The cynical among us assume that any restaurant name that includes the word “Inn” signifies an old-folks’ hangout, where sodium reigns supreme, with Salisbury steak with instant spuds (served via ice cream scooper) and pasta cooked 10 minutes past al dente being par for the course.
But home-cooked fare is more the norm in the sprawling land of Warwick, which offers plenty of these eateries, from the decidedly old-school (and always packed) Bassett’s Inn to the contemporary digs and eclectic menu twists at the renowned Remington House Inn. Since its reincarnation 10 years ago, the Governor Francis Inn has successfully landed right in between these other two spots, and it’s designed to satisfy any demographic.
Crowds attract a crowd, so the chore of finding a parking space in the jammed lot that spills down the surrounding sleepy side streets lead, one to conclude that this place is a goldmine — and for good reason. I put in a call to check on the wait (45 minutes on a Wednesday night) and had the option to “Dial one for today’s specials,” a great idea judging by the nonstop to-go orders flying out the door.
One step inside leads to crowded benches and a bustling bar scene, so we wedged our way in for a few Black and Tans while my buddies chatted up their longtime “GFI” (as it’s known) menu favorites and chastised my newbie status at this local landmark.
After being brought to a spacious and packed dining room, we waited close to 15 minutes to even be acknowledged by our waitress, until she finally arrived with a, “Hi guys, whaddya having for dinner tonight?” Understandably, high turnover equals consistently low prices, but we had only just decided on drinks and appetizers, and the giant tri-fold menu includes a list of nearly 20 additional entrees to peruse.
The guys suggested starting off with fried calamari ($6.95), of course, and stuffed mushrooms ($7.95). Admittedly, I was skeptical of the latter, having encountered far too many establishments serving dry stuffing atop uninspired, soggy mushrooms (and vice versa). The search, though, is officially over. Six meaty mushrooms (not too dense or pulpy) were enveloped by a creamy shrimp-and-crab-cracker dressing that fully absorbed the tangy wine and butter reduction. The calamari was also above-standard, with an exceptionally crunchy coating that complemented the fresh, white squid rings. A cup of French onion soup even offered an impressive rendition, with melted Gruyere bubbling over a crunchy slab of rye.
Our entrees arrived (perfectly timed) and my Land and Sea special ($20.95) was even better than billed, with a hefty lobster tail fanned and loaded with a succulent scallop-and-shrimp stuffing, and the sirloin, less fatty than anticipated, cooked to the requested medium. Apparently the butternut squash is a heralded accoutrement here (a holiday hit by the quart) and rightfully so. Hints of brown sugar and nutmeg with mashed apples incorporated into the puree provided a naturally sweet sidekick to the lobster, while the scoop of rice pilaf was a mere afterthought.
Jim’s standby Surf and Turf ($19.95) featured three baked stuffed shrimp and the thin Delmonico grilled to his preferred medium-well, and his side of linguine with homemade marinara was yes, al dente. Tom donned the bib for the baked stuffed lobster special, an impressive, mountainous presentation, a decadent bargain at $22.95, joined by crispy fries and fresh coleslaw.
Other nightly specials included old-school culprits like liver with bacon and onions, American chop suey, and fried boneless chicken with brown gravy. Contemporary choices feature creamy lobster bisque and Chicken Aurora with sausage and penne ($12.95) ordered all-around at a nearby table of four.
To-go favorites include a Cajun-spiced burger with bleu cheese and bacon, dubbed the Governor ($6.50), the Porta¬bella burger ($6.95) with sautéed spinach, peppers, prosciutto, and honey mustard; and the Lobster Salad club ($13.95, year-round).
Only a handful of the evening’s 20 (!) desserts listed are prepared in-house, including Grape nut pudding ($2.25) and a hot apple crisp ($3.50). Pumpkin pie, tiramisu and mud pie are just a few of the other tempting $4 endings.
In defense of the waitstaff, perhaps we misinterpreted the initial 15-minute brush-off. Maybe we were being welcomed like regulars. A fair share of the patrons around us never opened their menus, sitting down and firing off orders as if they’ve been here a few hundred times. Such steadfast support is always a good thing.