Monday, February 1, 2010

Rhody Universe: Union Jacked

A recent letter to the editor by North Kingstown’s Gary Padula in the ProJo pointed out that if you want to buy Rhode Island Coffee, you have to go across the pond. While Rhode Islanders and coffee go together like Rhode Islanders and lottery tickets or Rhode Islanders and pothole survival or any number of cultural oddities that distinguish us from the Other 49, it turns out that, when it comes to java, we don’t own our own naming rights.

Rhode Island Coffee isn’t exactly the Starbucks of the British Isles. There are five coffee roasting shops by that name in England. So if you’re ever in Altrincham, Warrington, Stockport, Bolton or Burnley, you can try a cup and let us know what you think. Most amusing is the company’s mission statement or “Ethos”:

Have you ever been to Rhode Island? If not, you’re missing a treat. Think of the famous Newport Folk Festival, a coastline dotted with lighthouses and fisherman’s piers, endless forests and beautiful wild scenery. It’s the antithesis of the big city. Friendly, welcoming people, hearty natural food, a place of enjoyment and relaxation – just what Rhode Island Coffee is all about. When you visit one of our stores, however long or short your visit, we want you to feel welcome, to relax, and enjoy yourself…think of the early morning mists swirling around the sands of Narragansett Bay, at the heart of Rhode Island.

Wow. As a native Rhode Islander, I hardly recognize my homeland in that paragraph. But they’ve sold me on the coffee. Still, if flying to England is a bit out of the budget for this year, and you’re tired of the Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, Sip-N-Dip crawl, there are a couple of Rhody coffee roasters dedicated to the art of blackening the bean, including New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket and Ocean Coffee Roasters in Newport.

Also, coffeehouses can be found in nearly every community. A few of my favorites: The Coffee Depot in Warren (my local hang); The Beehive Café in Bristol (best food); Java Madness overlooking Salt Pond in Wakefield (best outdoor atmosphere); Main Street Coffee in East Greenwich; Felicia’s on Post Road, also in East Greenwich; Jitters Café in North Kingstown; Sophie’s on the South County Trail in Exeter; Stone Soup Coffeehouse in Pawtucket (best live music); Seven Stars Bakery on Hope Street and The Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street, both in Providence.

What’s your favorite Rhode Island coffee hang?

Seekonked Again
Just a stone’s throw away from my hometown of Barrington lies the strange land of Seekonk, Mass., where hidden treasures like the Caratunk Wildlife Refuge share space with the ravages of Route 6 left behind by the Sprawl Monster. One man’s wasteland is another man’s profit center, so the strip is where folks go whenever they have the urge to shop at the big box stores and eat at the chains. It’s where I often stop for gas on my way to South County – which is how I found myself one day last autumn pumping unleaded next to the Wienermobile. The relatively cheaper gas prices at the Seekonk Hess Station are the reason I go, even though it means enduring one of the worst (and loudest) outdoor speaker music situations in New England. I’m not sure what satellite Hess tunes into, but if anyone has a spare cosmic death ray lying around the house, I’d pay big bucks to blast that orbiting jukebox into premature space junk. There have been times when I’ve only filled the tank up with a few Washingtons, just enough to make it to Wakefield, because I couldn’t listen to the song any longer.

While on the subject of Seekonk, the Caratunk refuge is worth the trip – although anyone afflicted by poison ivy should avoid it, since the place is infested. And does anyone else remember the Hitchockian scene last winter, when at dusk the skies over the Seekonk strip darkened in clouds of starlings, performing their distinctive sky dances before the birds settled, one by one, on utility wires stretching as far as the eye could see? For a few weeks around the winter holidays, starlings swooped in noisy and acrobatic flourishes, squeezing wing-to-wing on the overhead lines above the asphalt-and-concrete wonderland now tattered and wearing “Everything Must Go” signs. What happened to all those birds this year? Is the economy that bad? Has anyone checked inside the boarded-up Circuit City lately?