil that I could smell even before the plate hit the table. This combination had the potential to be too dense and I was puzzled by the idea of stuffing gnocchi. But they were pillow-light and the ricotta in every bite made this dish a joy to eat. With our entrées, we drank glasses of the Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc ($9/glass) and the Underwood Pinot Noir ($9/glass).
We went a bit wild with our dessert order. The Caramelized Banana and Chocolate Portuguese Bread Pudding ($6.95) with vanilla ice cream came highly recommended, and we couldn’t forego the Beignets (also $6.95) because of our fond memories of New Orleans. The beignets were just a touch dry but everything else was delightful, especially the three beignet dipping sauces (chocolate hazelnut, caramel and berry compote). Even with two desserts, how could we pass up the Limoncello “Flight” ($8.95)? The bar makes several liqueurs in house, and our sample of four included classic lemon, peach, green apple and pineapple served on a surprisingly tasteful light-up shot rack. The apple was a little too close to appletini-land for my taste, but the pineapple and lemon were pleasantly natural.
The clouds angrily grumbled as we paid our tab and we just avoided getting caught in the rain. No matter, we would have been happy to sit in Bistro 22’s beautifully designed interior with its natural accents and warm, casual feel.
Don’t let the location sway you; Bistro 22 should be taken seriously. And don’t pretend you can resist the Container Store on your way out.
22 Midway Road, Cranston