The Best… Italian Restaurant Ever (and Rob Gronkowski!)

by Eric

Rhode Island: You are forgiven if you consider yourself a serious traveler, but have never been to the smallest state in the USA (and the one with the longest official name).  In fact, you’re even forgiven if you had always assumed that Rhode Island was just a suburb of Massachusetts, or a place that Seth MacFarlane invented for Family Guy.  But to do so means that you just overlooked one of the premier tourist destinations in New England – one that was recognized as one of the best adventure destinations by National Geographic, and one that even Taylor Swift calls home (or, more accurately, one of her many homes).

Taylor Swift Appreciates Rhode Island


Living in Boston, day trips to Rhode Island are remarkably easy.  Train options include Amtrak’s Northeast Regional, and the Providence/Stoughton line of Boston’s commuter rail.  Taking roughly 65 minutes from South Station in Boston to Providence, I took a recent jaunt down to Providence for a weekend getaway.

Providence Train Station and Downtown Providence


Providence’s train station (marked with the red locator in the above image) is remarkably convenient to many of the tourist sights that you will want to visit.  I want to highlight several key destinations on the map above:

  • Rhode Island State House: Built between 1895 to 1904, the Rhode Island State House is a gorgeous building, and its exterior very much resembles the US Capitol Building.  In fact, the building served as the Capitol Building’s exterior in the film Amistad!
  • Providence Place Mall: Yes, I tend to avoid malls like the plague when traveling, but if you have any shopping needs…
  • Waterplace Park: A beautiful setting along the Woonasquatucket River, with live musical events, and a hub for the ever popular WaterFire.
  • Bank of America Building: Normally, a bank building isn’t deserving of mention, but this building was rumored to be the model of the Daily Planet building in the Superman comic books.  Though this rumor was dispelled, it certainly looks an awful lot like the Daily Planet!  Also, if you look carefully during many episodes of Family Guy, this building makes an appearance.

Bank of America Building Makes an Appearance on Family Guy


However, this post isn’t about the many fabulous sightseeing destinations in Providence.  It’s about the single best Italian meal I have ever had this side of the Atlantic (nothing compares to the food I ate in Bacoli).  Having lived in Boston for several years, with its famous Little Italy in the North End, and terrific Italian restaurants all across the city, I thought that I had already sampled some truly great Italian cuisine.  That is until I made it to Providence.  USA Today recently announced Providence as one of the top 10 best local food scenes in the United States (#4, actually).

USA Today Best Local Food Scenes in America


I firmly believe that one of the best ways to experience a city, and a culture, is to eat eat eat (or perhaps, more aptly in this case, mangia mangia mangia).  And so upon our arrival in Rhode Island, I immediately pulled up Yelp on my phone and started searching.  Because we were headed up to visit friends working at Providence College, I identified a well reviewed restaurant that was close by: Gianfranco’s Ristorante and Bar.  I love eating local whenever I travel, and a restaurant that garners feedback like “when we eat there, we feel like we are at home eating our home cooked, real Italian food!!!!” spoke to my inner foodie.  I will summarize my dining experience simply: I will never look at Italian food the same way again!  Per recommendations from our server (pork shank osso buco), and a Yelp photo that looked insanely delicious (braised short rib raviolis) we had our dinner order.

The Best Italian Dish I Have Ever Eaten in the USA


We later discovered that the entire restaurant is run by a local family – everyone from the chefs to the servers.  They let us know that a few months before we got there, they had the privilege of serving Rob Gronkowski, tight end for the New England Patriots.  As one of my favorite NFL players, I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t happen to be there that night!  However, we were told that he had accidentally knocked a hole in the men’s bathroom door and signed the door afterwards in apology!  I wasn’t sure if I believed the story, so when I went home, I checked on their Facebook page and lo and behold…

The Gronk!


Have you had any dining experiences where you ate with a celebrity?

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