Traditional fare proves successful at reborn Italian eatery

Roma Cafe closed in 2009, capping off off 85 years of serving Italian food in Portland. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to try them then. For that reason, when they reopened just last month, I really wanted to check them out. They had so much history in the area and that alone gave me a burning desire to get there as soon as possible.

When we entered, I was initially struck by the cute, little bar immediately to the left of the entrance. Quaint and enticing, it seemed to be a seating area that could compell me to remain there long past the length of time I would be welcome. We checked in with our reservations and were quickly taken to a different room to have a seat with some menus.

I was ready to have a beverage and found myself considering either the House Martini or Rye Manhattan, each offered for $9. I decided I was more in a whiskey mood and chose the latter which was made with Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica, and angostura. Mrs. Portlandeater went with a Prosecco Brut.

The waitress came by to drop off the drinks and we put in an order for Calamari Fritti with pepperoncini and lemon aioli. We had also considered the House Salad for two, but it was made with salami which would not have worked for her. I asked a question about the Gorgonzola Alfredo – rigatoni, chicken, pancetta, since I’m actively trying to be a little more open to blue cheese and wanted to get an idea of how strong it was in the dish.

My drink was as anticipated from the first sip and I was happy about that. I was also pleased that we received some bread accompanied by olive oil, Grana Padano cheese, and pickled vegetables. Those all turned out to be excellent. Grana Padano is a along the lines of parmesan and therefore superb. The pickled veggies had excellent seasoning and only light vinegar flavor.

Our app came before long and we put in our entrees. She chose the Eggplant Parmesan over chicken and I went with the Alfredo since the waitress had confirmed that the gorgonzola distributor in the kitchen was not heavy handed. I had considered the Chicken Marsala, but thought a totally new flavor might be more interesting to try.

After ordering, I took a bite of the battered sea creature app and it confirmed my strong stance that fried squid should really only be made with peppers and served with lemon aioli. There are other excellent ways to prepare the squishy fellow, but not if it’s fried. We both enjoyed the dish quite a bit and I felt it a beautiful pairing with my cocktail.

Once our app was done, we had a couple moments to relax with only ourselves and our drinks before the main courses arrived. Mine came in a bowl on its own and hers was joined by pasta and vegetable sides. My food appeared to be exceptionally hot which made me pause for a full couple of minutes before trying it. My wife started eating hers and seemed to enjoy it.

With my food cooled slightly, I tried my first bite of pasta and realized that everything was very much to my liking. The gorgonzola was present, but only enough to add some flavor to the dish which was smooth, rich, and creamy. It wasn’t prohibitively pungent, nor chunky, though I think any more might have been too much. The pasta and meat were both heavily covered in the thick sauce and it was perfectly decadent.

With my meal coming to an end, I grabbed a bite of my wife’s parm, forgetting that it was eggplant, which I generally don’t eat. It turned out not to be so bad, the first of its kind about which I could actually say that. I also ate a couple pieces of her zucchini and summer squash, which were buttery and delicious. I finished my pasta and neither of us had room left for dessert. Our meal came to about $88 after tip.

I think Roma will stand with the big boys in the Italian food scene here in Portland. They are a little more on the traditional side than some, but their classic food is strong. Their atmosphere is warm, service friendly, and they offer a pretty comprehensive selection of traditional favorites. I’m confident they’ll be a very welcome addition to the food scene in this city.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.