New England is home to several Italian neighborhoods with outstanding restaurants and food shops. There are smaller sections in places like South Medford and New Haven and full-blown multi-block areas like Boston’s North End and the Federal Hill section of Providence.
The North End and Federal Hill aren’t only about Italian places, however, especially over the past few years, which have brought dining spots with a variety of cuisines to both areas. In the case of Federal Hill, Atwells Avenue —the main throughfare through the neighborhood — is popular not only for its Italian restaurants and markets but also for its Asian, Middle Eastern and Mexican places now, and right in the heart of it all is Harry’s on the Hill, a quirky little spot that focuses on burgers, but not just any old burgers, as the ones they serve here are almost shockingly great.
There’s actually quite a bit more to Federal Hill than Atwells Avenue. The neighborhood extends all the way down to Westminster Street about 10 blocks to the south and a couple of blocks north as well. And as you may recall from an earlier visit to West Fountain Street a short distance to the south, there are a lot of great restaurants, bars, breweries and food shops to discover that aren’t on Atwells Avenue.
But Atwells continues to be the main attraction, and for good reason — it’s a bit like Hanover Street in Boston’s North End except with (slightly) easier parking and sidewalks that are (again, slightly) less jammed.
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The busiest section of the road is right around DePasquale Square, a charming open space with a fountain and park benches that has a handful of food options along its perimeter — and less than two blocks to the west on Atwells and among the many Italian eateries sits Harry’s Bar & Burger, welcoming diners with its “burgers & beer” sign out front. (By the way, the restaurant is also known as Harry’s on the Hill, and it’s an outpost of another Harry’s at the base of College Hill on the other side of town.)
Harry’s isn’t a very big place, basically just a single room with a bar to the right, some window seats in the front and along a wall and a few additional tables in the middle. The relatively small space does seem a bit bigger than it actually is, as the large windows and high ceiling help give it an airy feel. The tile floor, exposed brick and wooden ceiling give it a slight industrial feel.
While Harry’s is comfortable enough for dining in, it is also a pretty popular spot for takeout, especially considering that, once you’re off Atwells Avenue, much of Federal Hill is residential, and a lot of people live nearby. And even though you might not feel like you’re in the "Little Italy" section of Providence at Harry’s, looking out the windows at spots like Roma Ristorante/Market and Tony’s Colonial (the latter an iconic Italian market) will always remind you that you’re in the heart of one of the most interesting Italian neighborhoods in the Northeast.
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Don’t expect to get big, jaw-popping burgers at Harry’s. The focus here is on sliders, but these are really slider meals rather than appetizers, and they can be pretty filling as meals depending on which option you choose.
PHOTOS: Sliders and More at Harry's in Providence
Each order includes two sliders except for the double wide, which has two pairs of sliders and twice as much cheese. A few of options include a crunchburger, with fried onion strings on top; a pig pile burger, with pulled pork; a pastrami burger (make sure you’re not wearing a white shirt); and the “MOAB,” with cheese, bacon, onion strings and mushrooms.
Sides include those onion strings, along with the type of shoestring fries that you get at McDonald’s, which is to say, fries that are extremely tasty.
Harry’s is not just about burgers, by the way. Their locally made hot dogs are tremendous, with just enough of a snap to keep most diners happy, and both bacon-and-cheese dogs and chili dogs are available.
Turkey burgers and veggie burgers are also on the menu, as are chicken sliders and wings.
The “bar” part of Harry’s Bar & Burger should not be overlooked. The place has a full bar that offers beer, cocktails and hard shakes.
There’s a variety of canned and bottled beers including, of course, Rhode Island’s own Narragansett, which is headquartered a couple of miles to the east in the Fox Point section of Providence.
A few of the cocktails offered include gimlets, sangria and Bloody Marys, while hard shakes include strawberry shortcake, maple bourbon and frozen Oreo. (Non-alcoholic shakes can be ordered as well.)
It's admittedly difficult to go to Atwells Avenue on Federal Hill and not opt for a nice meal at one of the many Italian restaurants that line both sides of the street. But burger lovers may not have as difficult a decision, knowing just how good the slider plates are at this unassuming little place.
And if you combine it with a visit to Tony’s Colonial (or Venda Ravioli, another market two blocks to the east), you could grab a burger and a drink at Harry’s, then do some shopping for Italian foods to bring home afterwards, making a trip to this delightful part of Providence even better.
Harry's Bar & Burger (AKA Harry’s on the Hill), 301 Atwells Avenue, Providence, RI, 02903. harrysbarburger.com