[Sidebar] December 28, 2000 - January 4, 2001
[Food Reviews]
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84 High Street

A different kind of renaissance

by Johnette Rodriguez

84 High St., Westerly, (401) 596-7871
Open for breakfast Sat, 7 a.m.-12 p.m., Sun 'til 1 p.m.
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat, 12-3 p.m.
Dinner: Wed, Thurs and Sun, 5-9 p.m., Fri-Sat 'til 10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Though many Rhode Islanders still think of Westerly as an unofficial annex to Connecticut, we in South County are psyched that this little city on the Pawcatuck is experiencing its own kind of renaissance: renovated and refurbished buildings; an expanding arts community, with a monthly gallery night; and a spate of new and upcoming restaurants, including 84 High Street, helmed by Michael Ogle, a Johnson & Wales grad, who once worked with John Elkhay and Guy Abelson.

Ogle was the chef and general manager of Paddy's in Misquamicut for seven years before opening his own place two years ago, with his wife Karin, in a space that was always a neighborhood hang-out, but which never looked as Manhattan-trendy as it does now. With an open kitchen fronted by countertop dining for a dozen, a few tall tables and stools next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, and a banquette with small tables along the kitchen's far side, the effect is of intimacy and openness all in the same breath.

But wait, there's more. Up three steps from the first room is a space that seats at least 25 additional people. This upper level has more wall space for the metal sculptures of local artist John F. Mahoney -- an underwater scene, and others of dancing figures. A large fish skeleton serves as a coat rack downstairs, and the room divider displays several standing pieces, including a great blue heron.

The chic black-tiled tabletops receive black-and-white gingham napkins for the dinner crowd, and 84 High's evening menu adds several beef entrees, including a 14-ounce prime rib ($15.95) and filet mignon medallions ($17.95); a highly recommended grilled lemon sole ($12.95); and several pasta dishes, including "chicken-n-chokes," a signature from Mike's Misquamicut days. But lunchtime visitors, such as we were on a recent Friday, can choose from the same array of appetizers, salads, grilled pizzas and rotisserie-roasted chicken as their nighttime counterparts.

Bill started with "Mike's 3-Alarm Chili" and I tried the New England-style clam chowder (both $1.95 a cup). The chili was flavorful, with garbanzo as well as kidney beans, though there was, in fact, little cause for one alarm, never mind three. The chowder was soothing, though a bit too thick for me -- perhaps I've become too accustomed to the clear Rhode Island-style broth.

Eclectic appetizers beckoned: crumbled Italian sausage, white beans, roasted peppers, and goat cheese over bread; baked oysters with spinach and leek butter; Cajun grilled shrimp; even nachos. Among the salads were a classic Caesar; mesclun with caramelized walnuts and bleu cheese; Italian bread salad with capers and anchovies; and a taco salad ($5.95) -- too much for two people to finish -- consisting of a cushion of mixed greens, a layer of tortilla chips, then Mike's chili, finished with toppings of tomatoes, onions, cheese, salsa and sour cream. There are also more than a dozen sandwiches (on breads from Daily Bread), ranging from $3.75 for a BLT to $6.95 for a rotisserie roast beef sandwich. All are served with either fresh-cut "straw fries," or a salad (and that could even be a tiny Caesar).

From the salad list, I chose the High Street antipasto ($7.95), since it boasted such a fistful of treats: grilled vegetables, pulled pieces of rotisserie chicken, prosciutto, provolone, fresh mozzarella and plum tomatoes, a stuffed cherry pepper, roasted pepper strips, and a slab of grilled focaccia. These were heaped atop a bed of crisp Romaine leaves and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. The chicken, melt-in-your-mouth tender, can be ordered as an entrée ($10.95) for lunch or dinner, with a salad and potato choice.

Bill settled on the grilled breast of chicken on focaccia ($6.75), with fries and a glass of Merlot from 84 High's broad selection of beer and wine. The grilled chicken was accompanied by prosciutto, goat cheese, roasted peppers, and sprinkled with balsamic vinaigrette. Again, the chicken was moist and tender, and the sandwich so satisfying that Bill saved half for another lunch.

Only one of the desserts that day was house-made, the orange cream torte ($4.95), so we tried it. A three-layer chocolate cake with an orange cream frosting and whipped cream filling, this was as rich as they come. It was surrounded by a mandarin orange sauce and a kiwi sauce. The piquancy of the orange accents was good, but the cake itself wasn't very chocolatey.

Breakfast is only served on weekends, but a quick look at 84 High's menu suggests it would be worth the trek, since there are some items that point to Westerly's still-strong Italian-American heritage: thick-sliced Italian French toast; a frittata with Italian sausage served on grilled focaccia; and a "Westerly omelet," with mozzarella, roasted peppers and "soupy," the nickname for supresata, a locally-made, salt-cured sausage.

What a great find 84 High Street is for out-of-towners. And for Westerly residents, it's just a short walk to the YMCA (at 95 High), where some exercise might come in handy after the generous portions and delicious food at the Ogles's eatery.

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