A rare moment of quiet at Gary’s Handy Lunch in Newport, Rhode Island.
I’m just back from a 24-hour trip to Rhode Island this weekend – yes, wedding season has begun – and while I didn’t manage to make it in time for a slice of pizza at Al Forno’s in Providence (not for lack of trying), I did come across another gem of a restaurant in the center of posh Newport. The seaside town is known mostly for the remarkable mansions along Ocean Drive, where the oil, steel and railroad barons of the Gilded Age plied their wealth into monumental summer “cottages.” Even though I’ve visited several times, I always marvel at The Breakers, which was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt and epitomizes the prosperity of the era. It has 70 rooms and was built in the style of a Italian Renaissance palazzo, and at the time, the cost of building the home was a staggering $7 million, which equates to about $150 million in today’s dollars. And for all its opulence, it only served its owners 6 to 12 weeks a year.
I’m no robber baron, so while I can ogle at the mansions and the beautiful shops along Thames Street, the town’s main drag, I’d just shelled out for a series of wedding expenses and was looking for a bit of tamer fare. So I was happy to stumble upon Gary’s Handy Lunch, a bustling budget brunch spot whose kitchen is on full display. Red vinyl stools wrap around the center counter, from which you can watch the chefs juggling toast, slinging pancakes, and flipping burgers with the choreography of a well-oiled assembly line. The food is basic – breakfast and lunch only – and the fanciest item on the menu is the Freedom Burger, a double patty with cheese, bacon and all the fixings. Order an omelet and hash browns (both fantastic) and you’ll receive a side of local gossip, free of charge. From my spot in a booth, I heard one loyal patron pronounce loudly to whomever would listen that this was his favorite restaurant on the East Coast, this, before he launched into a treatise on the state of local politics in the town. Our waitress shrugged. “Stay here long enough and you won’t need to read the local paper,” she said, before sashaying back behind the counter to rejoin the cacophony.
Gary’s Handy Lunch 462 Thames Street, Newport RI +1 401 847 9480.
Photo: Kristen Lou via Flickr