[Sidebar] August 27 - September 3, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Twin Willows

A sports bar that scores big with families

by Bill Rodriguez

865 Boston Neck Road, Narragansett, 789-8153
Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fri & Sat, 11 a.m.-midnight, Sun, noon-11 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

I get such a kick out of "the Willows," which is how my ex-Marine bud, Cook, introduced it to me many years ago. The Narragansett institution is technically a sports bar. I mean, everywhere you turn there is another screen showing another bat going crack or another quarterback going "Oof!" But despite the enormous bar pushing the tables and chairs off to the sides like parsley on a platter, Twin Willows is also, oddly, a family restaurant.

The place is right on Boston Neck Road, convenient to the beaches. Regulars include URI's Narragansett Bay Campus denizens and their kin, plus townies within range. I guess the thunk-junkies and box-score-memorizers also have gotten into the habit of bringing along the wife and brood. The evening we came, a four-year-old who'd been told he could have his birthday party at any restaurant sat at one table. Obviously, he'd picked Twin Willows. (The way his mom figured it was, "Yeah it's a bar, but it's not dark yet.")

Owned by Phil Durigan for more than 20 years, the décor runs to shamrocks and historical photos of the old Narragansett. The taps run 17 different drafts, and the menu boasts of "High Spirits & Good Times" under a pot of gold and a rainbow. All that conviviality does take its toll in decibels, though, so the place is unusually noisy.

As a result, we decided to take advantage of the ocean breeze and eat outside. The few tables out back are an afterthought, and you have to order at the bar and pick up your own plates. If you're in a mood to be served, then, bring the kids.

A place that caters to families usually has a wide assortment for finicky little eaters, and low prices. And, indeed, the Willows has both. How about this for listening to your customers -- popcorn ($1.50) among the appetizers! One of the three tykes with us just wanted a hot dog plate ($2.25), and another had a simple quarter-pounder ($4.95; Black Angus burgers are $5.95). Hannah and Nick are so darned American.

Both plates came with terrific French fries a bit thicker than those shoestring fries and not a bit soggy. But the third plate had a bit more of a challenge for a review meal: a lobster roll ($9.95). Also with fries and a juicy coleslaw, it was heaping, fresh, and delicious. Matt's from Maine, so understand that 11 years' worth of expertise was behind his laconic, shrugged "Good."

Our other expert at the picnic table, an oceanographer, had the fish and chips ($4.95/$5.95), of course. Not too greasy, not too much batter, the big filet of cod would have been fresher across town next to the incoming boats, Rick said, but he declared himself satisfied.

Many items on the regular menu have little hearts next to them, indicating low-fat choices. The hit of the table was on the specials sheet, though, so it didn't get the decoration. The pesto chicken wrap ($5.95) was wonderfully tangy, with evidence of a lemony marinade under the creamy basil sauce. Thin lavish bread was used instead of flour tortillas, a classy touch. The wood-grill smokiness also could have been enjoyed with a sandwich of rotisserie-roasted chicken and Virginia ham, among the specials.

I wasn't very hungry, so an overflowing plate of eggplant Parmigiana over pasta ($4.95/$6.95) stuffed me. Four and a half thick slices, fried with a flavorful crust and covered with a zesty marinara. The penne wasn't exactly al dente, but it was of good quality.

Between the kids and the meal-inspired gluttony, we ordered every one of the four desserts. Each was quite good. Strawberry shortcake ($2.95), made with warm poundcake. Grapenut pudding ($1.25), that maple syrup classic. Chocolate nemesis cake ($3.95), as rich and thick as soft fudge. And a dense banana chocolate chip cake ($3.95), the table favorite.

Before we left, we watched a seven-year-old girl at the bar. The bartender was making a show of lifting his arm high as he refilled her Shirley Temple.

I like Twin Willows. It's a place where you can bring an underage date, knock back a chocolate milk with her, and still feel like one of the guys.

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