By Bernie Whitmore
Grafton Hill was the neighborhood I moved to when I first came to Worcester. Some mornings when I’d run past 83 Hamilton Street, a wiry old lady would be out front cleaning the sidewalk. She’d scold me, “Get a broom and sweep!” That was Moore’s Pharmacy, a business you never saw anyone enter or leave. When it finally closed, the storefront seemed doomed to the twisted mojo of sweeping-lady. Even initial attempts at restaurants were ill-fated. But then came a delightful change with Rosalina’s Kitchen.
Rosalina’s has been open for almost a year, but in that short time, the proprietors ~ Rose-Ellen & Angela Padavano ~ have established a following whose loyalty borders on fierce. The small dining area alternates between intimate and communal, usually the latter. The evening I joined a couple of friends for dinner we were all but inducted into the Red-Hat Society by a table of raucous ladies celebrating a birthday with kazoos and boxed Cabernet. If you don’t meet existing friends at Rosalina’s, you’ll usually make a few new ones.
This aforementioned loyalty hasn’t been built purely upon good looks and charm. Rosaline’s secret formula goes more like this: home-cooked Italian cuisine, quality ingredients, fair prices and a staff dedicated to caring service. These make plans for dinner at Rosalina’s something to look forward to.
Everyone seems to have their own version of Fried Calamari, and it’s hard to recall a time when this appetizer wasn’t a universal menu item. But Rosalina’s takes the simple & honest approach to this classic: medium-sized pieces of freshly cut rings and tentacles fried ‘til just crisp and juicy, tossed with a sprinkling of salt and tiny flecks of fresh green herbs. A cup of marinara was provided for dipping, but wasn’t really necessary. How can I rave so much over something so basic? That’s what happens when you have a chef so confident in her talent and ingredients that she doesn’t need any flash.
For vegetarians who don’t wish to punish themselves with perpetual deprivation and boring fare, Rosalina’s has offerings that make meatless seem decadent. Take, for example, the Ricotta Puffs. A menu item for some time now, I’d longed to give them a try. Why was I waiting? Roughly the size and shape of plums, the order of three puffs was served on a platform fashioned of a thin filet of eggplant and served over gemelli pasta tossed in a broth of basil, diced tomatoes and olive oil.
Lynn, our usual waitress, had advised that the puffs packed a spicy kick, but I daresay this warning was unnecessary. I found their crunchy golden-brown exteriors held a fluffy mixture of ricotta blended with savory herbs and, perhaps, some eggy richness.
Across the table, my friends were equally engaged with their meals; one chose an order of Veal Parmigiana served with gemelli pasta and, per request, marinara on the side. Admittedly, it was basic Italian fare, but I wasn’t complaining; he’d brought the large bottle of Malbec.
My other friend decided to try Rosalina’s Design-A-Dish, a special offered on Wednesdays. A special menu lists various proteins (choose two), up to three vegetable/add-ins, pasta options and an impressive range of sauces and pastas. He devised an impressive meal: scallops and shrimp over cheese ravioli tossed in Fra Diavolo sauce. On the side he constructed a mini antipasto of artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and prosciutto.
Illustrating how different Design-A-Dish can be, one of the ladies next to us ordered Chicken Breast with Maple Cream Sauce. I think it would be wise to go to their website, consult the special menu and pre-design something that you’ve always wanted. The chef seems game for anything.
My first meal at Rosalina’s Kitchen, Baby Clams over Linguini, was enough to assure me that this was a kitchen that had mastered the fundamentals and cuts no corners with quality ingredients. If I’d never strayed from it, I’d remain a loyal customer. However, this is a menu of classic Italian cuisine with some rustic twists and turns making it well worth return trips for exploration.
83 Hamilton Street in Worcester
508-926-8887 | rosalinaskitchen.com