There are no Greek columns outside or marble steps, but make no mistake: Louis Family Restaurant is an institution in Providence. The perennial hangout for Brown and RISD students is an unassuming little place. Yet it has attracted the attention of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which in 2009 celebrated its BBQ as well as chicken and cheese ravioli, plus less ambitious fare. According to the Brown Daily Herald, Steven Spielberg has been sighted here, as well as George Harrison and then-student JFK, Jr.
It's a breakfast and lunch place only, opening at an ungodly 5 am and closing at 3 pm, which means the proprietors aren't afraid of work. The precedent was set 64 years ago by founder Louis Gianfrancesco and brother Dominic, who relied on recipes straight from the Army cookbook they used while cooking for World War II troops. (They are pictured on a T-shirt, available for only $5 — no 10-buck mark-up for the privilege of wearing advertising, as is annoyingly usual at other places.) The six children of Louis carried on managing the place after his death in 1999.
Louis Family Restaurant | 401.861.5225 | 286 Brook St, Providence | Daily 5 am-3 pm | Major Credit Cards | Beer + Wine | Sidewalk-Level Accessible
The food? We'll get to that later.
If the art- and odds-and-ends-covered walls were any more interesting to peruse, there would have to be separate hours for docent-guided tours. Over the years, students have contributed numerous paintings, drawings, photographs, and newspaper clippings of interest. Portraits of Louis and/or Dominic are a common theme. I especially love the photo of Bob Keeshan, TV's Captain Kangaroo, with his resigned and-I-started-out-wanting-to-do-Shakespeare expression.
My foodie pal Stuart comes here a lot ("They changed the ventilation system, so you don't walk out smelling like a french fry anymore"). As well as students, he says, retirees are a typical sight because of the cheap eats, although there is a wealthy East Side matron he notices now and again.
The Louis habitué has numerous favorites, such as spinach or broccoli pie, eggplant grinder, and vegetarian chili. Most often, he gets the black bean soup, as he did this time at lunch, and always orders a wedge of lemon to squeeze in. Marvelous touch — opens the taste buds to the flavor, especially if you bolster it with the kitchen-made hot sauce.
You won't be impressed with the possibilities if you just look at the pink laminated menu. It lists fewer than a dozen lunch items, mostly things like burgers and grilled cheese. No, you have to check out the chalkboard and daily specials. I know that some people are dedicated to the shepherd's pie ($4.50, half, $7.95, full), and when it comes to generous-sized breakfasts, the pancakes in particular — from granola to pumpkin — have devotees. At a nearby table, a young woman was digging into a massive, towering plate of whipped-cream-topped fruit salad, which contained blackberries and fresh pineapple, among other potentially addictive goodies.