Newport Polo Embraces Food Culture
Though Rhode Island may be best known for its sailing history, its Gilded Age mansions, 400 miles of scenic coastline, and possibly calamari, visitors to Aquidneck Island often miss the hidden gem that is Newport International Polo.
Every Saturday, from June through September, Glen Farm in Portsmouth is the bucolic setting for the series of exciting matches, welcoming squads from across the globe to take on the USA/Newport team.
It was 1876 when Newport was the first in the U.S. to embrace the sport, establishing America’s first polo club. Today, with 31 seasons under their saddles, the Newport International Polo Club brings the full spectacle of the event, with all its bells and whistles, to the grounds and pavilion at the park, with the first match set for May 28.
Aside from the majestic polo ponies and their agile riders, the festive spirit of the eclectic crowd, and the green fields of the bucolic farm, the role of food and drink at polo cannot be overstated.
Food and beverage concessions include a variety of carefully curated, gourmet food trucks, and a wide assortment of premium alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at the walk-up bar. When international teams come to play, weekly menus pay tribute to the visiting athletes via restaurants and menus that represent the dishes intrinsic to their home cuisines.
“Food is a cultural thing, and I feel like the food aesthetic at polo is an opportunity to celebrate the international teams and their culture, and bring our audience to a higher degree of awareness of the team that’s playing,” said Agnes Keating, Newport International Polo’s general manager. “The catered menus on the selected dates are offered during the second half of the match and after, when players come to the patio for a celebration and reception. So, it’s also an opportunity for the audience to interact with the team.”
Kicking off the season on opening day is the cuisine of South America, a nod to the team from Colombia. Los Andes, the Providence based and highly rated restaurant that features Bolivian and Peruvian specialties, including an exceptional ceviche, is creating a sampler plate for the occasion.
Later in the season, with the arrival of the Jamaican team, Humming Bird will take over for the afternoon.
“We have the very good fortune of [having] an authentic Jamaican restaurant in Newport to provide this special meal and cater our Jamaican jerk grill dinner,” Keating said. “The Jamaican team raved about it when they were last here, [saying] how it was as good as home.”
There will be a few opportunities to enjoy a lobster boil and seafood extravaganza when the New Zealand team arrives for Newport Polo’s Gala Weekend, catered by the pros at McGrath’s Clambakes of Middletown, and again on Labor Day weekend when the English team takes the field.
New this season is an Egyptian menu being planned for mid-September’s visit by a team from Egypt. “Pie in the Sky” will be served by A Mano Pizza when Italy comes to town, and a mixed grill by famed, locally-born chef Kevin Des Chenes will feature at the Ireland match. Portugal will also be represented by its country’s culinary roots on its match day.
For food trucks, Keating said, “The criterion is that we want the experience to have something unique and special, and that incorporates our location.”
So, expect some real deal chowder offered by Newport Chowder Co., Wally’s Weiners, home of the Rhode Island-born Saugy Dog and all its conceivable trimmings, and a new addition, The Village Greek, with tasty Greek fare.
Lobster rolls? There’s a truck for that. Homemade ice cream? Chelsea’s Creamery has you covered. Also new this year is a specialty coffee vendor making hot and cold coffee drinks, and Hawaiian Jim’s shaved ice. Did I mention the Veuve Clicquot cart?
With so much culinary magic surrounding the genteel sport, it’s hard to admit that the DIY picnic may be the most fun. Tailgating runs the gamut from a blanket and a sandwich to elaborate, theme-centric setups with tents, grills, food, and even costumes.
On non-international days, sponsor Stella Artois bestows a “Best in Show” award to the group that best embraces the day’s theme, whether it be the Gilded Age, cowboys, disco, racing, or a tea party.
“It’s fascinating to see how much advance planning and preparation will go into these [set-ups],” Keating said. “There are some beautiful spreads, and some people break out their good china, silver and linens, along with flower arrangements and other décor. There’s a real sense of pride.”
Still, dining at the polo grounds doesn’t have to be fussy, and there’s plenty of lawn space for general admission. So, grab a couple of chairs, a picnic basket and a bottle of wine and you’re good to goal!