Bread and burger lovers feed off Hope

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pub crawl 

It’s still early on a Saturday night, but Ivy Tavern is already bustling with an eclectic mix of young and old. The bar is full, the tap flowing, and the Ryder Cup is on the television in the corner – the restaurant seems like a typical social hangout. A waiter warns me not to trip in the entryway before rushing off to serve the next table. The sound of sizzling oil and the smell of frying hang in the air. The menu offers culinary choices with a touch of humor: Au Cajunal Jerk Duck, Accidental Purist and Feta Attraction.  

“It’s very cozy,” said Chloe Zimmerman ’15, a patron of the Tavern.

Though “underwhelmed” when she first entered the restaurant, Molly Nickerson ’15 said she was taken aback by the quality of the food.

“It did look like a tavern,” she said, noting the bar setup, sports games on the television and relaxed ambiance. Hanging pots of ivy line the entranceway and quiet Van Morrison plays over the stereo.

Ivy Tavern opened nearly a decade ago on Hope Street, with a hole-in-the-wall entrance located next to Pizzico Ristorante

Waitress and bartender Megan Radka, who has worked at the restaurant for five years, said some students and many faculty frequent the Tavern.

“Everyone is laid back and easy to please,” she said.

The “cheap burger” and the fish and chips are among the biggest draws for students, she said. 

But there are many vegetarian-friendly options, such as a garden burger topped with apple, caramelized onions, brie, mesclun and tomato marmalade, an option aptly named the “Accidental Purist.”


Cafe, croissant, chocolat

“If the pastry is not flaking all over your lap, we either did something wrong, or it’s a humid day!” advertises the website for Seven Stars Bakery.

Customers at Seven Stars will first be struck by the quaint French decor of the cafe – a large sign reads “boulangerie,” and the menu is spread across several large blackboards, giving it a rustic feel.

The softly playing radio features modern folk tunes such as those by the band Tallest Man on Earth, and the air is ripe with scents of coffee and butter.

The bakery has earned a 92 percent rating on Urban Spoon and 4.5 stars out of five on Yelp, two user review-based websites.

“Good food and good coffee, what else is there?” said Lynn Williams, one half of the husband-wife team that owns Seven Stars.

Though students are not their main clientele, Seven Stars does cater to visitors from the many colleges and universities in the city, Williams said. Their products are also available at the weekly Wriston farmer’s market on campus.

Lynn and her husband Jim Williams, who continues to hand-bake products for the cafe, had similar experiences that drew them to baking.

Williams enjoyed a job at a local bakery in college. While there, she had the epiphany that she could continue baking for a living.

The “buy local” movement was not as prevalent as it is now when Seven Stars first moved to their Hope Street location in January 2001.

Since their establishment, Williams said they have seen the evolution of the idea that people can “impact the community by supporting these unique local businesses.”

The Hope Street bakery location was the first one they established, according to their website. Since then it has expanded to the west side of Providence and Rumford in East Providence.


Spices and snacks

A building contractor by trade, Mohammed Islam said he “had no idea about the retail business” when he bought Not Just Spices, an already existing grocery storefront.

Islam said he worked in New York City designing buildings early in his life. With the outbreak of the Gulf War, he moved to Kuwait. When he got married and his wife became pregnant, he moved back to the United States, where he bought Not Just Spices in 1999 as a business for his wife to manage.

Two years later, he expanded to the restaurant business with the purchase of Not Just Snacks, a French bakery at the time.

Since then, he described his work in both businesses as “a day and night job.”

Islam said he enjoys his work as a chef far more than the construction business. He continues to prepare every dish himself, from marinating chicken to combining spices.

“You get to meet with a lot of good people, talk to them, satisfy them,” he said.

Not Just Snacks is a simple establishment. The dominant sound is the clang of kitchen implements and quiet traditional music. The walls are covered in child-like mural paintings, and the floor tile and the furniture are mismatched.

All this contributes to a casual, “homely environment,” one that is not too fancy, Islam said. The style of food is “as traditional as possible,” he added.

Dishes are served on steel plates – for example, the nava rattan korma, a vegetable curry served over basmati rice, is presented in a shiny silver bowl, which the customer then pours over a large metal tray of rice.

Not Just Snacks is set apart from other Indian restaurants by its “home-type cooking,” Islam said. The bases for its dishes are primarily cardamom, garlic and ginger.

Many students and locals alike patronize Not Just Snacks. The affordable, high-quality and unique offerings lure in students looking to escape campus, Islam said.

It’s quality food at a decent price, said Nihaal Mehta ’14. 

The restaurant is suitable for a variety of dietary concerns – all options are kosher, there is an explicit vegetarian menu, and the staff is highly sensitive to allergies.

For the curious customer, Islam said he also offers instruction in how each dish is prepared. Not Just Spices, the sister grocery across the street, stocks most of the ingredients and serves as a sort of supply for the restaurant –
“99.9 percent Indian,” he said.


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