Given its location, 3 Steeple Street has an edge in being successful. There it is at the bottom of College Hill, where gravity, if nothing else, brings them all those RISD and Brown students, and where parades of famished WaterFire trudgers pass by. Considering this, it would be a crime if it weren’t a good restaurant. But judging by a recent visit, there is no fear of that.
3 Steeple Street | 125 Canal St, Providence | Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-10 pm; Fri, 11:30 am-11 pm; Sat, 5-11 pm; Sun, 1-9 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Not sidewalk-level accessible | 401.272.3620
Regulars at a bistro and bar that’s been around for decades acquire a sort of co-proprietorship — nobody messes with loyal customers’ favorites. For the past five-and-a-half years, the owners have been Bill and Julie Nahas. And while the Billy’s Burger is now on the menu, with the boss’s gotta-have grilled onions, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese, they didn’t dare do away with the Raul Burger, with its Boursin cheese, sunflower seeds, and alfalfa sprouts. (The burgers and sandwiches, $8.95, come with your choice of side salad, German potato salad, or French fries — the sweet potato ones at no extra charge.)
Formerly the sous chef, Phil Lincoln heads the kitchen, and he has guided the change from a place that used to offer mainly sandwiches and salads. But preparations remain unpretentious — at dinner, somebody could be devouring a burger next to somebody daintily hewing a rack of lamb, when that’s a special.
The walls are filled with art, as befits the location, and many are made of roughly mortared stones repaired with brick. That goes along with this being the second oldest industrial building in the country, after Slater Mill.
Looking over the starters, we considered the hummus and tabbouleh platter ($7.95), which was put on as a public service for habitués of the late, great Leo’s. The Thai mussels ($11.95) were tempting, as we anticipated an aromatic broth of coconut milk, lemongrass, and ginger. Same for the French onion soup ($3.95/$6.95), a favorite of mine, and the seafood chowder, since we weren’t going to have the bouillabaisse.
But we chose the daily pizza ($10.95) and didn’t look back. The charcoal-grilled oval filled a large platter and was densely packed with so many complementing ingredients that our waiter couldn’t detail them all, such as the basil pesto and capers under the fresh baby spinach, artichoke hearts, and loads of calamata olives, and nicely browned mozzarella in addition to the impossible-to-brown feta. It tasted as wonderful as it sounds.
For main courses, signature dishes tend to tell a lot, and the description of the Salmon Steeple Street ($17.95) spoke of imagination, with its ginger and almond crust, sweet-and-salty honey and tamari, and particularly its lemongrass pesto. The dish is a regular on the menu, but its recipe changes three or four times a year.