Providence is for rebels. the capital of the U.S. state of Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a stubborn Baptist banished from Massachusetts for criticizing that colony's government. He saw his exile not as punishment, but as a sign of God's "many providences." Dissenters would always be welcome here the city, he said, would be a "lively experiment."
It worked. The motto on the city seal is no obscure Latin phrase, but the salutation used by the local Indians to greet Williams: "What cheer?" Visitors
There's good people watching here, too: Providence is home to the liberal bastion (and the I-can-be-funkier-than-you students) of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. RISD boasts a small but fine museum whose eclectic collection includes classical statuary, paintings by Edgar Degas, Mark Rothko and Georgia O'Keeffe, and blown glass by alumnus Dale Chihuly. On the city's south side is an oft-overlooked gem: Johnson & Wales University's food-focused gallery in its culinary college, where recent exhibits celebrated the American diner and the august history of Mr. Potato Head.
With a culinary school in town, of course there's good eating. Federal Hill center of the city's large Italian community is one of America's best, if least known, Little Italys; try one of the many raviolis plump with lobster, spinach, basil at Venda Ravioli on Atwells Avenue, vendaravioli.com.
For more innovative fare, head to the Mills Tavern, an 1850s mill turned bistro on North Main Street. Sit at the bar to get bartender Ashlyn's advice and cocktails, and don't miss the side orders: the better-than-your-mom's macaroni and cheese, and the onions, laced with Roquefort and grilled until brown and sweet.
The best restaurant in town is New Rivers, newriversrestaurant.com, around the corner from the Mills Tavern. It's run by risd alum Bruce Tillinghast, who says he "uses elements of food like elements of color, making them work together." The flavors change seasonally, but the virtuosity of his combinations don't; recently, his airy gnocchi came with spinach, goat's cheese and pomegranate. Save room for the lemon tartlet, a flaky nest of buttery semi-puff pastry filled with a sunburst of tangy curd.
New Rivers is unpretentious and unfussy just like its city. Providence, says Tillinghast, "has a certain friendliness and charm and all the wonderful little things you find in a big town." All the things that, as Roger Williams might say, could be chalked up