Review: The Fifth Element

A splendid brunch in Newport
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  April 19, 2011

The energetic strains of the Fran Curley Jazz Ensemble welcomed us to the new incarnation of the Fifth Element (formerly on Lower Thames) for a recent Sunday brunch. We weren't the only folks who had discovered this weekend treat. The dining room was hopping, with a table of eight and a table of 10 already in full swing; by the time we left, even the high-tops in the bar were packed.

The light-filled space (large windows on three sides), the friendly staff, and the creative menu are definite draws. Co-owner Frank Doyle, one of two Paddys, along with one Canuck, who met as waiters at the original Christie's, learned to tend bar, and then to run a business (officially called Two Paddys and a Canuck), was pleased as punch to have most of his original staff back, including chef Chris DePerro.

The Fifth Element | 401.619.2552 | 111 Broadway, Newport | Daily, 5-10 pm [Bar until 1 am]; Sun Brunch, 11:30 am-3 pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Accessible

Regulars from the previous location were glad to see the mesmerizing "waterfall" back behind the bar: two panels of mirrored glass with water rushing down them. Other intriguing décor touches are recycled Southern yellow pine planks (from a Newport ice plant) for the bar and the high-tops, a suspended driftwood railroad tie for a Scotch shelf, plus, in both lounge and dining area, open beams, gleaming steel ductwork, and front windows that fold all the way back to pull in the soon-to-be sidewalk-café diners.

In this open, airy, earthy, but chic ambiance, I think anyone could be cheerful, even on a rainy day. But this was a bright, sunny, truly-spring day, the popping colors outside matched by tall Bloody Marys and fresh-squeezed juices inside. "A really good Bloody Mary," Bill emphasized, as I stared at its flecks of horseradish and garnishes of lemon slice, caper berry, and requisite celery stalk. The Bloody Caesar (with Clamato juice) shows the French-Canadian influence: the coffee with Jameson whiskey, the eatery's Irish roots.

The former also comes across in several brunch dishes: the croque madame, a fried egg sandwich, with ham and melted Gruyère; poutine, that odd but tasty combination of French fries, melted cheese, and a brown gravy (Fifth Element's dinner version — at brunch it's gussied up with blue cheese, mushrooms, leeks, and an optional egg); and two crêpe specials, one with veggies and one with eggs Oscar (crab, asparagus, and Dijon Hollandaise).

Our eyes were drawn down to the plain ol' "eggs and home fries" category, except they weren't so plain: with "petite bistro filet" ($16), fish cakes ($13), or scrapple ($12). I wanted Bill to taste the scrapple, so we ordered an appetizer version ($8), served, per Pennsy tradition, with apple butter and pickles. Basically a pan-fried cornmeal mush, with the cornmeal cooked in a broth made from pork "by-products," scrapple is gaining in popularity at diners, according to Doyle.

Bill followed that up with something he'd had a hankering for — steak and eggs — and I went with the fish cakes. Ordered "medium rare," the two triangular beef cuts on Bill's plate thrilled him with their pinkness and their flavor (we were told it was a shoulder cut that had been marinated). The over-easy eggs and home fries were expertly executed, with a bit of onion and plenty of paprika on the potatoes.

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