I’ve been to some very high class, high end restaurants that have gone begging for customers at the dinner hour during the weekday evenings; I’ve often wondered if price alone was the deciding factor, because these are otherwise excellent dining establishments, well worth visiting.
On the other hand, I’ve discovered much smaller, family-owned restaurants that pack in crowds every night. They’re not fancy, they’re not extravagant, the meals are simple and straightforward, but well done. So what are their secrets to success?
Family Ties Restaurant in Tiverton, R.I., might offer a few clues.
Located at 221 Main Road, just past the line with nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, this restaurant has a decidedly average look from the outside — nothing historic, nothing grand, not big or the kind of place that catches your eye as you drive past it. It’s there, but you kind of have to discover it.
It was my father who recommended we visit Family Ties on a recent Wednesday night; he had gone there several times before, with friends, and always enjoyed it, and he felt I would, too. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and my dad was right on target.
We got there around 6 p.m., to find most of the tables were already occupied. It got progressively busier before we left. And by the time we did get up to pay the check, it occurred to me that Family Ties was one of those friendly, cozy, relaxed neighborhood diners that just become the perfect place to hang out at. You like the staff, you enjoy the atmosphere (simple and non-pretentious), and there’s a good chance you may glance over and recognize someone you know a few tables away. Family Ties is the kind of place in the neighborhood that you enjoy making a regular habit of visiting. It always welcomes you back with open arms.
And once you get there? “As home made as it gets!” the menu boasts, and the options are there to meet your breakfast, lunch and dinner needs.
For example, the breakfast menu is a diverse selection, everything from homemade buttermilk biscuits with creamy southern sausage gravy ($4.50) to an order of Johnny Cakes ($3.50). There’s French Toast, whether you prefer two pieces for $2.75, or two cream cheese-stuffed French Toasts with strawberries or blueberries ($6.75).
Another option is the Homemade Belgian Waffles topped with strawberries or blueberries with cream ($4.90), or several different Eggs Benedict plates. The selections are nothing if not creative, including the Lobster Benedict (two poached eggs on an English muffin topped with lobster and Hollandaise sauce, for $11.95), or the Portuguese Plate, which has two poached eggs on an English muffin topped with chourico, the dark red Portuguese sausage, for $7.95.
The lunch menu includes the Soup of the Day (“Just ask your server for Today’s Special!” the menu advises), or a predictable option in a state like Rhode island: New England Clam Chowder ($2.95 for a cup, and $3.95 for a bowl).
Family Ties has its own homemade onion rings ($3.95), chicken fingers ($6.95), and House Salad ($3.95 small, $6.75 large), or, in another reminder that you’re in New England, a Baked Stuffed Quahog ($3.50). Other side orders include Claire’s Cole Slaw (“This recipe is so sweet, she won’t even tell us,” the menu teases), beets, hard cut fries, and sweet potato fries.
The afternoon meals include everything from sandwiches to burgers to some interesting luncheon plates, including the Chourico Plate ($7.25), Mom’s Chow Mein Casserole ($5.95), Popcorn Chicken and Fries ($7.95), and Meat Loaf ($7.95).
And in the evening, when the crowds roll in, you get the opportunity to start off with an appetizer like Fried Calamari sauteed in garlic olive oil and hot peppers ($9.95), Steamed Little Necks in white wine ($10.50), the Chourico and Kale Chili, another nod to the region’s large Portuguese population and, according to the menu, an item that won “1st Place — 2010 Chili Cook Off.” At $7.25, it comes topped with melted cheese and served with tortilla chips.
The dinner menu is equally varied, and includes plentiful choices for seafood lovers: the Fried Belly Clam Plate (market price), a Lobster Roll with Fries ($11.95), Fish and Chips ($8.95), and the Fried Combo Plate — your choice of any two from a selection that includes whole belly clams, clam strips, scallops, shrimp, and cod (also market price).
Other dinner meals include the Vermont Turkey Dinner ($9.95), the Portuguese Steak Dinner ($11.95), the Grilled Bone-In Pork Chop Dinner ($10.95), and the Bourbon Steak Tips ($12.95). There are even kids meals for patrons 12 years old and younger that include spaghetti with meatballs ($4.50), hot dog and fries ($2.95), and chicken tenders and fries ($4.50).
And, of course, there are desserts and beverages that range from hot chocolate to sweetened iced tea to the “bottomless coffee cup.”
Family Ties also has a lounge for those seeking an after work cocktail.
The restaurant is closed on Mondays, and open on Tuesdays from 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday lunch service starts at 1 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday, the lunch service starts at 11 a.m.
I think the reason this very fine restaurant got so crowded on a Wednesday night is obvious: the menu has a lot to offer, the prices are very reasonable, there’s plenty of parking available outside, it’s easy to find on Main Road, and, best of all, it’s that perfect spot that every good neighborhood so dearly wants to have: the friendly little diner that makes you feel welcome every time you go in there.
To learn more, call 401-624-2321.
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