More than ESPN and burgers
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  November 28, 2007

Wetherlaine’s | 350 River St,, Woonsocket | Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-10:30 pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30 am-11:30 PM; Sun, 12-10:30 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | No Sidewalk-level access | 401.762.0900
It’s where Box Seats, the sports bar up in Woonsocket, used to be. That’s how Wetherlaine’s, which the place has been called for the last few months, will have to get used to being described, as irregular customers get used to the change. (We asked a cop on patrol for directions, and he didn’t even correct us about the new name.) Wandering in the wilds of northern Rhode Island, we started getting hungry, and Johnnie recalled a good meal there a few years ago.
The new owners run another Wetherlaine’s in Attleboro, thus the name change. But it’s not so much a new restaurant as an amplification of the previous one. When we discovered the original place, we were charmed by its friendly atmosphere, its piled portions, and its amiable pub tradition of letting customers going over to ladle out free soup.
In the current transformation, the old menu of bar food and a few entrées is pretty much kept while being copiously expanded. There are steaks as well as burgers, and those burgers have been beefed up to 10-ounce size. Beers on tap have multiplied to 20. Thin-crust pizzas are new. There are more sandwiches and many salads, from steak Caesar to a chipotle salad topped with homemade crab cakes. A Tuesday twofer, with choices from baked tilapia to meatloaf, is $18.99, including soup or salad, and dessert and coffee.
But before checking out the new menu, I scoped out the new look while getting some soup (potato-leek, assertively peppery, good). There were five TV screens visible from where we sat, all tuned to Sunday night football, but whereas there used to be hundreds of sports photos, magazine covers, big-game clippings and other memorabilia, there are now just token displays.
An apparent attempt has been made to keep a rah-rah atmosphere, but also to yuppify the decor to match the new menu. While the room we sat in sported a couple of Red Sox jerseys, they were across from a movie poster and scenes of Paris bistros. Uh, are we talking Manny Ramirez or Audrey Hepburn? The place badly needs a serious decor decision, perhaps mediated by a vocational counselor, to decide its identity.
My suggestion? In its previous incarnation, burn marks on the floor from cigarettes, not to mention a still smoky carpet, were part of the place’s sweaty charm; in a steak au poivre context, it’s merely tacky.
For starters, in addition to such choices as bruschetta ($5.75) and a spinach and artichoke dip ($7.95), there are bar snacks available individually or in three combinations. We picked what is officially the “combo platter” ($6.95), opting for chicken tenders, rather than the fried version, and they were mildly hot and juicy. The marinara sauce for the deep-fried provolone wedges was delicious, and while the baked potato skins looked tired from their reheating, they were heaped with bacon and cheddar and tasted fine.
Of the 20 main course attractions on the menu, a dozen are under $14, including stuffed shrimp and a chicken and artichoke scampi. Three items included sirloin tips, so I chose the tips and chicken over pasta ($11.95) and was pleased with my decision, except for the penne (linguine also was a choice) being very overcooked. The bigger of the pieces of beef were at least pink in the middle, as requested. There was plenty of grilled chicken and roasted red peppers, plus mushrooms and spinach in a cream sauce that was delicate with the garlic and imaginative by being salted with soy sauce. Shredded cheese and herbs sprinkled around the wide-rim bowl made for a nice presentation, a slice of garlic bread perched on the edge.
Johnnie’s choice, baked cod ($12.95), is more simply described: the butter-baked fish fresh, topped with seasoned cracker crumbs and it was served with her choice of grilled zucchini, still with some bite, and a baked potato that unfortunately was not warm at its center.
Laminated cards on each table show pictures of a half-dozen desserts, not made in-house, from carrot cake to a deep-fried, tortilla-wrapped banana caramel cheesecake, all $5 or $6. We had the chocolate baby bundt, which was a nicely moist chocolate cake with both chocolate and caramel sauces. It was a pleasant enough ending. Audrey Hepburn might even have liked it.

Bill Rodriguez can be reached at bill@billrod.com.

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