Where politics is on the menu in Rhode Island

Morales loved El Ninja, on Broad Street in Providence, while Ruggerio is a regular at Zorba’s Pizza & Pub, on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence.

Colorful signage adorns the El Ninja restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. El Ninja is a favorite of State Representative David Morales, a Democrat from Providence.Matthew Healey/Matthew Healey for the Boston Globe

At El Ninja, I spotted a politician from Rhode Island before I even ordered an appetizer. As I sat on the patio, I noticed a familiar face at a nearby table, and sure enough, it was former Speaker of the House, Gordon D. Fox.

The last time I quoted Fox was in 2015, when the Providence Democrat walked out of US District Court after a judge sentenced him to three years in prison for wire fraud, tax evasion and pocketing. of a $52,000 bribe. On the steps of the courthouse, I asked him what to do to prevent this kind of corruption from happening again.

These days, Fox is in a much better place, working as vice president of operations at Crossroads Rhode Island. And this time, I had much easier questions for him: what did he think of El Ninja? And what did he recommend on the menu?

Fox explained how El Ninja was part of an increasingly vibrant stretch of Broad Street, and he offered two recommendations: an El Presidente beer and the churrasco, which the menu describes as a “delicious outside skirt steak cooked on the grill”, topped with chimichurri sauce and served with mashed yucca.

Former House Speaker Gordon D. Fox dined at El Ninja Restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island.Edward Fitzpatrick

Morales, who is one of the nation’s youngest Latino lawmakers at 23, said his favorite places to eat and talk politics include the Thai Star restaurant on Chalkstone Avenue in Providence, and La Fogata, a food truck parked on Thurbers Avenue that specializes in tacos.

But Morales said the fusion of Latin American and Japanese flavors at El Ninja catapults the restaurant to the top of his list. And he highly recommended the Geisha Roll, which the menu describes as “tempura shrimp, bacon, mozzarella, maduro (fried).”

The Geisha sushi roll at El Ninja in Providence is a favorite of state Rep. David Morales, a Democrat from Providence.Matthew Healey for the Boston Globe

My vote goes to the Aloha Roll, which features spicy tuna and avocado topped with pineapple. And for appetizers, I’d push for the savory edamame and pastelitos ropa vieja, which are deep-fried dough pastries filled with shredded stewed steak and cheese.

On a Saturday night, El Ninja was buzzing, with couples dressed up for a date and families with children. The restaurant’s logo is a pint-sized ninja wielding a plantain.

A cartoon ninja holding a plantain greets guests inside El Ninja in Providence, Rhode Island.Matthew Healey for the Boston Globe

The waitress greeted us with a “Hola!”

At Zorba, the waiter greeted me with a friendly “What can I get you, boss?”

Ruggerio recommended the cheeseburger club sandwich, with lettuce, tomatoes and bacon, plus fries.

But my vote goes to the calamari, served with banana peppers, Kalamata olives and cherry tomatoes – a favorite dish of Ruggerio’s chief of staff, Jake Bissaillon.

For the record, calamari is the official state appetizer, and it enjoys bicameral support, as evidenced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara’s memorable appearance at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, when he cast the state’s electoral votes on behalf of the “Returning Squid State”. of Rhode Island.

Sotirios Katsaras, owner of Zorba’s Pizza & Pub in North Providence, Rhode Island, holds a plate of calamari.Matthew Healey for the Boston Globe

Senate spokesman Greg Pare said Ruggerio often visits Zorba’s for lunch, dinner and coffee get-togethers. When asked if he was going there for political talks, Pare replied, “Are there any other kinds of talks?”

Ruggerio, who served four years in the state House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 1984, has broken bread in many places over the years.

But her favorite restaurants include Camille’s, an Italian restaurant “in the heart of Federal Hill” on Bradford Street in Providence, and LaSalle Bakery, which has two locations in Providence, giving her good options to meet for coffee.

At Zorba’s, a picture of the State House dome hangs on the wall, and owner Sotirios “Sammy” Katsaras said Ruggerio stops by at least once a week. He said he had known Ruggerio for about 35 years and they were friends. He said other Rhode Island politicians are also going there, including North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi and Gov. Daniel J. McKee.

A sign outside Zorba’s Pizza & Pub welcomes you to North Providence, Rhode Island.Matthew Healey for the Boston Globe

Katsaras has been a restaurant owner for 45 years, and he owned the Kitchen Bar, on the east side of Providence, where patrons included former Rhode Island governor and current U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo.

Morales said he and Ruggerio disagreed on some political issues, such as raising taxes on the top 1%. But he said they would agree that “Rhode Island offers a diverse range of delicious food and culinary selections.”

“From the cuisine we enjoy to the ideology of our local leaders,” he said, “it’s a diverse selection.”


El Ninja, 1007 Broad St in Providence, 401-467-2581, elninja.net

Zorba’s Pizza & Pub, 1370 Mineral Spring Ave. in North Providence, 401-353-2100, zorbaspizzanpub.com

Thai Star Restaurant, 1008 Chalkstone Ave. in Providence, 401-421-5840, thaistarrestaurant.com

La Fogata, a food truck parked on Thurbers Avenue in Providence, 401-219-9630, facebook.com/Lafogata.foodtruck/

Camille’s, 71 Bradford Street in Providence, 401-751-4812, camillesonthehill.com

LaSalle Bakery, 993 Smith St. in Providence, 401-831-9563, and 685 Admiral St. in Providence, 401-228-0081, lasallebakery.net

Edward Fitzpatrick can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.

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