TRANSFORMED The Iron Works façade.
They damn well better serve steaks at the Iron Works Tavern. Walking in you can feel like a famished workman just off his shift casting molten metal. In fact, the place was just that sort of a factory when it opened in 1867, becoming the center of the Warwick village that grew around it.
These days when you look up and around inside, the ductwork is a more decor-friendly coppery color, to better complement the brick walls and oak woodwork. There are countless period photos of workers standing by their momentarily idle machinery or staring in rows like high school students posing for yearbook pictures.
That sense of populated history fits the intended atmosphere — they call it a tavern, not a restaurant, after all. That said, there is more life at the tables than at the bar, which doesn't dominate the place like elsewhere. The bare wooden tables are close together, so listening into adjoining discussions is unavoidable. This is not a place for that final it's-not-you-it's-me conversation.
Although the name, history, and ambience suggest that the menu would be strictly for the steak and potatoes crowd, for dinner there are items that mill owners wouldn't sneer at, including a wood-grilled half-rack of lamb appetizer ($14.95), an eight-ounce bone-in ribeye steak ($25.95), and lobster sauté over linguine ($22.95). There are truffle fries among the à la carte sides ($6.95), along with sautéed broccoli rabe and a risotto of the day. There is a fancier menu Upstairs at the Tavern, above the hoi polloi, where you can begin with roasted oysters ($10) or duck Wellington ($10) and continue on to herb-roasted wild boar chop ($29) or a 16-ounce pepper-crusted sirloin ($29). (Impressed by that classy lack of .95s, mill owners?)
But we were there for lunch, so down-scale it would be. One good sign is that the clam chowder ($3.95) was the hardier Rhode Island broth variety, not the wussified, milky New England kind. And instead of Rhode Island clam cakes, with its traditional embarrassing paucity of featured ingredient, it's suggested that you add three lobster and black bean fritters for $6.50. Thoughtful.
There is also rolled stuffed eggplant ($8.95), to which you could add pasta for $10.95 and turn it into a full meal. We also could have done the same with the shrimp Jefferson ($12.95), but the three large shrimp, roasted peppers, and spinach would be under a gorgonzola cream sauce, which I thought might be overpowering. So I chose the Point Judith calamari ($8.95), opting for the Asian style. I couldn't have been more pleased. The fried squid was generously drizzled with a sweetened sauce and served with a very spicy aioli that looked innocently like Russian dressing. Very good. Not to be unpatriotic, but I wish every place would offer an alternative version to Rhode Island style, with hot peppers
Besides sandwiches and salads, there are eight entrées. There is also a lunch special each weekday, varying from meatloaf to roast turkey. (Though it was not Tuesday, a woman at a nearby table was having a towering chicken pot pie, so ask if off-menu items are available.) There is also a pizza of the day for $9.95 and a daily panini and soup special for $7.95.