23 October 2009

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to The Red Rose?"

For my latest "Who Goes There?" Eater column, I stayed local, going to the good old Red Rose.

Who Goes There? The Red Rose

You can walk the length of the gentrified restaurant row that is Smith Street, Brooklyn, and about the only reminder you'll find of how the neighborhood used to eat is The Red Rose. It's one of Carroll Gardens' few surviving red sauce joints, and the crowd inside doesn't in any way resemble the one you'll see in Po down the block. Nearly everyone who walks through the door seems to be on friendly terms with the Romano family, who run the place and own the building its in. Dad Tony founded the restaurant and can be seen shuffling among the white-clothed tables or sitting near the door, and son Santo is your gruff but affable host.

The front half of the narrow space, in particular, is treated by regular patrons like a communal living room. A mildly cacophonous mix of TV noise, piped-in music and Italian and Brooklynese chatter fills the air. Men with ponderous guts perch at the bar and watch the tube, keeping up a running conversation with Santo and showing no sign of leaving anytime soon. Friends—in running suits; in t-shirts; in suit and tie—mill about casually, standing, then sitting, then getting up again, ordering drinks ("Here's to bow-legged women") and plates, asking who exactly among the staff mixed their cocktail. It's insular and friendly. The quieter back is more the province of civilians, with a surprisingly wide range of diners. A young couple here, a table of soccer coaches there, a dinner meeting of executives from the Citibank branch on Court Street. On weekday nights, the restaurant may seem like a ghost town early on, but it fills up steadily as the night goes on, and is sometimes packed on weekends.

The Red Rose is actually more Old School Carroll Gardens than it first appears. The restaurant is only 26 years old—a respectable age, of course—but the Romano roots reach further back. Before opening the eatery, Tony ran a longstanding deli pizzeria on nearby Cheever Place, buying it from his godfather (seriously) in the 1970s. It serviced the nearby Sacred Hearts school (now a condo), feeding the Roman Catholic kids slices and meatball heros when they spilled out for lunch. When the school decided to serve meals in-house, the pizzeria withered on the vine and closed.

The Romanos took the pizza oven with them when they moved east to Smith Street. They also took their recipe for rice balls, which remains one of the best things on the menu. Prices are pretty cheap, and there's almost no bottle of wine over $20. Nothing bowls you over, but, if you approach the menu with the right attitude, nothing disappoints, either. Mainly, the place makes you feel at ease. The very young waiter/busboys (everybody seems to do everything here) may be among the most breezily friendly I've encountered, answering "No problem" to every request. Very likely, they don't have any problems. For customers don't go to the Red Rose to get uptight about their dinner. They go for a meal out that sorta feels like a meal at home.
—Brooks of Sheffield


Beth S, the Bronx said...

I am glad to hear the Red Rose is still open. I was a regular when I loved in CG briefly in the early '90s. Linguine with pesto and a glass of wine was my standard meal.

sue said...

I have been going there for over 20 years and will continue to -- i had my 30th birthday party there and it was amazing. Red Rose is no "relic" -- it is a vibrant, delicious, special place to go! Never had a bad meal yet.

The Vidiot said...

I've been going there since 1987. I remember one time I walked in on a Friday night and they had a guy playing guitar at the end of the bar near the dining room and, I kid you not, he was playing the theme from the "Godfather". It was so perfect.

The food is always good and the spiedini is my favorite. Besides, where else can you kill off a bottle of wine, have two great entrees and not spend more than $50?

Gary Weiss said...

I'm glad to hear about the Red Rose. I used to go there all the time when I lived in Carroll Gardens in the early 1980s.

There used to be a great red sauce Italian restaurant on the west side of Court just south of Degraw. Afraid I don't remember the name. I checked on Google street view and it seems to be gone.

Gary Weiss said...

By the way, in checking Google Street View I noticed that the Marco Polo is still at Court and Union. That was a very high-end red sauce Italian. Also I was interested to see that the longshoremen's medical center is now a vacant lot! What happened to that?

statler and waldorf said...

Not the all time best Italian restaurant I've ever been to, but definitely has a nice "local" feel. They squeezed my wife and I in on Valentine's Day once, you'd never have that done at Po. Sometimes the pasta dishes are too busy, but I had veal spiedina (sp?) once that was memorable. Sam's is my favorite restaurant of this ilk in the 'hood, but Red Rose is close second with Casa Rosa a very very very distant Third.