WESTERLY, RI – Restaurants simply don’t get much better than Ella’s Food and Drink in Westerly, Rhode Island. No matter what you are in the mood for, Chef Jeanie Roland has you covered.
“I really believe there’s something here for everyone. There are half bowls of pasta, to a great grilled cheese, to a burger, to a rack of lamb. So it’s really good food, how I like to eat.
“I love to do something different every day, and I like to push myself and learn every day. I find that with cooking, there’s always something new to discover. I really feel that it is a forum that pushes me to be the best person and the most creative person that I could be.”
Ever since Jeanie and her husband James opened this 160 seat spot a few years ago, customers have packed the place. They make virtually everything from scratch, so the kitchen is always cranking.
Before dinner, potatoes are cut into French fries; focaccia dough is seasoned with herbs; fresh caught tuna is sliced; and light and fluffy gnocchi are rolled and cut by hand. All those great ingredients come together in dishes that defy any singular culinary classification.
“I like to say it is a French Asian influence, but with that, I really cook broadly,” Jeannie explained. “There is a lot of Italian tendencies, but there’s also straight up American food like chicken and grits. So I don’t really label my cooking.”
That is certainly evident among the appetizers, with everything from Chinese Pork Buns, to Chicken Liver Pate, to Sweet and Spicy Calamari, to flavor packed Tuna Tacos.
“You get the crunch of the shell. You get a little taste of chili mayonnaise, the soy reduction in there, the burst of the citrus sesame in the tuna, and then you’re gonna get a little pop of the wasabi tobiko on top,” described Jeanie. “The whole thing together is just a delight to eat.”
Entrees at Ella’s go from fine dining to family flashbacks. You can have the classically French Duck Two Ways, or the down home delicious Momma’s Fried Chicken with cheddar grits, a fond flashback for Jeanie.
“It’s something that is dear to my heart, reminds me of my mom, and how much I loved just coming home to that smell every day in the kitchen. I feel like when people get that on their plate, they’re feeling what I felt as a child.”
Another childhood favorite is grilled cheese.
“It’s the Ultimate Grilled Cheese,” Jeanie stated. “The reason it’s the Ultimate Grilled Cheese – it’s almost equal cups of cheese to flour in the bread recipe. So it’s a really cheese laden bread,” she described. “Then I put really nice brie in too, great Cabot cheddar, gruyere cheese, do a little tomato apple jam on the side – that’s gonna cut through the richness – and we serve it with our housemade potato chips. So I’m taking something that’s basic and approachable, and then you’re gonna take it to another level.”
That same approach is seen with the burger. It can be served simply, or done decadent with foie gras and a fried egg. There’s Veal Bolognese with house made gnocchi; Chitarra pasta with bacon, shaved Brussel sprouts, pecorino, and parmesan; and the deliciously unique Crabby Scallops, featuring grilled scallops topped with jumbo lump crab, served over forbidden black rice, with a mirin-yuzu apricot beurre blanc.
“Crabby Scallop is really something unique we do here at Ella’s,” said Jeanie. “As you bite through it, you’re gonna get crunchy, sweet, spicy, taste the earthiness of the scallop as well as with the black rice. It soaks up the sauce and gives it a vehicle that just elevates the whole dish to a different level.”
Desserts at Ella’s are not to be missed. While the Gingerbread Ice Cream Sandwich is truly outstanding, it’s pretty much impossible to pass on a slice of something named ‘Just Chocolate’.
“That’s gonna blow you away,” Jeanie promised. “It gives you everything that you want from chocolate. It is a cake that is about seven layers of chocolate; it has three different kinds of ganache in there. We have a center of white chocolate cheesecake layered in the ganache in the flourless torte. The whole thing is ganached again, and it’s just a winner.”
Jeanie is a chef who simply loves great food, and she also loves to share the love by spending plenty of time in the dining room, educating her customers about ingredients. She also offers cooking classes that are so popular, even music superstar Taylor Swift is a frequent student.
But for Jeanie, the real star at Ella’s is the food, and everyone who come to enjoy it.
“It’s my restaurant, but it’s your restaurant. That’s what we want to convey to everybody, that it’s as much my home as it is yours.”
You can find Ella’s Food and Drink at 2 Tower Street in Westerly, Rhode Island, and online at ellasfinefoodanddrink.com.
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