WESTERLY, R.I. — This time of year, Westerly has a palpable “when the cat’s away” vibe, with locals roaming freely without the congestion and difficulties getting reservations that come with the summer’s part-time populace. Though fully within winter’s embrace, the dining scene here is warm and unhurried, with many eateries offering fireside dining and heartier, stick-to-your-ribs dishes.
Here are some not-to-miss spots for a cozy winter dinner in Westerly.
High Hope Tavern
For more than 30 years, Pete Canny came to Westerly in the summer months, so when his partners at Endless Hospitality Group were ready to open their first venture outside of Manhattan, he convinced them to take a look at Westerly, and it wasn’t a hard sell. “They kind of fell in love with it,” he said. High Hope Tavern opened in late 2022 in The Brown Building, part of Westerly’s Downtown Historic District. Considered one of the best-preserved late-Victorian Era commercial buildings in the area, the restaurant’s “New England tavern” concept and menu capitalizes on the abundance of local farms and fresh seafood nearby. “There’s such a body of excellent ingredients, so close, to be utilized, and we love the people and we love their area,” said Canny.
Under the command of chef Ned Denton, who was plucked from New York City, starters ranging from $10 to $18 include local oysters served both on the halfshell or roasted with charred scallion butter, plus fried smelts and a fried clam roll. Mains, $24 to $32, include local mussels, honey nut squash risotto, and linguini with clam sauce, but landlubbers will appreciate options like the duck au vin and the burger made from house-ground local beef.
“We switch our menu up pretty often and seasonally, and we’re looking forward to doing some fun, off-season parties and dinners,” added Canny.
Location: 18 High St., Westerly, R.I., highhopetavern.com.
Nana’s Bakery & Pizza
Before opening in Rhode Island in March 2022, Nana’s had a well-earned reputation from its flagship Mystic, Connecticut, location, further solidified when it was named one of America’s best new restaurants by Esquire Magazine in 2021. Chef/co-owner James Wayman and head baker David Vacca, chef Kevin English, and co-owners Aaron Laipply and Dave Vacca have stayed true to their farm-to-table approach and commitment to local sourcing with their location on High Street in Westerly. Wayman said they have forged relationships with area farmers and fisherman, seek out sustainably grown produce, and source grain in Connecticut and from Maine Grains, a co-op that manufactures locally grown organic heritage grains through a traditional stone milling process. “It’s always been part of my restaurant philosophy… the idea that if you can support the local economy, it will support you, and what better way to do it than with agriculture?” he asked.
Nana’s dinner menu is anchored by seasonality, so winter’s bounty takes center stage throughout. The ricotta ravioli with delicata squash and brown butter Seacoast Mushrooms grown in Mystic is a hearty dish while the seared locally caught sea scallops are served with local bok choy. But it’s the sourdough pizza, ranging from $14 to $25, that seems to lure so many. The dough goes through a “long, slow, cold bulk fermentation” of at least 48 hours before it’s ready to make pies, rendering a memorable chewy crust. Nana’s offers a half dozen or so pizza variations to pair with a glass of wine from one of the wine list’s predominantly small producers.
“We just feel so welcomed in Westerly and we’d love being in Rhode Island,” said Wayman. “It definitely gets quieter in the winter, but it gives us a little more time to focus on the food and service, and just tuck into a nice meal at a cozy restaurant at night. It’s awesome.”
Location: 82 High St., Westerly, R.I., nanasri.com.
“We’re not a farm-to-table restaurant,” declared Stephen Corrigan, general manager of The Cafė. It’s not as though the restaurant doesn’t serve local farm-fresh foods. The oysters are sourced from an oyster farm nearby, the mushrooms were grown “down the road,” oil and vinegar from Capizzano Olive Oils & Vinegars from across the river in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, and juices for the bar program are from High Tide Juice Company just five minutes away. But Corrigan sees The Cafe as something bigger than “just” a restaurant. “Part of our overarching kind of mission is to create something that helps to build and unite the community, alongside the theater through the arts, through culture, through food and drink, through education,” he said.
The restaurant opened nearly in tandem with the multimillion dollar restoration of the United Theater, a vaudeville theater dating back to 1926. Though separate entities, the neighboring businesses thrive off one another. The Cafe offers shareable snacks ideal for pre-theater eats: deviled eggs, crispy fried artichokes, Mexican street corn elote croquettes, charcuterie, a hummus platter, and even a fondue, in addition to a robust main menu and serious cocktail list. Corrigan credits chef Brandon Gale and the entire kitchen with producing dishes that pay homage to “classic American recipes” but with elevated techniques.
