BYOB: 22 places for good food, booze sans the big check

The Drinks Are On You! We love going out to eat but then we get the check and — yikes — half of it is for the liquor. That’s why we like places that are BYOB. We can satisfy our craving for good food without going broke.

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Mermaid Cafe

19 Margin St.,
Westerly, 637-4225,

The Menu: As you might expect from a waterfront restaurant, the emphasis is on seafood. For dinner, choices range from traditional offerings such as clam cakes, New England and Rhode Island clam chowder and fish and chips to burgers and sandwiches. Diners interested in a heartier meal can try dinner specials such as baked haddock.
Vibe: With big windows that look out onto boats bobbing in the Pawcatuck River, the Mermaid Cafe pays homage to water. Fish nets, buoys, photos of historic ships and kids’ colorings of mermaids all support the nautical theme. Casual, with a local feel in the off-season, the cafe draws a mature crowd on a Friday night that takes advantage of the BYOB option.
Get: Start with the crab cakes, which are generous portions filled with crabmeat from Maine and a great deal at $3.95. Try an order of the mermaid slaw, a yummy combination of cabbage, radishes, carrots, turnips and mayo. For dinner, try either the catch of the day or one of the specials such as scallop risotto and lobster pot pie, which are twists on traditional favorites.
Sommelier Says: A light white wine like sauvignon blanc or a pilsner won’t overwhelm the seafood.
Corkage Fee: None
Closest Liquor Store: Dick’s World of Wines, 137 Main St., Westerly, 596-5711
Dinner for two: $40 to $50
Fine Print: The cafe is only open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays until spring. – Jen McCaffery


Noodles 102

102 Ives St.,
Providence, 383-5004,

The Menu: Noodle houses have long been popular in Asia, and it’s easy to see why the concept has drawn diners for centuries at this modern version in Providence. With great options for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, the menu features almost endlessly customizable versions of Thai, Chinese and other Asian favorites, from a range of noodles soups to lo mein and claypot-baked rice. Portions are generous, and diners are encouraged to slurp.
Vibe: Tucked in a brick building on the East Side, once inside, the rich, red walls create a warm and sophisticated atmosphere. Families come early and parents take advantage of the BYOB option. As the night goes on, it gets more packed with dates and groups of college students drawn by the great flavors and reasonable prices.
Get: The pork dumplings are crispy and delectable, but you can also go healthy and get veggie dumplings that are steamed. The nime chow, fresh Cambodian spring rolls that come with a yummy peanut sauce on the side, is also a great choice. For the main meal, you can choose your broth, noodle and add-ons to create your perfect meal. The coconut curry is wonderful, with black rice noodles and chicken, as are the spicy Singapore noodles.
Sommelier Says: With lots of powerful sweet, sour and spicy options on the menu, light white wines such as a fruity pinot gris or a dry riesling or even a wheat beer provide a nice balance.
Corkage Fee: None
Closest Liquor Store: Madeira Liquors, 174 Ives St., Providence, 272-5911
Dinner for two: $30 to $40
Fine Print: Reservations are strongly suggested and it’s closed on Sundays. – Jen McCaffery


215 Goddard Row,
Newport, 849-5155,

The Menu: Healthy eaters, here’s a Japanese place to call home. Pick from a rambling list of organic appetizers — vegan soba noodles, vegan dumplings, miso soup — plus locally sourced shellfish and fresh-as-can-be wild salmon from California.
Vibe: It feels like a takeout restaurant, which it primarily is, with sparse walls and chilly tile floors. But the sushi chef won’t scowl when you pull out a bottle or six-pack; ours was happy to bring over a couple of glasses and delivered our dinner right to the table.
Get: The popular options, including a super veggie roll with avocado, carrot, cucumber and scallions, or the spicy scallop roll, with local shellfish, cucumber and scallions, are tasty and fresh. But we took a risk and tried the Broadway, a special ten-piece jumbo roll with spicy sauce, sweet potato tempura, shrimp, avocado, cucumber, crab, scallions and spicy sauce. It’s pricy at $14.95, but the Broadway is big enough to share, though you probably won’t want to. It offers just the right amount of spicy and cool flavors, and its size — well, let’s just say we’ll never return to the puny rolls of yesteryear.
Sommelier Says: If you can get your hands on some sake and Kirin Ichiban, more power to you. But our extra dry riesling paired beautifully.
Corkage Fee: None
Closest Liquor Store: Spring Street Spirits, 137 Spring St., Newport, 846-0959
Dinner for Two: $20 to $30
Fine Print: Just before closing time, the restaurant slashes its sushi prices in half so its chefs can start fresh the next day. Visit at 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday or at 6 p.m. on Sundays to get in on the deal. – Casey Nilsson

