Eleven Forty Nine
Mass Appeal – Eleven Forty Nine was designed to feed the masses (and then some). Believe it or not, they’re managing to keep everyone happy.
Photography by Nat Rea
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Eleven Forty Nine
1149 Division Street, Warwick, 884-1149, elevenfortyninerestaurant.com. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat., and for dinner only Sun. 3–9 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Private parking lot. Cuisine Upscale American with a dose of casual grilled pizzas, burgers and skewered fruit kabobs with chocolate sauce for the kids. Capacity Several rooms, but ultimately there’s seating for three hundred. Vibe The top two thirds of your closet: Forego an old T-shirt and sneakers, but anything else goes in this modern-day dinner club. Prices Appetizers $6–$10, entrees $10-$36, desserts $6. Karen’s picks All the stuff you’d order anyway: salads, shrimp, braised and grilled meats. The flourless chocolate cake and bread pudding earn high marks. Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent Half-star
I am not of the belief that small children should be banned from restaurants. I’m just surprised to see Jules Ramos feeding them. Given the chef’s tenure at Mills Tavern and proprietary position at the bass-driven, cocktail-centered, heavily stylized Moda, I didn’t have him on my short list of family-focused gastronomes. Then again, despite the crayons-in-waiting and shoestring fries, Eleven Forty Nine looks nothing like a kid-centric depot. It’s more of a Mills-Moda hybrid. And though there are a number of wee East Greenwich and Warwick residents on any given night—eating grilled pizzas and upscale hotdogs—this is a far more polished environment than your standard stomping ground.
Last I heard, Mario Panagos, owner of what was Mario’s Bravo, had been sent to parts unknown, and the restaurant space had been purchased by Thomas Wright, the former Dean of Johnson and Wales’ Culinary Arts College, and John Picerne, who made a name for himself in both local real estate and military housing. Ultimately, the partners spent a staggering $7.5 million dollars on the property, building and remodel, enough to attract half the neighborhood, even many driven more by curiosity than hunger. Both owners have been known to work the front of the house on busy nights with general manager Rand Robison who came from the Newport Harbor Corporation. With Ramos in the mix, a venture that could have taken on a discernibly corporate identity actually feels somewhat homegrown. Not an easy feat when you’re trying to fill three hundred seats a night.
So how do you reach everyone from Hugh Hefner’s age group to his girlfriends’? Drinking’s not a bad way to start. The entryway of Eleven Forty Nine unfolds into a deep, rectangular bar flanked by bistro tables as well as a second, enclosed watering spot with live music. Both spaces—sated with singles (and those-looking-not-to-be) on weekends, and a more casual, sports-oriented crowd on weekdays—manage to keep the sounds of socialization and the glare of the televisions out of ear and eyeshot of the dinner crowd.
The substantial interior space highlights a full spectrum of design materials: stone, glass, wood, leather, tile—even faux fur lines the wall of one Chesterfield-like booth. An eclectic array of chandeliers grace the ceiling and walls while more demure table lamps mark dining areas like residential vignettes. Indeed, each section of the remodeled space manages to evoke a unique vibe. In one corner sits a Sinatra-inspired alcove; across the room is a stream of 1920s banquettes. Overhead hang contemporary glass teardrops that camouflage standard light fixtures.
Though I’m not usually one to mix restroom talk with interior design, the WCs do play to the independently decorated theme. Sure, it’d be more efficient to fill a stainless dispenser with generic pink soap, but I get the feeling that someone’s wife likes her Asian-inspired wasabi-lime suds, and they did indeed make their way into the scheme. And all this under the guise of mass appeal.
Once the magnitude of the project settles though, the culinary questions eventually arise: Can a kitchen produce anything more than commercially viable food in a space this demanding? Ramos offers a menu that doesn’t overreach its goals (most dishes rely on quick sears or long braising) yet still avoids the cliche of the modern menu (“You can get nachos or a caprese salad; it’s American!”). That being said, the menu still relies on what have come to be staples of our current epicurean diet: goat cheese, brick oven pizza, grilled steaks and shrimp that are bigger than a baguette.