Open year round, Corrigan said the restaurant helps to bridge the gap between Watch Hill and downtown. “Of course, food and drink are sort of the canvas on which we paint, but we’re really in the people business,” said Corrigan. “Intentionality is a really important thing. There isn’t a square square inch of this place, or anything that we serve or do, that hasn’t been thought over and considered.”
Location: 3 Canal St., Westerly, R.I., thecaferi.com.
Since opening this fall, Bar Pisco has been impressing guests with authentic Peruvian dishes, including golden, flaky, handmade empanadas filled with beef saltado served with aji amarillo (a yellow Peruvian chili pepper) emulsion, roasted yuca served with a trio of salsas plus plantains and crispy corn, and chaufa, Peruvian-style fried rice made with roasted chicken, Chinese noodles and oyster sauce. Two dishes, one an appetizer and the other an entree, are a Peruvian twist on local Rhode Island littleneck clams.
Start with the crudo menu, where the handful of small plates ranging from $14 to $17 are ideal for sharing. The fluke ceviche includes sweet potato, white corn, and leche de tigre (a Peruvian citrus marinade) served alongside cancha, a toasted corn snack. Main dishes range from $19 to $27 and desserts, including suspiro limeño (custard topped with a Port flavored meringue). Though a small menu, each dish seems thoughtful, as does Bar Pisco’s robust cocktail program. A classic Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru, is a popular choice, or its daily variation of the drink: Pisco Sour, The Remix.
Location: 1 Railroad Ave., Westerly, R.I., piscowesterly.com.
COAST and The Bistro, Ocean House
While the Ocean House is emblematic of a New England summer, the historic property leans into the winter months with menus that are just as bountiful as during the “peak” season.
Executive Chef Terence Feury has been at the helm here for a year, and said he strives for multi-dimensional dishes to offer complex flavors and depth, citing COAST’s poached lobster as an example. “That plate has a lot of different textures, but we’re looking for balance overall,” he said. Harmonizing flavor profiles of lobster, apple, parsnips are highlighted with a little lemon and olive oil, then artfully presented on the plate with edible flowers. “That is one of the more dynamic winter dishes I think that we have,” he said.
COAST — a Forbes five-star restaurant – is the property’s most upscale dining space; The Bistro is somewhat more casual, but the two are equally hyper-focused on in-season flavor. The chef’s tasting menu with half a dozen courses ($145 per person plus tax and gratuity), is a comprehensive journey into the creative approach of the entire kitchen’s talent. “It’s really a labor of love, the collaboration,” said Feury. “It just has to be so thoughtful. I mean, it’s it’s big ticket dinner, so it has to deliver. It has to be impressive.” And it is. But dining on “Westerly Wednesday” might bring the best bang for your buck. At $55, the three-course prix-fixe menu, which includes a glass of wine, teases diners with starters like beef tartare, entrees including steak frites and fettuccine Bolognese, and a dessert creation by their new executive pastry chef Jessica Quiet. “Man she is just a powerhouse; endless creativity and an artistic approach,” said Feury. “I’ve definitely put on a few pounds since she started.”
Location: 1 Bluff Ave., Westerly, R.I., oceanhouseri.com/culinary.
The Restaurant at Weekapaug Inn
Chef Andrew Brooks says winter is his favorite time of year on Quonochontaug Pond, and the scents emanating from the fireplaces in the Weekapaug Inn’s dining room, bar, and lounge help set the scene. “You always have that beautiful smell of fresh burned wood and lots of places to sit and get cozy by the fire,” said chef Andrew Brooks. Similarly, his vegetable-driven menu is reflective of the season at hand, with a focus on local ingredients. “We always just try to find fun new inventive ways to surprise and delight the guests with what’s seasonal,” he said.
Brooks said he enjoys the increase in “drive-on dining” during the winter, when guests come to the Inn to eat but don’t stay overnight. “We want people to come from far and wide to experience the food here,” he said, adding that Sunday Supper is one of the best times of the week to do so. The family style-meal ($45 per adult, $25 per child age 9 and under) includes a seasonal salad, bread from nearby Nana’s Bakery & Pizza, from-scratch pasta pomodoro, grilled salmon with a caper beurre blanc, pan-seared chicken breast, Rhode Island mushroom risotto, sides of mashed potatoes or roasted root vegetables, and a skillet cookie for the table served with ice cream and caramel. The meal includes a complimentary glass of wine. “It’s all really nice, hearty, and shareable,” said Brooks. “We put it all in the center and it’s just a perfect family style feast on Sundays.”
