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Why Oberlin Is the Neighborhood Restaurant Providence, RI Needs

Inside the new spot by chef Ben Sukle, Rhode Island's fine-dining trailblazer.

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Benjamin Sukle wants the chance to serve regulars. Where Sukle made a name for himself with his Providence tasting-menu restaurant Birch, Oberlin, the eagerly awaited 50-seater he and his wife Heidi opened last week in downtown Providence, will be a chance for him to explore casual comfort foods while still showcasing the products of the fishermen and farmers he works with at Birch. Oberlin's menu features raw bar items, pastas, and plenty of vegetables to be paired with ciders, beers, sakes, and natural and fortified wines. It's not just a change from the high-end fare Sukle's been serving, it's a change for this particular area of Providence.

The restaurant scene in downtown Providence — which Birch helped put on the map — has generally been more about occasion dining. "There's not a lot of neighborhood restaurants," says Sukle, though Oberlin speaks to change. "People like living downtown now. There's more housing popping up," Sukle says, noting he wants to make sure new residents have a casual place to relax, drink, and dine every day. "It's becoming easier to get around with all the buses. We get people that want to come in to have a drink at Birch. I'd love to say yes, but we're only 18 seats. We book up."

To create a neighborhood vibe, the Sukles stuck with warm woods for much of the furniture, and added plenty of lighting to complement the space's many windows. Tiled floors also give a sense of being in the kitchen, as does the non-industrial look of the cooking space. The final casual touch: no reservations. "It's going to be a cool place for you to hang out," says Sukle. "That's really it. I don't want it to be anything more than that."