Chef Chris Carruba learned about many things during his time in the Army - structure, commitment and bad food. The Portsmouth native spent his four-year hitch assigned to a Patriot missle battery in Germany and Turkey dreaming about real maple syrup. He returned to Rhode Island with a sharpened appreciation for fresh vegetables, great regional cheeses and fish he could look in the eye. For the past five years he has manned the helm at Jamestown’s Trattoria Simpatico taking local farm products and well-known flavor pairings in new directions. Golden raisin chutney accompanies the free-range chicken; seared tuna arrives atop a sun-dried tomato pesto. Sometimes experimental dishes are so popular they become menu standards. Arugula flatbread with figs, gorgonzola and balsamic reduction has developed a loyal following.
The welcoming Main Street institution has served up inventive takes on classic Italian dishes to tourists and salt-crusted sailors for 18 years. The cafe tables and streetside bar beckon to casual passers-by with live music and exotic tented decor. Two indoor dining rooms offer an elegant setting for patrons seeking a more refined experience. Chris enjoys featuring fresh local produce and proteins, giving them a high profile on his seasonally changing menu. Stearns Farm tomatoes play a big role on his summer plates. House-made chourizo complements the native cod loin. Field-raised roast turkey is brined with herbs and paired with a Portuguese sweet bread stuffing. “There was a time when people maybe didn’t want to see the animals they were eating. Now our customers understand the value of quality food raised right here. They realize that farmers do a better job than big companies.”
This is great news for the local food scene. People want in on the action and farmers have been expanding their reach like never before. For the past two years, chefs all over the state have been getting weekly deliveries of meats and greens from their dedicated farm partners through the Farm Fresh Market Mobile program. Farmers post their weekly offerings and prices online every Sunday, orders are placed on Monday, farmers harvest and pack Tuesday and Wednesday. Items are brought to a Pawtucket warehouse early Thursday morning from whence three vans make deliveries in time for the weekend rush. Farmers pay 10% for the convenience, fuel savings and access to dozens of locations they could not otherwise service.
As a slow-braised pork belly comes sizzling out from under the broiler, the chef notes “This pig grew up less than two miles away.” On the day of our kitchen visit hog jowls were curing for guanciale and a new marmalade was being prepared for the cheese plate. The aforementioned belly, cooked for five hours in chicken stock, sage and orange, was finished with homemade lemon jam and sauce Maltese, a Hollandaise emulsion made by whisking Windmist Farm pastured egg yolks with clarified butter and plenty of orange zest. The bright citrusy notes balance the rich satisfying fat of the Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, a heritage breed raised on the island naturally without chemical inputs by Martha and George Neale. A delicious version of breakfast for lunch. Trattoria Simpatico serves dinner seven nights and lunch on the weekends. If they happen to run out of one of their tempting farm-to-table specials when you visit, you can rest assured that it won’t be replaced with Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) rations in a yellow plastic bag. Not if Chef Carruba has anything to say about it.