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Feast | In the Kitchen

by Stephanie Obodda

Ramsay to the Rescue Abby Cabral of DownCity wakes up from a Kitchen Nightmare

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FULL BAR 230 Wickenden St, Providence 421-4355 • 453-2288 www.tasteofindiaprovri.com

Tell us a bit about DownCity’s history. DownCity started in 1990 as Downcity Diner, just down the street from our current location. I bought the restaurant in 2005. We kept all the employees, the same menu style – we just wanted to increase business, see where the holes were and put new energy into the restaurant. In 2006, the building burned down. We only had one year to show people what we could do, and there were still plenty of bills to pay, so there was no question that we needed to find a new location. Staying on Weybosset was important. DownCity is a popular dinner spot before PPAC shows. We are good at catering to the show crowd: we have free valet and make sure they get in and out quickly.

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How did you adapt to the new space? The new location gave us a chance to inject more of my and my business partner Rico Conforti’s vision and design with the help of designer Keven Hawkins. The design evolved from the energy of the space. I wanted people to get that “wow” feeling when they walked in. A lot of restaurants in Providence use dark colors; instead, DownCity is bright, energetic, vibrant and warm. I want people to feel like they are going to have a good time here, and everyone is welcome. It’s very diverse.

Photography: Mike Braca

This month, DownCity is featured on the FOX show Kitchen Nightmares, in which celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay overhauls ailing restaurants. How did that come about? Rico got in touch with them – he watches the show all the time. We had been struggling. Like everyone else, we were hit with the bad economy and didn’t know how to break out of the slump we were in. We’ve got a lot of characters here, we’re fun on camera and the space is beautiful to work with, so I think we were a good fit. Were you nervous about being on the show? Actually, I didn’t want to do it – Rico kept pushing it. Honestly, I didn’t want to look like a moron on national TV. But I knew that was what we really needed to get us out of our slump – and that

if we made the changes Chef Ramsay suggested, we would be successful. The show wasn’t easy. I’ve never been in the military, but I imagine it was a bit like boot camp. It was all criticism, all on camera. We went through hell – I don’t know how many restaurants have the balls to go through that on national TV. Chef Ramsay’s approach is brutal and honest, and I think making it through is making us so much better. It’s definitely the boost we needed; we needed to hit rock bottom before moving up. What changes did Ramsay suggest? His biggest change was the menu. We have this gorgeous new spot, but the menu was very old fashioned. Some restaurants are known for their old-fashioned menus, but in our case, it just didn’t match the space. Now, a lot of the same dishes are still on the menu, but with different preparations – fresher, better ingredients, better platings. It’s finally the menu that I’ve always wanted in my restaurant. In Chef Ramsay’s words, he kept our menu “honest, simple, and real.” Our menu concept, “homestyle fabulous,” is especially fitting after the redesign. We still serve comfort food, but it’s updated to 2011.

What are some of your favorite new dishes on the menu? I love the Lobster Mac and Cheese. We use fresh lobster, make a cream sauce with the meat and bake it with a crumbly crust. There’s the unbelievable Goat Cheese Truffle Dip appetizer, served with homemade potato chips. We also introduced a new brunch menu and it’s a big hit. The fried chicken with waffles is popular, and the hash is out of this world. What does 2011 have in store for DownCity? I think 2011 is the year that DownCity makes its comeback. 2009 and 2010 were really rough years. Though DownCity has been around for 20 years, I was afraid people had forgotten about us. My hope for 2011 is that people recognize us again and come back to try our new menu.

DownCity 50 Weybosset Street 331-9217 downcityfood.com

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www.bobfrances.com February 2011 | Providence Monthly

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Providence Monthly February 2011  

Set Sail for Romance: Get on the love boat with our most eligible singles Singer, comedienne and gal about town Miss Wensday is looking for...

Providence Monthly February 2011  

Set Sail for Romance: Get on the love boat with our most eligible singles Singer, comedienne and gal about town Miss Wensday is looking for...