‘Sunday Supper’ thrives at Roseland Apizza in Derby
Sometimes I feel that we who live in Connecticut have a microchip placed in our skulls. The job of this microchip is to automatically reply “Pepe’s,” “Sally’s” or “Modern” if anyone says the word “pizza.”
Now this is not an evil sort of microchip, nor is it incorrect. What I take issue with is that many of Connecticut’s legendary pizzas are served at pizzerias that serve nothing else. As pizza fiends we often pay short shrift to the old-style Italian restaurants that serve equal amounts of mind-blowing pizza, side by side with a full menu of classic specialties like chicken Parmigiana or zuppa de pesce. This is not the case at Roseland Pizza, which serves prize-winning pizza along with a full menu of traditional Italian dishes, the kind of food that has withstood the test of time and still flourishes.
Roseland (founded in 1935) is the platonic ideal of what I would call a “Sunday Supper” restaurant. A Sunday Supper restaurant is a disappearing breed in our home state and this is a tragedy. The buzz in the air tells you this is not just a place for “food” but for feasting, for bonding with friends and families.
Roseland is a medium-sized white house with a neon sign. Except for the sign, it looks like someone’s home and not a commercial enterprise. Not surprisingly, it has been home to the family that opened Roseland generations back. The dining room interior is minimal; framed old black-and-white photos of Roseland’s history line the walls. The menu is written and rewritten on a large chalkboard hanging about six feet off the ground. It is somewhat hard to read the menu from a rear table because of the vast scope of food available, so I was not alone wandering up to the blackboard and contemplating it at my leisure.
I came at dinnertime and I took my time eyeballing the menu board with the same knee-knocking excitement I felt a jillion years ago when I confronted my SATs. Is this the right answer, no maybe it’s the other, or is it a trick question? With the exception of broccoli rabe (too bitter) there is nothing on the menu I do not adore. Walking back to my table, I felt as maybe I failed Menu 101 and lost my chance at ordering greatness. My lack of mastery of the menu at Roseland was made worse when waitress came to the table and, tongue-tied, I muttered something like “I would like an appetizer and a pizza”.
But I forgot my lapse soon. When my fellow diners placed their orders along with mine, the table quickly became laden with platters of food that boggled the eye. Platters so huge and so luscious that even the gabbiest of friends or families are silenced by the offerings.
What to eat? Of course, I have my favorites, which include the mountainous shrimp casino pizza or either the volcano-shaped hot and cold antipasto platters. Each one comes sky high with lobster tails, salamis, prosciutto, clams, peppers and olives. This be a good meal for one if you are Andre The Giant or a competitive eating champion. If you want to just get an entree, I have never gone wrong ordering Roseland’s famous lobster ravioli, fat pillows of homemade dough bursting with fresh tail and claw meat and slathered with a creamy maritime sauce.
350 Hawthorne Ave., Derby
Like Alice in Wonderland, when you cross the threshold at Roseland be aware that you have entered a fourth dimension where the size of portions of food as you knew them now means nothing. Here “small” means enormous, “medium” is enough for four linebackers and “large” will feed a platoon of hungry soldiers.
I almost hesitated to write the paragraph above because outsize portions of food are not a turn-on for me, in fact quite the opposite. I usually cringe at All-You-Can-Eat places with their mystery meats and utility grade vegetables, and although my ex-husband actually ate all of the 72-oz. steak at The Big Texas in Texas (which you get for free if you leave nothing but the bone), I prefer substance over size. I would rather have one nice bite of something then an endless mountain of garbage. I also know (and this is not some smart-ass food critic’s pithy observation) that if a two-pound lobster costs $30 at the local fish market and a restaurant offers it to you for $5.99, something ain’t right.
This is a my way to soften the blow when I tell you Roseland is not a bargain. The price fits the quality of food you get. It is also a place that ignores the trend of families going out for dinners of “small plates” or five-hour-long thimble size tasting menus. At places like Roseland. you have not eaten well until you groan with pain and pleasure and swear you have never been so stuffed.
Then you will open the top button on your pants and dream of coming back again.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series.