Chef Madi Butler Takes the Train: A Rail Rider’s Peek into the Providence Foodie Scene
Chef Madi Butler has what is quite possibly the coolest internship in the United States, working for Summer by Rail run by the Rail Passengers Association.
Chef Madi Butler has what is quite possibly the coolest internship in the United States. While other interns are making copies and fetching coffee, she’s traveling by train to cities throughout the country to report on their foodie offerings. Butler works for Summer by Rail run by the Rail Passengers Association, which has been running similar internships since 2016 and has in the past focused on baseball, biking and architecture. The goal is to show how cities and all the tourism opportunities they offer are easily accessible by and linked by rail. We had the chance to catch up with Butler after her stop off in Providence on July 4 and we think it’s safe to say she’s having quite the trip. Read on to learn more about her adventure and her stay in our capital city.
Molly: Where did you get to eat while in Providence? How was it?
Madi: The day I arrived I went on a historical walking tour downtown and finished the evening with a phenomenal meal at Trattoria Zooma. It was divine, an absolute treat from start to finish. I had a coworker and local comrade in tow, so we were able to split a few items. The fra diavolo special with squid ink pasta was out of this world. I got a little time to chat with the owners as well and they were so sweet and inviting. This is clearly an establishment that values its ingredients and respects its customers. I hadn’t had much pasta on the trip and it is one of my favorite things to make myself, so this was such a treat.
How did you find the Providence food scene to differ from that of other cities?
I think what was interesting specifically in Providence was the walkability. In larger, car-focused cities, you can’t pop between such different flavors without a hike or a cab. I’d like to see consistent late-night bus and ferry service so those who work in the industry late at night can get home without relying on cars.
How does traveling by rail offer a different perspective to foodie experiences?
Being able to travel from one city center to another by train allows people to get to unique restaurant destinations much easier than flying or driving, which means less time waiting in baggage claim, more time getting snacks and socializing. For those who are hitting the rail to fill a craving a few towns over, take the time to relax and enjoy the scenery. I love watching as each town rolls by, seeing the change in topography and ecosystems out the window of a moving train. Also, trains are more flexible; they provide the ability to hop off in one city, stay a night then choose another city the next day which is not a convenience other modes of transportation can provide.
How is traveling by rail and its link to food unique and different than other traveling methods and means, for example, flying, driving, etc.?
I love trains. I have always loved to travel but doing it by rail is, by far, my favorite. As a chef, it’s nice to be able to pack my equipment and not go through the TSA circus that one experiences with air travel. I have been stopped and searched at an airport for having a melon baller in my carryon bag before. That would never happen on an Amtrak route. Being a rail passenger is more inclusive as well. People from all walks of life may feel more at home on the rail than by plane or bus for a number of reasons. You have more leg room, you can walk around or go to a dining car, and you aren’t in a pressurized cabin or at the mercy of other drivers. At the end of the day, trains are a safer and greener means of transportation.
How do you see that Providence can use food to promote the city?
Breaking bread has always made difficult conversations easier. For Providence, I think there are serious conversations about intermodal transit that need to be engaged. By highlighting the vibrancy of food and beverage culture hosted by this lovely city, there is incentive to make the changes to public transportation that will benefit its workers as well as its tourists. Keeping food at the forefront of improvement gives people of all backgrounds a tangible example of what makes this historic town so iconic.
Rhode Island has lots of regional foods we locals pride ourselves on (for example, coffee milk, pizza strips, zeppole, stuffies, hot wieners) – do you see this in other cities? Did you have a chance to try any of ours?
I did! I ate so much in Providence that I fasted until late dinner in New York on the 5th. I have never had much of a sweet tooth but one of my favorite couples took me to Del’s after the Bristol parade and the Classic Lemon hit the spot. The pretzel stick in the slush is a power move and I absolutely loved it. Coffee milk was a lovely little surprise as well. I’m a fan of getting local and trying the treats that make a city its own.
Read Chef Madi’s blog post about her visit to Providence at summerbyrail.com.