NEW SHOREHAM — The weeks following Labor Day on Block Island become a decrescendo of day trippers looking for an afternoon of beach parties, out-of-town families on weekend excursions, and adventurous travelers looking to explore the rural beauty beyond the town’s main stops. By mid-September, vacation season is over as children are back in school and fewer flock to the ferry lines, ready to take the 9-mile trip from the mainland to this costal reserve.
Year-round locals, many of whom work in the service industry themselves, can finally take a breath after a busy summer. At this point, the island’s population has dwindled from about 12,000 closer to its winter resident count of a little over 1,000. While many restaurants and hotels close for the rest of the year after Labor Day, there are several who boast the nearby water’s fish and produce grown right outside their kitchens’ doors as a way to draw locals in.
Here are some of the best places to eat on Block Island this fall, according to locals.
THE BARN AT SPRING HOUSE
For restaurant chefs in the early 1900s, “Long Island duck” was a favorite poultry, treasured for its tender flesh. The admiration for the bird came after Pekin duck, which came from China, was first introduced to Americans around 1870. By the mid-twentieth century, Long Island’s duck farms were producing about 7.5 million per year, and having it as an entree on any menu meant a hearty, well-nourished meal.
At The Barn at Spring House, chef Brian Hebert orders Long Island ducks during the fall each year. The entree ($44) pairs a seared duck breast with a crispy duck leg confit atop a wild mushroom and pancetta bread pudding, and glazed carrots with a black cherry port wine reduction.
The Barn, which has a farm-to-table focus, is detached from the iconic Spring House built in 1872 and has an open kitchen, wood-fired grill, and garden outside that feeds diners’ plates year-round. Hebert has been with the The Barn for the last decade, and eight of those years as executive chef.
This year, they’re growing 3 acres worth of produce — from garlic and corn to potatoes, onions, eggplant, and squash — which is a special hobby for Frank DiBiase Jr., who owns the hotel with his wife Cathy. Together, they operate the Atwells Group, which overseas Providence Oyster Bar, Federal Taphouse and Kitchen, among several other hospitality businesses.
While much of the island, including other year-round restaurants, close up for the holidays, The Barn is one of the only stops to host a massive Thanksgiving meal each year. Whether you’re there for the holiday or just leading up to it, try a dessert (or two) by pastry chef Andrea Carcea, such as her pumpkin spiced crème brûlée or the triple-layer chocolate hazelnut cake.
What to order: The roasted brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts and bacon lardons, the roasted heirloom carrots with a barley and wild mushroom risotto and sage beurre blanc, and the seared Long Island duck. Always ask about their daily tomahawk special. 52 Spring St., 401-466-5844 ext. 106, springhouseblockisland.com.
Dave Silverberg first opened Eli’s Restaurant, named after his beloved black lab Eli, in 1994. Six years later, in 2000, local innkeepers Brad and Anne Marthens, who still operate the iconic Atlantic Inn, purchased the restaurant with executive chef Edward Moon. Rosemary Tobin, a long-time bartender at Eli’s and local realtor, came on as an owner in 2017.
During that time, chef Erika Monat was only an intern while in her first year at the New England Culinary Institute. Since then, she’s worked her way up to executive chef where she’s serving fun dishes like the tuna nachos, which uses sushi-grade yellowfin tuna, sesame, wakame seaweed salad, and crispy wonton chips.
Eli’s will close sometime in mid-November and is expected to reopen by the end of March 2023.
What to order: Tuna nachos (for a vegetarian option, try the wakame nachos), seared tuna steak with charred garlic baby bok choy, truffled beef pasta with black pepper fettuccine. Ask about their extensive wine list. 456 Chapel St., 401-466-5230, elisblockisland.com.
From the sidewalk, Persephone’s Kitchen is a postage stamp-size café tucked away along busy Dodge Street, conveniently located within a five-minute walk from the ferry to grab your first real cup of caffeine on the island. But inside is a cozy interior with vibrant nooks to settle into, such as a dimly-lit side room with bench seating, decorative pillows, green plants, a vintage-looking chandelier, and low coffee tables. The menu is scratched on various hanging chalkboards over the front counter, where apothecary-looking jars hold curious coffee blends and glass domes cover oversized, flaky pastries and coffee cakes.