Diners can also order a la carte, or dive into the chef’s tasting menu, a four-course meal for $120 (or $190 with wine pairing). “I always say our tasting menu and our main menu are not a different quality of food, it’s more about the journey of the experience you have with a tasting menu, when you go from course to course,” explained Brooks. “We throw in lots of surprises along the way with cheese courses and amuse and pre-desserts and things like that.” Current tasting menu dishes include Long Island duck confit tortellini with saffron, goat cheese and Italian black winter truffles, and Jonah crab with heirloom carrots, pomegranates, and blood orange. The crab species peaks in New England waters in the winter months, and is a good example of sustainable seafood.
Location: 25 Spray Rock Road, Westerly, R.I., weekapauginn.com.
Ella’s Food & Drink
For more than a decade, Ella’s Food & Drink has impressed diners with a diverse menu touting Asian, French, and Italian influences. Chef Jeanie Roland, a seven-time James Beard award nominee, has been sourcing cruelty-free farmed meats and organic produce since she opened her first restaurant, The Perfect Caper, in Punta Gorda, Florida, in 2002.
Appetizers range from $10 to $24 and include red Thai curried Prince Edward Island mussels with pomme frites—the dish Roland made to crown her the winner on an episode of the Food Network show, “Beat Bobby Flay.” There are a handful of pasta and noodle dishes ranging from $28 to $36, including chicken burrata — a pan-seared chicken breast, rigatoncini pasta imported from Italy, light tomato sauce, burrata cheese, mushrooms and crispy prosciutto. More than a dozen entrees, ranging from $16 to $62 (the latter being a Moroccan-spiced Australian rack of lamb) showcase Roland’s culinary breadth. Grilled sea scallops are topped with brulé of crab and yuzu tobiko, and served with coconut “forbidden black rice,” baby bok choy, and apricot beurre blanc. “Momma’s” buttermilk fried chicken comes with cheddar grits, wilted greens, and sweet corn sauce. For a heartier winter dish, look to the duck a deux facons, or two ways, featuring crispy duck confit and garlic marinated duck breast with wilted greens, mashed potatoes, lentil-pancetta vinaigrette and thyme jus.
Roland continues a legacy of female chef-owners at the restaurant gracing the corner of Tower and Granite streets. She named the restaurant after the late chef-owner Eleanor Capizzano, whose family restaurant previously occupied the building for decades. Despite many culinary accolades, one of Roland’s most-seen claims to fame came when she gave a private cooking class to Taylor Swift and fellow songstress Lorde at the restaurant some years ago.
Location: 2 Tower St, Westerly, R.I., ellasfinefoodanddrink.com.
With views of both Westerly’s historic mill buildings and fishing boats chugging along the Pawcatuck River, Cinder seems to straddle the town’s past and present. The name is a nod to the cornerstone of the restaurant’s menu: smoked meats. But these proteins fuse global flavors in creative, unexpected dishes, including a selection of tacos made with Indian naan instead of traditional tortillas. The smoked brisket burnt ends naan tacos, if you can get them before they sell out, include beet barbeque sauce, cabbage, bread-and-butter pickles, and cilantro (at two for $18, it’s the highest-priced menu item). The banh mi version features hot honey pork belly, pickled carrot and daikon, lentil sunflower pate, cilantro, jalapeno, and sriracha aioli.
Housed inside a modern wooden outpost built by owner Sam Agnello Jr. and his father-in-law and inspired by Westerly’s shipbuilding past, Cinder blurs the line between barbeque joint, brewery, cocktail bar, and hot brunch spot. A yeoman’s task, but Cinder does it effortlessly, just as they somehow cater to voracious carnivores and plant-based diners alike. “It’s a little quirky for a small town maybe, but people seem to dig it,” said Agnello Jr. Serving lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends, the quick serve restaurant has all the hallmarks of a full service space, and has a thoughtful selection of beer, wine and craft cocktails.
Location: 169 Main St, Westerly, R.I. cinderrestaurant.com.