It doesn't look like a diner from its gray shingled exterior, and it looks like more than a diner from its extended menu, but the folks at the Wickford Diner don't care about appearances — they just want to feed you.
The place did start out as an actual, glistening Tierney diner that survived the hurricane of '38, the harbor across the street notwithstanding. The owners, who also run Duffy's Tavern and the Oak Hill Tavern nearby, expanded the narrow confines five years ago, spreading into the space of an adjacent store. In diner tradition, there are cutesy touches here and there, such as an upright shark in a Hawaii-an shirt greeting you at the chalkboard. A harpoon and a ship steering wheel are among the nautical touches.
The first time we went recently, it was just as well that we missed the noon deadline for breakfast, since those choices are fairly conventional, the most exotic offering being a breakfast burrito.Lunch choices are a bit more interesting, with lots of seafood dishes including a jam-packed quahog chili ($4.95) that I'd much enjoyed there before. Both white and clear quahog chowder ($2.50, cup, $3, bowl) were listed, and since I love a hearty clam broth, I thought I'd start with that to check out theirs. They were out. No, that was a good thing — the lobster bisque ($3.50/$4.50) was terrific. There were many meaty bits, not the usual homogenous purée in which one suspects the shellfish had been dunked a few times like a tea bag.
It was pleasantly spicy hot, as was the chicken soup ($3.50/$4.50) across the table. My sip was tasty and creamy, speckled with black beans and corn, but Johnnie reported that the chicken was "spongy," probably from being frozen. She also had a fish sandwich ($5), a piece of thickly battered and fried cod on a bulkie roll. The oil was fresh, but the sandwich would be too greasy for some tastes, as it was for hers. For those unopposed, the fish and chips is $7.95. Her sweet potato fries were greaseless, though.
All sandwiches come with french fries, sweet potato fries, or potato salad. I usually order the second, but for variety's sake this time chose the latter with my grilled chicken sandwich ($5) — red bliss potatoes, just enough mayo, delicious. I could have had my sandwich with barbecue sauce; rubbed with black pepper "Montréal style"; or with lemon pepper. The chicken was appealingly smoky, but my choice of that last seasoning — our waitress said it was Durkee's — had a metallic aftertaste I didn't like. The friend with us had the pulled pork sandwich ($4.95), which was tangy with vinegar rather than smothered with BBQ sauce. She quite enjoyed it, as I did my sample, jealously.
Returning for dinner a few days later, I started with a dozen peel-'n'-eat shrimp, mostly because they were a cheapskate-appealing 10 cents apiece. From the Gulf (presumably the Mexican side), they had little taste, as anticipated. The cocktail sauce tried to make up for that, a dollop of horseradish considerately on the top like a cherry on a sundae, to mix in or discard.