Owned by year-round islander Persephone Brown, a certified health coach who studied at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Persephone’s Kitchen was built on the belief that comfort food can be nourishing.
What to order: Her egg sandwiches taste fresh, but be sure to ask what the day’s frittata holds, which is served with sourdough toast and dressed arugula. For a snack, end tomato season right with the tomato and goat cheese toast. Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m., but bowls like the sweet potato “pie” — warm coconut quinoa topped with ginger-cinnamon sweet potato, pecans, blueberries, agave, and coconut cream — keep you full. 235 Dodge St., 401-466-5070, persephoneskitchenbi.com.
In the early 1970s, islanders would head to McAloon’s Saloon, owned by Vin McAloon, for a pint. That original tavern is long gone, but his daughter and lifelong islander Kathleen McAloon opened McAloon’s in the beginning of 2016′s summer season.
It’s a typical Irish pub, where there’s no shortage of Guinness, poutine, or corned beef. They count down the days (starting at six months) to St. Patrick’s Day, but are open all year. Add a “Slainte” to your bill for $10 to buy the hard-working kitchen staff a round.
What to order: Guinness lamb stew, Irish poutine, and any of the day’s specials. 596 Corn Neck Road, 401-466-2928, facebook.com/McAloonSaloon.
Kimberly Ward worked just about everywhere on the island — from summer favorites Dead Eyed Dicks to Beachead Restaurant — before opening her own restaurant during the summer of 2014. Her husband, Norman Ward, runs the back-of-the-house along with managers Patti and Terry Smith.
At Kimberly’s, they specialize in the traditional Provençal fish stew bouillabaisse, which includes everything from the sea — like scallops, shrimp, and mussels — and poached in a saffron-infused seafood tomato-base broth. The seafood fra diavolo is made with “Norm’s own spicy marinara,” and the Thai coconut curry shrimp is prepared with manager Terry Smith’s recipe for a sweet and spicy red curry sauce and sautéed with local, seasonal vegetables.
The Wards and Smiths also own Block Island Oyster Bar & Grill, which recently moved under Hotel Manisses on Spring Street this spring — and both of which close for the season by mid-October. Plates are served in a bright, window-filled dining room or alfresco style on the lawn with sweeping views. In the kitchen, they use Block Island-harvested oysters and locally-sourced seafood and produce for dishes like the oysters thermidor (sautéed with Maine lobster and cremini mushrooms and finished with a tarragon beurre monte) or the Japanese-style oysters (which are chilled and served with a miso glaze and wakame).
Kimberly’s typically shuts down for about a month between Thanksgiving to Christmas, but reopens for New Year’s Eve with a special menu. One year, they served hearty plates like Tournedos de Boeuf Dianne with a chive sherry brandy demi-glace, duck a l’orange au poivre, and a crab cake dinner using sweet blue crabs with a roasted red pepper cilantro beurre blanc.
What to order: For shareable plates and starters, try the coconut curry lobster bisque, watermelon feta salad, and ahi tuna with a sweet coriander rub. For entrees, order the seafood fra diavolo, the bouillabaisse, and Thai coconut curry shrimp. 238 Ocean Ave., 401-465-6243, kimberlysblockisland.com.
POOR PEOPLE’S PUB
The late Dan Davis and Jimbo Keating were two unemployed contractors when they founded the Poor People’s Pub in the New Hampshire village of Sanbornville in 1974. They thought of the bar’s name based on their own circumstances. Bo Keating, along with Brenna and Ross Audino later opened a sister location on Block Island, where a no-frills menu honors those with palates that require comfort food.
The Audinos now also own TigerFish, the only late-night kitchen on the island, serving Asian fusion bites until midnight. At the bar, they have a solid sake and cocktail selection inspired by tiki lounge flavors like coconut, passionfruit, fresh watermelon juice, and pineapple. They close for the season after Columbus Day Weekend.
The Poor People’s Pub, which will close after Halloween but will reopen in April 2023, offers a lengthy menu of their famous mac n’ cheese, burgers, sandwiches, and pizza. But here’s a tip: Skip the regular menu for the day’s specials, which change regularly and could include dishes like a pumpkin lasagna (which is literally oozing out of a sugar pumpkin) or crispy duck legs with cranberry, green bean almondine, and mashed potatoes.