The Hungry Haven

5000 South County Trl.,
Unit D, Charlestown, 364-3609

The Menu: You’ll see typical diner fare, balanced by hearty sides like potato salad and coleslaw, but the Hungry Haven shines in the seafood department like only a coastal restaurant could. Soups, shellfish and fried fishy delights all make an appearance.
Vibe: It’s a diner, folks. That means paper placemats with loud ads and an open, greasy-spoon kitchen. But the service is no-fuss and friendly, and there’s always a free table to spread out and dig in — because, really, that’s what you came for.
Get: The lobster mac and cheese, oh the lobster mac and cheese! We could write sonnets in its honor. It’s cheesy but not too heavy (that’s what we’re telling ourselves, anyway), and the lobster chunks are so large and plentiful that it’s almost intimidating to take a bite; we quickly got over it. Other tasty options include the lobster bisque, a light and fresh lobster roll and the braised sea scallops. Don’t skip the New England or Rhode Island clam chowder; like the mac and cheese, the seafood morsels rightly steal the show.
Sommelier Says: You’d probably feel at home with a sixer of Sam Adams, but a nice oaked chardonnay will do the trick, too.
Corkage Fee: $1.50 per person
Closest Liquor Store: Rippy’s Liquor and Marketplace, 4158 South County Trl., Charlestown, 364-6711
Dinner for Two: $30 to $40
Fine Print: The restaurant only serves dinner Thursdays through Saturdays from
5 to 8 p.m. But if you can wait to get your seafood fix ’til the weekend, you’ll score a dinner and two entrees for $33. – Casey Nilsson

Thames Street Kitchen

677 Thames St.,
Newport, 846-9100,

The Menu: Weekly changing offerings include four choices each for starters and entrees, but it’s not a negative thing. Fewer options only make it easier to decide. Plates masterfully feature farm and ocean bounty with an artistic flair that tastes just as good as it looks. Beets are sliced so thin they resemble stained glass; add dollops of goat cheese, earthy pine nuts and the citrus of grapefruit and your palate sings.
Vibe: The restaurant’s moniker may be tsk, but no one will tsk tsk you here. Leave the dinner jacket and heels at home; jeans and boots will do. But if you want to dress up, that’s okay, too. Interior windows look into the kitchen so you can watch chefs Chad Hoffer and Tyler Burnley — brothers-in-law — at work while their twin wives, Julia and Anna Jenkins, handle front-of-house.
Get: For cozy winter nights, the duck cassoulet with confit duck, bacon, white beans and the pop of fresh cranberries is as comforting as a fuzzy blanket by the fire. Seafood choices satisfy lighter appetites, though when it comes to hearty shellfish stews, you might wipe out their supply of soft house-baked bread to sop up every last drop.
Sommelier Says: Time to break out that fancy bottle you’ve been saving, because this cuisine can stand up to the finest reds and whites. If you forget to pack one, there’s a liquor store walking distance away.
Corkage Fee: $3 per person
Closest Liquor Store: Fifth Ward Liquor, 695 Thames St., Newport, 847-4545,
Dinner for Two: $80 to $100
Fine Print: Reopens February 18. If burgers, dogs and fries are more your speed, check out the owners’ new outpost, Mission, in the old Billy Goode’s (29 Marlborough St.), where you can also enjoy a vast selection of craft drafts. – Jamie Coelho


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