Locals, especially PVD peeps, may notice that there is one new hip, hot new shack that we did not include on this year’s Crawl and it may cause a bit of a clammotion.
Since early Spring, I have been inundated by curious friends and foodies with questions about a new place in Providence.
“Have you heard about this clam shack in the Parking Lot District?”
“RSB, have you been to Dune Brothers?”
“What’s up with that Dune Buggy place?”
“Are you going to Dune Brothers on your Crawl thing?”
Dune Brothers is a long-term pop-up restaurant in a small building call The Shack in Providence’s Jewelry District. In the shadows of the under-construction Wexford Innovation Center, Dune Brothers offers “traceable local seafood” and takes a dock-to-dish approach to its menu and food it serves. Though its menu can change from day to day, depending on the local catch, its staples include fish and chips, cape shark sandwiches, Walrus and Carpenter oysters, and the inevitable clam cakes and chowder (note the menu: Chowder with RI little necks).
Admittedly, I’m hesitant of any clam cakes that are further than a 2 mile radius of a beach. Many have raved about Chelo’s clam cakes, though I rarely visit that local chain so I cannot verify their quality.
Being a denizen of The Clubhouse, across the Providence River from Dune Brothers, I took the initiative in early May to quell my friends’ curiosity, and sit down with an open mind and palate.
Picture it: It was the first Saturday of May. I had just completed my second Jane’s Walk of the day on Weybosett Hill (Pond Street: Walk Through a Lost Neighborhood, led by the well-versed Taylor Polites) and had hit my 10K step count on my FitBit. I had planned to cruise through the erstwhile TacoFest over by Grant’s Block to say quick hellos to vendor friends in the Rock n Roll Flea Market section. I was hungry enough that I could not imagine waiting in line 45 minutes for an overpriced taco (I was also not in the mood for tacos). I had a great, shaded parking spot behind PPAC, so I hoofed from Cathedral Square to Downcity, then along the edge of the Jewelry District to Dune Brothers. By the time I arrived, it was about 2.00pm. I needed to take a load off my feet and refuel ASAP.
The spot is decorated with an appropriate amount of buoys and other nautical paraphernalia, a grassy area with a shading tree, and a few picnic tables. Another guy was in line ready to order, which took a few minutes. I surveyed the lands and reviewed the menu.
Of course, it’s a no-brainer as to what I will order. When it was my turn, I asked for a half-dozen clam cakes and the chowder.
The guy at the window said the total was $16.75.
I’m all in at this point, handover my debit card, and, one swipe later, my order is placed.
I find an open spot at picnic table, take a swig of water from my reusable container, and scroll through Instagram and do a few crossword puzzles for the next 20 minutes. A few people had received their orders before me, though one would think that it wasn’t too busy.
Nonetheless, my order was up. I picked up red tray with a bespoke bag of clam cakes and a decent sized bowl of chowder and took it back to my seat. As you would expect me to do, I inspected every centimeter of the contents on my tray.
The clam cakes were nestled with a little container of tartar sauce and lemon wedge at the bottom of the white paper bag with Dune Brothers logo stamped towards the top; they were near perfect orbs, scant hint of nubbins. One bit in and I immediately inspect the contents as I chew. Great cripsy exterior, though as I chewed, I tasted an overpowering lemon and butter flavor. There are small bits of clam inside evenly distributed, looks a little doughy in parts (maybe needed an extra minute in the fryolator).
The chowder a pleasant surprise. It’s a white chowder, not too thick, not too thin. Large chunks of potato, some clam bits and chive. Atop the concoction is a leafy green and two littleneck clams — still attached to the shell. Like the clam cakes, the broth was also buttery though not as outrageous. It took me awhile to remove the littlenecks from the shells with my plastic spoon (too wary of using my teeth to yank it out; I chipped my front tooth last year and am vigilant about biting into certain food). I supped the chowder and made it through three clam cakes when I deemed myself done with the meal. I was full. I rolled up the bag with the remaining clam cakes and tucked them into my bag for later (ended up handing them off to a vendor friend at TacoFest).
Overall, though I enjoyed the chowder, I was less than impressed with Dune Brothers’ clam cakes. I love the dock-to-dish format and am curious about the fish and chips. Yet, as one who knows a thing or two about clam cakes, I was disappointed in both the taste of the clam cakes (overpowered by other elements) and the value. Eight dollars for six clam cakes is incredibly excessive. A dozen clam cakes averages $7.50 (based on 2018 Crawl estimates). Let’s say I had a tinge of buyer’s remorse. Other people have dined at and raved about Dune Brothers. They’ve made the covers or headlines in all local papers and magazines, which is great! I’m all for new restaurants and pop-ups around Lil Rhody! For me, when it comes to local staples, I’ll add them to my mental Rolodex of 30-plus clam shacks I have visited over the past five years and get my clam cakes n chowdah closer to the shore.
IMHO: If you are visiting Providence, say someone at Brown or RISD or here for a convention, and cannot get out of the city limits, but want to sample “local,” only in Lil Rhody cuisine, go to Dune Brothers. Otherwise, rent a car, ask a friend, or order an Uber and head 20 minutes east or south to experience a real clam cake (with a little grit in it) and a Rhode Island chowdah.