Posted by: Kath Usitalo | January 24, 2011

Road Food Report: Roma Cafe

Eggplant Parmigiana at Detroit's oldest Italian restaurant

Oh how I’d like to be at the bar of Roma Cafe, sipping a Manhattan and eavesdropping on the regulars talking about last week’s mob bust.

Roma, in Detroit’s Eastern Market, is a long way from the East Coast, where the largest takedown in FBI history nabbed 127 members of top Mafia families. But the oldest Italian restaurant in the city is the kind of place that just may have, in the course of its 100+ years, hosted a visiting Columbo, Gambino, Bonnano or Luchese. If those walls could talk.

We held our annual company Christmas luncheon (for all four members of our family) at Roma Cafe because we wanted the kids to experience the traditional Italian menu and old Detroit atmosphere of this slice of the city; the restaurant dates to 1890 when it opened as a boarding house for farmers who trucked in to sell their produce at Eastern Market.

The red and white striped awnings on the unassuming, two-story red brick building are the liveliest thing on the block, but don’t let the desolate look of the immediate area deter you. Turn your keys over to the valet parker, step inside and join the party, starting at the old school bar while you wait for a red-clothed table. You’ll likely be greeted by Janet Sossi Becoure, the third generation owner whose family bought the spot in 1920.

Even at 1:30 p.m. when we arrived for lunch the joint was jumping with a steady stream of families, business coworkers, and couples who kept the professional, tuxedoed waiters hopping but unfazed.

All four of us liked our meals—spaghetti with meatballs, veal, ravioli—but the standouts were the appetizer of crisp, light, and tender fried calamari and my eggplant parmigiana. Delish.

The lively dining rooms aren’t conducive to listening to the walls talk, however. Next time I think I’ll sit at the bar over a bowl of the house’s famous minestrone—with a Manhattan on the side, of course.

TIP: Roma offers a Monday Night Buffet with all-you-can-eat salad, chicken, pasta, Veal Parmigiana, cannoli and more for $17. Closed Sunday.



Pure Michigan


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