Mention AS220 to any given Brown student and you’re likely to meet one of two responses: vague confusion or fanatical enthusiasm. Such is the nature of a non-profit community arts center that wears as many hats as this one does; with dozens of studios, performance exhibition spaces, a youth program, and more all calling it home, it isn’t all that easy to grasp. Its mission, though, is simple: to provide “a local forum and home for the arts… to all artists who need a place to exhibit, perform, or create their original artwork.”
It only makes sense that an organization in support of creativity and community would have a restaurant. AS220 Foo(d) is a fantastic introduction to this huge and manifold center: it’s casual but special, humble but creative, hipster but in the good way. You place your order at the counter, take an oversized playing card back to your table, and fetch your food when it’s ready. The kitchen is in plain view, diner-style, but instead of pancakes and hash browns, they’re whipping up pulled pork pasta and pan-fried chickpeas.
It’s all delicious, and much of it is local: like many restaurants around here, Foo(d) has a heavy emphasis on seasonality. But there’s a pragmatism behind this philosophy thanks to the fact that, uniquely, this restaurant doubles as a non-profit. You get the sense that they’re local not because it’s trendy but because it’s efficient. AS220 is pander-free.
The non-profit thing has another perk: it keeps prices low. The cheapest thing on the menu was a massive bowl of crispy chickpeas ($2), seasoned with paprika and garlic. The most expensive, a roasted local half chicken with kale and celery root-parsnip-pumpkin hash (pictured at top), is a steal at $12: look at all that food! And in that $2-12 range is a slew of other tasty options, including enough slammin’ vegetarian and vegan options to tempt a carnivore (and enough key meat dishes to tempt the vegs). Isn’t that how life should be?
Soups are $4 and glorious in their own right. On the recently unveiled fall menu is a braised white bean soup with smoked bacon and local kale that caught my eye, but the roasted pumpkin and squash soup won out. Drizzled with chili oil and dotted with toasted pumpkin seeds, it’s sweet and toasty and the very essence of the best things about fall. And the spicy tomato soup was perhaps the best of its kind that I’ve ever tasted: its goat cheese garnish made me wonder why we don’t put goat cheese in all tomato soup. (Why don’t we put goat cheese on everything?)
Salads range from a simple plate of mixed greens to heartier options like crispy tempeh with winter squash or grilled shrimp with candied bacon, Napa cabbage, and local feta. Another way to meet your recommended daily veg intake is with the vegan maple sweet potato brûlée ($5). On the bigger side of things are the aforementioned chicken, some killer-looking kimchi braised short ribs, and the world’s biggest portion of mac and cheese ($7, complete with broccoli). The huge $8 sandwiches are a highlight. Crispy pulled pork, layered with housemade apple butter and cheddar on “pillow bread,” elicited blissed-out groans from everyone at our table: it ended far too soon, and in hindsight, we should’ve ordered two. The riff on French dip, made with seitan rather than cow and piled high with caramelized onions soaked in brown gravy, wasn’t such a crowd-pleaser, but it was hearty, vegan, and huge—all points in its favor. In a half-assed attempt to avoid gluttony, we did not order the grilled cheese with sweet potato, local mozzarella, and bacon, but I will be booking it back soon so I can get my paws on it.
If AS220’s location—all the way downtown, at the foot of our marvelous hill—is the only thing keeping us from it, it’s time we suck it up and move on. For the food, the prices, and the cause, Foo(d) is a can’t miss.
High: Reasonable prices, good cause, tasty eats.
Low: It can seem impenetrable, and the restaurant, with its nonchalant counter service and hipster chefs, may confirm that to the intimidated.
Bottom line: AS220: just the right balance of hip and crunchy. Get your butt off campus and in here.