Spotlight on Block Island

Sunsets and Seafood Abound at this Coastal Gem

By Lenore Cullen Barnes

The Narragansett Indians knew prime real estate when they saw it. Long before visitors boarded ferries or sailed into Old Harbor, the Indians fished these shores, farmed the meadows and enjoyed the spectacular ocean vistas from atop Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island, Rhode Island.

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have morphed into see-and-be-seen destinations of the rich and famous, but Block Island’s largely undeveloped 7,000 acres continue to promise a true escape only 12 miles off the Rhode Island coast.

Planes no longer land in Sheep Meadow or Minister’s Lot on Corn Neck Road (now there’s an actual airport on the island) and there isn’t a chain store or even a stoplight anywhere in sight. But there is a laid-back vibe, with 17 miles of beaches, great bike riding, hiking trails, freshwater ponds and two harbors that provide safe haven to thousands of boaters and sailors.

Despite its diminutive size (New Shoreham is the smallest town in the smallest state in the country), the island offers plenty of Victorian-era inns, and restaurants and pubs to whet your whistle and satisfy a range of appetites.

42 Water Street
(401) 466-2231
596 Corn Neck Road
221 Jobs Hill Road
(401) 466-8820
218 Ocean Avenue
(401) 466-2654

Ballard’s Inn is a short stroll from the ferry landing and has been an iconic destination for generations. With a private beach, an indoor and outdoor bar and an airy, nautical-themed restaurant, Ballard’s hosts a lively scene in an enviable setting.

Settle into a lounge chair and enjoy beachside service. Sip a Rum Runner or Blackberry Mudslide (featuring Block Island berries), while savoring the sunset views, people-watching or live music on the outdoor stage. It’s pure pleasure to share a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp, while sampling one of the three beers on tap. They also feature 14 bottled beers as well as wine, champagne and a full bar. The menu is a lobster lover’s dream, offering “Lobster 13 Ways,” including steamed, baked-stuffed, Alfredo, scampi and Fra Diavolo. Or plunge into the chilled shellfish platter, which includes a Maine lobster, a half-pound of crab, and a half-dozen each of shrimp and local oysters on the half shell. You’ll be dreaming about it come January.

After a day of sunning, snoozing and swimming on Crescent Beach, cross the street for some casual refreshment at The Beachead. From the bar, covered porch or outdoor seating by the fire pit, you can enjoy the salty breeze and unobstructed views of Block Island Sound. The Block Island Oyster Company serves tasty oysters at the outdoor raw bar, a perfect accompaniment to a frosty Narragansett Lager or one of the signature drinks such as a Beachead Bloody (acclaimed by many to be the best on the island) or a rum-and-pineapple Newport Pirate. The summer lemonade, with cucumber vodka and fresh lemonade seltzer, is as refreshing as a dip in the Atlantic and pairs perfectly with Mahi tacos. The expertly prepared fish-and-chips and lobster bisque make for a delicious lunch fit for a New Englander.

The Oar, at the Boat Basin in New Harbor, is another island institution. Savor stunning views from the deck overlooking Great Salt Pond while sampling the famous Block Island Mudslides. If that’s a little rich for you, order one of a dozen, 16-ounce draughts, including Oar Lager, Newport Lager, Blue Moon and Newport Storm. There are also six craft beers available, along with a selection of premium and domestic beer, wine, liquor and soft drinks. The menu runs the gamut from salads and wraps to tacos, burritos and a full sushi bar. The fried scallop roll is decadently delicious, while the grilled salmon with blackberry pomegranate chipotle glaze is fresh, flavorful and healthy.

You can’t beat the sunsets from Dead Eye Dick’s on Ocean Avenue, also in New Harbor. As their slogan says, “Come for the food, stay for the view!” Dead Eye Dick’s has been a summer destination since 1940. Current owner Jessica Wronowski‘s grandparents used to dine and dance here (her grandfather became an owner in the 1980s). The menu is classic New England, with an emphasis on lobster and seafood. The hot and cold lobster rolls receive rave reviews and the peppercorn-seared swordfish with tequila lime beurre blanc, lobster mash and grilled asparagus is superb.

New Englanders are a bit spoiled with so many special coastal gems to visit, but Block Island should be at the top of the list for those seeking an authentic island experience.

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