Mike's Kitchen is the kind of eatery where the customers on any given night could write the review. "Look at that!" said the man at the next table, when he saw the two large sole fillets on my plate. "That'd cost you three times as much in downtown Providence." Earlier, I'd heard another nearby diner say to her tablemates: "I'm a connoisseur of chicken soup, and this is good."
|MIKE'S KITCHEN | 401.946.5320 | 170 Randall St, Cranston at Taborfranchi VFW Post 2396 | Mon, Wed, and Thurs, 11:30 -3 pm+ 5-8 pm; Tues, 11:30 -3 pm; Fri, 11:30 -8:30 pm; Sat, 11 am-2:30 pm| Major credit cards| Full Bar| Sidewalk-level accessible|
The dûcor at Mike's doesn't attempt any more than it is, since it's inside a VFW hall. The walls are wood-paneled with large round military crests for each branch of the armed services, historic photos, and a list of deceased members' names. Recently, there was a Christmas tree in the corner and a few other holiday decorations.
Seated around us were dads with kids, granddads with kids, extended families with kids (yes, there are some kids' meals). But there was also a large corner table with eight guys, obvious regulars, especially since they sat the closest to the chalkboard menu.
The waitress handed us laminated menus, and we forgot, at first, to check that board, but you shouldn't miss it — because that's where you'll find many customer favorites, such as chicken with cannelloni or with rabe, plus six other chicken dishes. There are also a half-dozen veal dishes; and the seafood pasta entrûes can be ordered with calamari, clams, shrimp, or clams and shrimp.
The appetizers include the requisite fried calamari with hot peppers, but also fried smelts, snail salad, baccala salad, clams zuppa, and Italian tuna salad. The many, many plates of calamari that drifted past our table looked like heaping piles of light-battered onion rings, very tempting.
Our waitress told us, "People come here for the squid, the polenta, and the rabe."
She nailed it. We had come for the polenta ($6.95), with marinara sauce. The recipe for Mike's special creamy polenta was included in the first cookbook published by Al Forno founders Johanne Killeen and George Germon, and it's just as good as we remembered. Bill pronounced this dish "bite after bite tasty." Mike's default marinara has a bit of meat simmered in it, but you can request a meatless version.
Our other starter was a cup of chicken soup ($2.95) that was almost a meal in itself, with the terrific Italian bread brought to the table. The soup contained more white-meat chicken chunks than veggies, and the broth was deeply flavored with the onions and herbs that had cooked in it.
Bill was in a mood for cavatelli, even though the cavatelli special, with broccoli, garlic, artichoke hearts, and olive oil, is only served on Fridays. However, he could have any pasta dish with cavatelli, it turned out, and he chose the one with black olives, anchovies, pepperoncini, and aglio olio ($9.95). The portion was so generous, he had leftovers for three days, and his craving for cavatelli was satisfied for a while.