Rhode Island has a few quirky food items that locals find completely ordinary but which might cause confusion for the uninformed tourist. Here are some of the most commonly encountered—and uniquely delicious—items for which the Ocean State is known.
- Quahogs are hard-shell clams found in abundance on Rhode Island’s sandy shores, inlets, and salt ponds. These tasty bivalves can be found on restaurant menus all over the state, but they taste even better if you dig them yourself. Popular “quahogging” spots include the Point Judith Salt Pond in Galilee, and Ninigret Pond in Charlestown. Note: shellfishing licenses are required for out-of-state residents and can be obtained through the RI DEM.
- Stuffies, a common menu item at many restaurants, are quahog shells stuffed with a mixture of minced clams and breadcrumb stuffing usually containing onions, celery, garlic, spices, and herbs. They are especially delicious with a bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and hot sauce. Exceptionally good stuffies can be found at the Matunuck Oyster Bar in East Matunuck (a gorgeous view of the salt pond makes them taste that much better) (629 Succotash Rd., 401/783-4202, 11:30am-10pm daily).
- Coffee Milk is the official state drink; it’s a rather self-explanatory mixture of milk and coffee syrup, which is a rarity in other states but can be found on grocery shelves throughout Rhode Island. Any Rhode Island diner worth its salt will have coffee milk on the menu—try the Modern Diner in Pawtucket (364 East Ave., Pawtucket, 401/726-8390, 6am-2pm Mon.-Sat., 7am-2pm Sun.), just over the Providence line.
- A Cabinet is Rhode Island-ese for what is basically a milkshake: blended ice cream and milk. Coffee cabinets with Autocrat coffee syrup are a local favorite, but you can get them in a variety of flavors, locally made, at Gray’s Ice Cream in Tiverton (16 East Rd., Tiverton, 401/624-4500, 6:30am-9pm daily summer, call for off-season hours).
- Hot wieners or New York System wieners are famous staples of Rhode Island food culture and can be found at several New York System diners throughout the state. This strange, tiny hot dog is served on a steamed bun and tastes best when ordered “all the way,” which means loaded with chopped onions, celery salt, yellow mustard, and seasoned meat sauce. The legendary Olneyville New York System in Providence (18 Plainfield St., 401/621-9500) is the best spot to enjoy them.
- Del’s is the locally favored brand of frozen lemonade slush sold from trucks and lemonade stands all over the state. Look for the yellow and green striped Del’s umbrella stands or trucks that park at beaches during the summer, or head to 1260 Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston, where the first Del’s Lemonade stand opened in 1948.