[Sidebar] October 14- 21, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Sea View Station

Home cooking to go

by Bill Rodriguez

640 Boston Neck Rd., North Kingstown, 295-8666
Open Sun-Thurs, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

When you walk into a "family restaurant," a warm and fuzzy feeling should envelop you, like climbing into a bulky sweater that grandma knit. That's the contract. There's probably an association that sends around stern retired matriarchs to keep such self-proclaimed restaurants honest. Comfort foods should pop up on the menu like little hands at a library storytelling. You should get a sense even down to the mashed potatoes that recipes have been haggled over and refined over generations. The place should have an eccentric touch or two, like a squirrely Uncle Timmy.

The only eccentricity I noticed at Sea View Station Restaurant, in North Kingstown, was a $28 Pouilly Fuisse on the beer and wine menu, along with the $3 Merlot and Chardonnay by the glass (the latter surprisingly good). You enter a squeaky clean and brightly lit paper-place-matted restaurant that has a gray plank and beam ceiling and a mix of booths and tables. Large blow-ups of old photographs surround you with images of passengers and workers on the namesake railroad, a station of which -- you guessed it -- this building once was. The Sea View Railroad used to take folks from East Greenwich to the beach at Narragansett Pier, running from the turn of the century until 1920. Stools at a counter tip off that this is a diner-inspired sort of family restaurant, rather than the Mama Mangiamo variety.

It's a friendly place. When we asked our waitress if we could move to a farther table because cigarette smoke was drifting over a pointless glass half-partition, she gave a cheerful, "I don't see why not." You know how waitstaff can signal their displeasure short of eye-rolling, so she got enough points in our book to make up for neglecting to remove the extra place settings at our new table until I eventually asked. (That's another tradition at many family restaurants: figure-it-out-for-yourself-kid training for the service people.)

We perused appetizers over a hot half-loaf of white bread, like a huge Parker House roll, which is so retro it approached camp. I passed up the Buffalo wings ($4.75) and the shrimp in a basket ($3.95) for a baked stuffed quahog ($1.49). It's not hard to settle for mediocre "stuffies," since they're not a subtle offering. But this one was superior: just enough oregano on a crusty exterior that kept the bready interior, chunky with clams, moist. The next old standard we sampled was their New England clam chowder ($2.75-$3.75), which was on a par with the above, creamy rich and chock full. But the most challenging traditional Rhode Island item they had were jonnycakes ($1.75). Two of them were done the East Bay way -- thick and the size of small saucers, with the nutty flavor of authentic white flint cornmeal. Pains were taken to make them right.

With those benchmark items passing their tests, we figured the main dishes would be reliable. We'd come because we'd heard that the steaks were good. There are a half-dozen choices of Black Angus beef, from 10-ounce. burgers ($7.95) to the Saturday night special, prime rib ($11-$20). Nightly favorites, Mondays through Fridays, are the daily all-you-can-eat specials. It's corned beef and cabbage on Thursdays and slow-simmered, "South County 16-hour" pot roast Wednesdays, (both $7.95). There are also a few kids' favorites, such as grilled cheese and meat loaf, so that you don't have to hear about McDonald's all through your meal.

I ended up having the catch of the day, flounder ($11.49). Three small filets were broiled and served under a buttery crumb topping, a simple and adequate rendition. The fish and Johnnie's choice, chicken pot pie ($8.95), were served with flavorful mashed potatoes and chicken stock gravy, plus a mix of corn and what at first appeared to be string beans but actually was asparagus. The pot pie was a hit, with a tasty top crust, plenty of chicken and a sweet gravy that I couldn't get enough of. Both entrées also came with a house salad, which would have been a disappointment in this place if it wasn't iceberg. It didn't disappoint.

Desserts are made at a nearby bakery and span a gamut, from cheesecakes to various deaths by chocolate. The favorite, we were told, is Reese's Pieces peanut butter cup pie ($3.75). We tried the pecan pie ($2.75), and although my southern-influenced dining companion would have preferred the custardy traditional version, I loved it for being flavorful, but not too sweet.

Yes, the Sea View Station Restaurant brings it all home, if what you've a yen for is home.

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