You know how some places just seem like they have a story behind them and you keep meaning to stop over the years but somehow it's never the right time of day (diner-type places mostly close by 2 pm)? That's been my relationship with Franklin Spa until I finally placed it squarely in my sights for a trip to Newport last week. My instincts proved true: it has many stories and much good food in the bargain.
The Spa sits on the corner of Spring and Franklin, where streetcars used to turn down toward the post office on Thames Street to make a loop. The earliest known mention of Franklin Spa was in a Mercury newspaper from 1892. In the '30s, it was an apothecary that morphed into a candy parlor (there was still a candy counter as late as 2002). And the eight red bar stools lined up at the counter are from the original candy store. Rocky Botelho bought it in 1997 and started serving up eggs and ham, and it has grown from there into a Newport favorite for breakfast all-day or old-fashioned lunch sandwiches.
When we arrived at the Spa, we had one of those Rhode Island moments, where we ran into a work colleague of mine from the early '80s and then mid-'90s. Dennis was finishing up a hot dog with chips ($2.25) which he pronounced "pretty good" — how much judgment can one pass on a wiener, after all? There is also a chili dog ($3.25) topped with "Franklin Spa chili" and cheese.
We were eager for a brunch meal with sandwiches to go (our rule of thumb is the more food you order, the more complete review you can write). We perused the breakfast menu and the specials board. They included the 6 to 8 am "early bird" two eggs, toast, and home fries for $3.25; crabcake, sirloin, or lobster Benedicts; blueberry stuffed French toast; an Azorean grinder; and a sirloin tip Caesar salad.
I was captured by the Brenton Reef Benedict ($11.95) — two poached eggs over lobster meat on a bed of steamed spinach and grilled tomato over a grilled bolo roll (Portuguese sweet bread) with Hollandaise sauce over all. It was precisely as good as it sounds: the eggs poached just right, the veggies nicely cooked, the lobster fresh, the bolo a welcome change from an English muffin. The Hollandaise seemed thin but was a tasty topping nonetheless. The accompanying home fries (browned crescents of red bliss potatoes) were dynamite.
Bill agreed. They were also served with his Azorean sandwich ($6.95). This featured the same ingredients as the grinder: grilled chourico, onions, peppers, and melted cheese, with the addition of fried eggs. It was served on thick Portuguese bread, and he loved the whole thing.
I'd heard that the chicken sandwiches were particularly good, because they use grilled chicken breast. The chicken pesto and the Southwest chicken were both appealing, but our waitress mentioned that her favorite was the pesto, so that was the one that came home with us, extra cheese melted on top, fresh-made pesto, between two grilled pieces of bolo. Bill found it quite tasty.
I also considered the turkey options: a club as a double-decker with bacon (not my thing), an Islander turkey melt (also with bacon, plus Thousand Island dressing — it could be your thing), or a "turkey supreme," fresh roasted turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce ($7.75) — why not? Of course, bread between bread (this time, whole-wheat) makes for a filling sandwich, to say the least, so this provided me with two holiday-nostalgic meals, not just one.
We both had potato salad as our side, large chunks of red bliss potatoes, seasoned with a bit of bacon, and crisp sweet pickle slices accompanied our sandwiches (my favorite over dill slices). We seriously considered a smoothie, because the hand-lettered sign near the cash register promoted strawberry, mango, peach, and blueberry pomegranate. They also have a variety of thick frappes and juices, including fresh-squeezed OJ.
Franklin Spa is a bright, well-lighted space, with windows onto Spring Street and its constant parade of tourists. The staff is friendly but not intrusive. And if you know anyone from your past who lives or works in Newport, you're apt to bump into them here.