One in a series on iconic New England eateries.
TIVERTON, R.I. — Situated on the tranquil eastern shore of tidal Nanaquaket Pond, Evelyn’s Drive In has been a fixture of southeast Rhode Island since Evelyn DuPont established the clam shack in 1969. All the classics are on the menu, including Rhode Island clam chowder (made with clear broth), Rhode Island clam cakes (substantial balls of fried dough with chopped clams mixed in), and deep-fried clams, scallops, and fish fillets.
But Evelyn’s — owned and operated by Jane and Domenic Bitto since 1987 — takes a number of the standards to the next level. The farm country summer stalwart sandwich of bacon, lettuce, and tomato, for example, is often available with a seafood twist as a fried cod BLT. Look for it on the specials board. Evelyn’s even turns an overflowing plate of fish and chips into a new handheld standard with the fish and chips wrap — fried cod, french fries, cole slaw, and tartar sauce all rolled into a wrap. (There are more fries on the side.)
The lobster roll, available in two sizes, is rightly considered a purist’s roll. Rather than being stuffed with the usual lobster salad, it consists of a toasted hot dog bun with split tails, lobster claws, and just a little knuckle meat spilling out. Melted butter or mayo is available on the side. It really amounts to a plate of lobster with a toasted roll.
But the signature dish at Evelyn’s is lobster chow mein, one of the more unusual ways to serve lobster that we’ve ever encountered. Chow mein noodles — a typically northern Chinese noodle that is fried until crisp — have been popular in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island since a noodle factory opened in Fall River in the 1930s. Chow mein was already on the menu when the Bittos purchased Evelyn’s, but in one of those eureka moments that advances casual cuisine, they wondered how chow mein might taste with lobster on top.
“Lobster is like bacon,” explained server Kathy Kulpa when we inquired about the dish. “Everything tastes better when you put it on top.”
We were skeptical, but Kulpa had a point. The Bittos make their chow mein sauce with stock and add their own onion, celery, and bean sprouts. The big bowl is served with five ounces of lobster (again, mostly claws and split tails) nestling atop the crunchy noodles — all of it topped with the homey, slightly salty sauce. It’s as pretty as it is tasty.
The food also comes with a view. The little red building has a counter and a few cozy tables inside for chilly or damp days. But during nice weather, diners who opt for table service and a chance to chat with the waitstaff eat behind the restaurant at tables with sun umbrellas. Those who order at the takeout windows can carry their food to one of the carport-style picnic tables behind the parking lot. Every diner gets a nice view of Nanaquaket Pond, which flows into the saltwater Sakonnet River that runs between Aquidneck Island and Rhode Island’s east-side mainland. Boaters can even tie up at Evelyn’s dock and come ashore to order takeout. Time your visit right and you can catch a sunset over the water.
“I tell people to sit back and relax and enjoy it,” said Kulpa. “That’s part of why you’re here.”
EVELYN’S DRIVE IN 2335 Main Road, Tiverton, R.I. 401-624-3100. Open daily until Labor Day 11:30 a.m.-
8 p.m. (Fri-Sun till 9 in July-August). Call for September hours. Sandwiches $3-$31 (some items market price).
Patricia Harris and David Lyon are the authors of HungryTravelers.com and Food Lovers Guide to Rhode Island. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.