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At Cinder, a variety of influences result in unique flavor profiles

I knew we had landed in a good place when chef, cookbook author and YouTube personality Brad Leone studied the same menu boards that we were perusing on our recent visit to Cinder restaurant. 

If the former test kitchen manager at Bon Appetit, who lives locally, was dining at Cinder, it was proof enough for me that the food we were about to consume was going to be good. Leone was ordering takeout, but we opted to dine in.

Cinder’s thing is slow-cooked meats. Drive by the place almost any day and you can see smoke wafting from the cookers out back. As co-owner Rory Douthit told us the evening we dined there, Cinder should not be mistaken for a barbecue restaurant. While its expertise is slow-cooked proteins prepared with fresh and interesting ingredients, they also offer delicious options for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free folks, and those who enjoy greens and vegetables. 

It just happened that Douthit came out from behind the counter to talk us through the menu when he saw the three of us sitting there, looking up at the four oversized sheets of parcel paper suspended from rolls attached to the wall that provide creative space to announce the day’s fare. One sheet was dedicated to beverages, another to snacks and sides, the third listed meats, and finally, the menu for their weekend breakfast collaboration with Loveridge. That will have to be a separate review.

We were there for dinner, and Douthit walked us through the menu. He suggested we each get a protein on a house-made naan, in a bowl, or over a rice cake, plus snacks and sides to share. Portions are reasonable, not big, he explained. They are small plates.

We took his advice and ordered a bit of everything.

All the meats are $8, and we sampled the brisket, chicken, spicy lamb, and meatballs. We got the meatballs in a bowl, with a side of naan ($2), and the lamb, brisket, and chicken on the naan. Douthit added a rice cake so we could try it, and it was very good. The cake was made from jasmine rice and turmeric, he said, and we broke off bits to dip in the Arrabbiata sauce and parsley gremolata that the meatballs rested in. The meatballs were moist and flavorful, and the sauce, well, it was mouth-watering.

Let me stop here to tell you that the food at Cinder is different. It’s not the usual burger or tacos or spinach salad. Their offerings are inspired by a variety of influences that result in unique flavor profiles. Everything is made-to-order, with fresh ingredients, and the food is tasty and intriguing.

You order at the counter, and they send your flatware wrapped in cloth napkins back to the table with you on a tray, affixed with a playing card so the waitstaff knows which orders go to which tables.

We drew the eight of hearts, and it wasn’t long before our dinner arrived. 

In addition to the proteins, we ordered three of the vegetable sides to share, $4.50 for the small which we got, or $8 for the large. Our favorite was the root vegetables, but let me tell you first about the meats.

The brisket was smoked and sliced and served with a cabbage and cilantro slaw, salsa verde, and pickled red onion. It arrived resting on a sheet of butcher paper on a tray, the naan was flat, with the brisket and other fixings piled on top. We gave it two thumbs up — the tender brisket flavorful and the crisp slaw with cilantro followed by the kick of the tangy pickled onions.

The lamb naan turned up the heat, but it was tempered by the maple carrot yogurt that the lamb was nestled in and the pickled fennel, radishes and fresh mint on top. It was food nirvana. We wanted more.

The chicken naan was fine but the least exciting of the bunch. The smoked and picked poultry was served with herbs, pea shoots, garlic lemon vinegar, and chicken chicharron, or chicken cracklings, on top. It was interesting but lacked a punch. But then, how often do you get pea shoots and chicharrons when eating out? 

For snacks, Cinder offers items like a flight of pickles or miso humus with veggie crudité and naan chips, both $5, and their daily soup, $4.50 for small and $8 for large.

We selected three small vegetable sides ($4.50 each) and, if so inclined, could have added chicken, pork, tofu, ($6), or brisket ($7.) We did the veggies minus the protein — the potatoes, the leeks and lentils, and the root vegetables. The potatoes and root veggies were very, very good — the leeks and lentils, a bit dull.

The potatoes were prepared with rendered pork, garlic cilantro yogurt, chives and crackling. The root veggies — carrots, parsnips, and squash — with thyme, red onion, maple miso butter, and celeriac puree. My late mother, may she rest in peace, never made vegetables like that. We ate every last bit.

Cinder is the latest cool place to visit in downtown Westerly, which is already quite hip. And it’s going to be even cooler when the weather warms up and the eatery moves outdoors to its riverside patio with adjacent walking paths. The co-owner with Douthit is Sam Agnello Jr., and the two owners have deep roots in the community. Together, they have created a unique restaurant in a novel new space, serving delicious small plates that hint of places like Vietnam, Italy, China and Morocco. It's a headache to travel now, but a visit to Cinder may help to satiate your desires. 

Cinder

169 Main St., Westerly

(401) 229-3377

Find their website and their social media by searching Cinder restaurant.

Atmosphere: A mix of rustic and industrial. This place will be awesome when the weather warms up and they open the big garage door to the patio with fire pits and walking trails overlooking the Pawcatuck River.

Alcohol: Wine and beer now, but a menu board in the restaurant announced "Cocktails coming soon."

Hours: Open seven days a week noon to 10 p.m.; serving breakfast with Loveridge Place 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Sundays.

Service: Very good

Prices: Affordable and fair

Reservations: No

Credit cards: Yes

Handicapped access: Yes

Outdoor seating: Yes, when the weather cooperates

What else: Cinder is on the site of Amanda's Pantry, which moved a half mile away to a new location a couple years ago.

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