The uninitiated may mistake East Providence for a part of Rhode Island’s capital, but it is separated from Providence by the Providence River and is the fifth largest city in the Ocean State. If you don’t believe us, ask two its most famous natives: former pro baseball player Davey Lopes and TV star Meredith Vieira. Ethnic-rich East Providence has a sizable representation of those with roots in Portugal, the Azores, and Cape Verde, and boasts a diverse and down-home dining scene, unique shopping, and great outdoor options that will delight the most energetic young explorers, all in a city with a comfortable, old-school vibe.
Family-friendly is the order of the day here. Extended Stay (1000 Warren Ave., 401-272-1661, www.extendedstayhotels.com/hotels/providence-east-providence-esa.html, rates from $80), is a pet-friendly place designed for longer stays with studios and fully equipped kitchens, work spaces, and free Wi-Fi. America’s Best Value Inn (400 Newport Ave., 401-434-8000, www.americasbestvalueinn.com/bestv.cfm?idp=887, rates from $55) is close to Providence and near many area attractions. In adjoining Seekonk is the Johnson and Wales Inn (213 Taunton Ave., 508-336-8700, www.jwinn.com, rates from $109), with free continental breakfast and dining on site at Audrey’s Restaurant.
Restaurants abound, and one of the most popular is Dee’s Place (35 Warren Ave., 401-438-1610, lunch from $3.10), a place of superb comfort food homemade by Dee Amaral, who writes up the menu and its daily changes by hand. Soups, especially the ethnic ones, are popular: $3.10 could get you a bowl of Portuguese soup, thick with chourico, blade meat, and veggies, and all the free refills you want. They also sell soup by the gallon ($14.95) — just tell her a day ahead of time what you want. A new place is 2 Pauls Good Food (315 Waterman Ave., 401-228-7285, www.2paulsgoodfood.com, dinner from $10.95), created by two guys named Paul who met on a golf course and discovered a shared love of food. Now they turn out delicacies like their signature shish-kabob platters, be they of chicken, lamb, beef, or herb-rubbed shrimp. The oldest hot dog joint in the state is Coney Island System (122 Taunton Ave., 401-434-2399, hot dogs $1.80), which is very popular with lunch and late-night crowds and uses locally made weenies — try them with chopped onion and their delicious signature sauce. Another popular eatery is Gregg’s (1940 Pawtucket Ave., 401-438-5700, www.greggsusa.com/locations/east-providence, dinner from $10.95), a Rhode Island, four-restaurant chain noted for its seafood, steaks. and pasta, and especially for its homemade cakes, pies, and pastries.
DURING THE DAY
Get the kids out for a hike at Bridgham Farm (400 Pleasant St., 401-300-5263, www.facebook.com/eplct, free entry), a 19-acre spread listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It borders the Turner Reservoir and is a great place to walk land full of diverse flora and fauna, including a stand of white oak trees, two of which are almost 400 years old, according to the farm’s Facebook site. Rather hop on a two-wheeler? East Bay Bike Path (www.dot.ri.gov/bikeri/east_bay_bike_path.asp) is a 14.5-mile paved path popular with bikers, roller-bladers, and walkers, with smashing views of Providence from the Veterans Memorial Parkway. Two main entry points are a lot on the parkway, and another in Riverside Square, next to the Dari Bee. The city pays homage to its Cape Verdean heritage at the Cape Verdean Museum (1003 Waterman Ave., 401-228-7292, www.capeverdeanmuseum.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, free admission), which now through March is open by appointment only, but worth a visit to check out items from family photos to ship advertisements, and even a debutante ball sash and longshoreman’s hook that sit alongside gifts from the president of the island nation. Casa Ideal (88 Taunton Ave., 401-438-1980) is a fun little place selling a mix of things like Portuguese gold jewelry for all ages, Portuguese knick knacks, religious artifacts, christening outfits, Vera Bradley bags, and tea sets. If you’re hunting for a taste of Italy, head to The Italian Corner (10 Boyd Ave., 401-431-1737, www.italiancorner-ri.com/default.html), a local secret treasure until it was highlighted on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in October. The Corner is primarily a deli and food market, featuring items like imported prosciutto, store-made pasta, or gift baskets with a little of everything. For the love of your life, pick up flowers or jewelry at the city’s oldest florist, Gilmore’s Flower Shop (76 Taunton Ave., 401-434-3667, www.gilmoresflowershop.com), family owned and run since 1936.
Comedy is king in East Providence at the Comedy Connection (39 Warren Ave., 401-438-8383, www.ricomedyconnection.com, tickets from $15), where regional comics provide the yuks along with national stars such as Tracy Morgan and Bobcat Goldthwait, coming in January. Feel funny and brave? Got the jazz bug? Boogie to Bovi’s Tavern (287 Taunton Ave., 401-434-9670, www.bovistavern.com, cover charge $6 for jazz, $5 on weekends), where for 45 years they’ve hosted Monday-night jazz, which in recent years means the 16-piece John Allmark Jazz Band. Thursday through Saturday they feature rock and top 40 fare, and you can sing it yourself at Wednesday-night karaoke. Up for a flick? Check the $1.50 Tuesday and Thursday ticket specials at East Providence Cinemas (60 Newport Ave., 401-438-1100, www.eastprovidencecinemas.com). The rest of the week, tickets will only set you back $2.50.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at Kandarian