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 to Providence, an hour's drive southwest of Boston, will find many answers to that question. Think of Providence as an eminently walkable museum—bring good shoes to handle the hills and cobblestones—with exhibits built in clapboard, bricks and mortar. One must-stroll is Benefit Street, lined with colonial-era houses and grand Victorian mansions that radiate the wealth of the 1800s, when Providence was a jewelry and textile center.
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 to providence.