Time Out says
Growing up in Rhode Island, I drank coffee milk (think chocolate milk but with coffee syrup instead of Nesquick) alongside my school lunches in kindergarten, ate clam cakes (basically a savory beignet filled with chopped clams) by the half dozen on warm summer nights and grabbed a slice of pizza hot off the grill instead of fresh out of the oven.
But, entering adulthood, I felt that Little Rhody wasn’t big and exciting enough for me, so I moved to NYC where I quickly learned that the Ocean State’s culinary creations are hard to find outside its 1,212 square miles. And so I was surprised to catch wind of Violet, an homage to RI cuisine in Alphabet City from the Pizza Loves Emily group.
Just a guess, but such a concept was probably not the result of market research on the big bucks to be raked in from feeding expats of the country’s smallest state. No, this seems like genuine passion project for owners Emily and Matt Hyland, who attended school in Providence. But I, for one, was there to experience the comfort of home cooking.
The place was buzzing like a five-year-old hyped up on coffee milk late on a weeknight. I tried to catch a “chowdahead” accent among the patrons, but I couldn’t identify any “swamp Yankees”; instead, a hip downtown crowd was getting what was perhaps their first taste of the grilled pizza that Providence’s Al Forno restaurant perfected. Here’s how simple it is to make: Slap the dough on the grill until it’s crisp, then flip it over and add toppings while the other side cooks through. Since one side is resting on direct fire, the toppings must be precooked or thin enough cook swiftly—that means no heavy tomato sauce and no extra cheese. Violet’s toppings include caramelized onions, grilled winter squash and a broccoli-and-pistachio pesto.
We went with the Dune Duck pie: duck prosciutto (not exactly a Rhode Island staple), clams, leeks and hoisin. When we cut into the pie with the provided kitchen scissors, the crust’s char and chew immediately took me back to a late-’90s block party—there’s no other pizza quite like it. The clam and duck provided a complex wisp of salt that rode on a wave of sweet hoisin. (After a few slices, though, the hoisin became too dominant, so ask for just a drizzle.)
We were also drawn to the grilled shrimp and “stuffies”, a classic RI snack of calm-and-herb stuffing in a fist-size quahog shell. Violet’s were served in smaller shells (all the better for large groups) filled with Portuguese linguiça-and-pretzel stuffing topped with sea urchin—a real crowd-pleaser.
Meanwhile, the grilled shrimp sat atop a flint-corn johnnycake, traditionally a pan-fried cornbread disk smeared with a humble butter pat but here classed up into a more of a polenta cake. That base acted as a succulent sponge for the shrimp’s juices to mingle with the spicy piri tikka.
This wasn’t my forefathers’ New England cooking. I came for a taste of home; instead, I was charmed to find the pride of Rhode Island elegantly zhooshed up for the big city.