Taste of the Southwest in Newport, RI

I rarely go anywhere when I go “home.” That’s to say, I usually travel to Massachusetts for the sole purpose of spending time with my family. This usually means sticking close to our childhood home, where my parents still live and which serves as a central meeting place for me and my sisters. I’ll head into Boston or Worcester to visit friends, but I make these excursions brief. I’m always trying to maximize my “family time” before I inevitably have to leave. In fact, this constant traveler transforms into quite the homebody when she sets foot in Massachusetts. So there remains many places in New England that I’ve never seen: Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island, and Block Island (just to mention a few). But when I was home for Christmas, I crossed Newport, Rhode Island off my bucket list. My father wanted to take the whole family on an outing as an early Christmas present, and I was thrilled by his choice to visit to the Newport mansions.

The drive from our house to Newport, Rhode Island takes just 90 minutes (excluding the mandatory Starbucks pit stop, of course). Upon entering the picturesque coastal town, my dad headed straight towards the most famous Newport mansion of all: The Breakers. This Vanderbilt family summer home sits right alongside the shore, where powerful Atlantic waves “break” into jagged cliffs (hence its name). In 1948, the Vanderbilt family donated The Breakers to be converted into a museum. Today, The Breakers is the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island – with over 300,000 visitors touring the premises each year. And come December, The Breakers is decorated elaborately for Christmas – with dozens of trees, garlands and wreaths adding even more splendor to the mansion. Given my family’s obsession with all things Christmas, my dad rightly assumed we’d appreciate The Breakers even more during the holidays. I wish I could’ve taken some photos to share, but photography is a “no-no” at The Breakers.

When we’d finished our individual audio headset tours, my dad announced that it was time for lunch. As part of his Christmas present, my dad made lunch reservations at an undisclosed restaurant. The minivan GPS had us heading towards Thames Street, Newport’s main tourist strip. Driving down Thames Street, with its colorful t-shirt displays, fudge shoppes, and picnic table-lined sidewalks, brought me back to summers in Maine and Cape Cod. I awoke from my daydreaming when my dad pulled up to Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant, which is arguably the most popular dining spot in all of Newport.

For over 30 years, Brick Alley Pub has been inviting tourists and locals in with its cheerful white-and-yellow awnings and comforting pub food. Although we had a 12:30pm reservation, we couldn’t be seated immediately since the restaurant was packed (even on a cold Saturday afternoon in December!). The bar area was filled to capacity, so we stood next to the salad bar. Little did we know – but we’d end up standing there for over 30 minutes! In my opinion, there are no excuses for such a wait when you have a reservation. The only silver lining was that we had plenty of time to peruse the extensive menu and read the many reviews and awards Brick Alley has mounted on the wall. I saw numerous plaques congratulating Brick Alley Pub for having the “Best Nachos” in Rhode Island. Mmm… Nachos are my favorite greasy pub food. And since we were all famished by the time we were seated, it didn’t take too much convincing to get my family on board with ordering a platter. Our waitress was very attentive, but she somehow forgot to put our nacho order into the computer system. We realized her mistake when the entrees arrived at our tables before any nachos did! The waitress apologized and promised that dessert would be “on the house.” I was disappointed about missing out on these award-winning nachos, but really – could any nachos be better than dessert?

After the wait and nacho fiasco, I was relieved when our meals didn’t disappoint. My dad and Ava ordered bowls of the Lobster Bisque, which was rich and hot enough for my Dad, who detests nothing more than lukewarm soup. Carolyn and I each ordered a Lobstacado Sandwich – cold lobster salad, avocado, and cheese served on on a toasted English muffin (or on Boston Bibb lettuce for this gluten-free girl). My mom seemed happy enough with her Harvest Salad, but I think she was secretly envious of our lobster lunches. While our lunches were satisfying, we all saved room for our free desserts. Compared to their food and drink menus, Brick Alley Pub’s dessert choices were quite limited. But one dessert stood out among the six options: the Southwestern Sundae. My dad read the description out loud, and I was sold as soon as I heard “soft serve.” My dad and I are BIG fans of soft-serve ice cream, so we decided to split the sundae. It’s rare for a normal full-service restaurant to have a soft-serve machine, so we weren’t about to miss this opportunity.

I’m not what I was expecting the sundae to look like, but I was floored when this arrived at our table:

Check out my dad raring to go with that spoon…

The verdict? The first thing we noticed about the Southwest Sundae was its size. This is a MASSIVE sundae; perhaps the biggest I’ve seen without a menu disclaimer that it’s “made for two” or more. The sundae bowl is actually a fried flour tortilla shell dusted with cinnamon sugar. I tried to stay away from the shell, but the rest of my family loved its churro-like flavor. Then comes the best part: copious amounts of vanilla soft serve drizzled with honey. Brick Alley Pub’s soft serve reminded me of the classic McDonald’s version – sweet, creamy and very thick. I was worried that the fried tortilla shell would be warm and melt the ice cream before we could finish, but Brick Alley smartly waits for the shell to cool before filling it. The honey drizzle was a new topping for me – but it worked. Its warm, earthy flavor complemented the cinnamon well. The sundae is garnished with heavy dollops of whipped cream, almond slivers, and a sprig of mint. The whipped cream wasn’t anything to write home about, but the sundae would’ve seemed naked without it. The almond slivers added a nice crunch and the mint sprig made the dessert look a little healthier. While the experience was marred by the long wait, Brick Alley Pub redeemed itself with this sundae. And kudos for developing the first sundae ever that my dad and I couldn’t conquer together. Here we were, thinking we were “taking it easy” on dessert by splitting a sundae. Yeah right. Even half of the Southwest Sundae is bigger than the average-sized dessert. Luckily, this family helps each other out. So my sisters and mom stepped up to the plate (literally and figuratively) and helped to polish off the sundae. After all, how often is so much ice cream “on the house”?!?

The Stats:
Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant
140 Thames Street
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-6334
www.brickalley.com