By Bernie Whitmore
Roma’s Grille and Pizzeria
192 Harding Street Worcester
In a city with many a brick building, Harding Street stands out as one of its most brick-laden stretches. Having stood proud for decades, some of the buildings’ facades are indeed crumbling ~ but for visionaries like the owners of the new Roma’s Grille and Pizzeria, the street’s position, wedged between resurgent Water and Green Streets, spells potential. And, fortunately for us, they decided to realize said potential with good food, drink, and ambiance.
When I heard that Joe and Lainie Petrou were planning a restaurant at the corner of Harding and Harrison, for a moment I was incredulous. Then it made perfect sense; anyone who appreciates hearty cuisine and heartfelt hospitality would follow the Petrou’s wherever they decided to locate. So on a recent weeknight I joined a couple of friends for dinner at Roma’s.
In spite of the faltering economy, every night seems busy at Roma’s and it has been the norm to wait a few minutes for a table. But this evening we were seated immediately at the last spare table. Our waitress arrived with menus and offered to uncork our bottles of wine (Roma’s does not sell alcohol and invites you to bring your own).
Shaking off the November chill, I took a quick scan of the dining room, which has been decorated in the School of Bodacious with heroic-sized paintings. A mix of music, exuberant conversations and high-impact activity in the adjoining kitchen area resonates against the high ceiling. Everything about the place indicates “Serious dining ahead!”
We started with an order of garlic bread. Three thick slices of rustic bread were coated with oil, tossed with tender chunks of garlic and a scattering of cheese, then grilled until golden-brown and crispy-edged. Thus began a theme of contrasting robust flavors and textures which expanded with the Caramelized Shrimp appetizer. Roma’s builds their dishes upon high quality ingredients ~ especially their seafood. These large shrimp were firm and tasty and stood up to a sauce of ginger and adobo. This sauce’s fiery soul had been reined in to balance perfectly with the shrimp.
Our entrée choices explored Roma’s menu. The Chicken Parmesan came with ziti; the two large pieces of chicken were tender and juicy and layered with tasty marinara sauce. Large portions seem the norm ~ we observed many diners departing Roma’s bearing take-home containers.
The Baked Haddock entree was delivered from the sins that frequent this dish in many restaurants. Served piping hot in a casserole dish, its butter-wine sauce was [happily] more wine than butter. The tender fish flaked apart into creamy-white chunks and was topped with a dusting of herbed crumbs that formed a “gentle crust.”
My entrée of Pork Tenderloin Scaloppini was the first opportunity I’ve taken to sample the “Meats” menu at Roma’s. Three strips of tenderloin wrapped in slices of prosciutto ham were grilled and sautéed in a sauce of lemon and wine. Sage and capers added earthy flavors to this elegant dish. Most delicious! But was it enough to entice me away from Roma’s pizza? Perhaps this once, but pizza at Roma’s is a spiritual experience, one I’m not ready to abandon without a fight!
We finished with a dessert of Flourless Chocolate Cake. This wedge of dense hyper-chocolate cake was coated with fudgy frosting and reminded us of decadent truffles. It was fully capable of meeting the rich standard of Roma’s cuisine.
Joe and Lainie Petrou found sparks of life on Harding Street and fanned them with their distinctive joie de vivre ~ a blend of innovative, full-flavored cuisine and warm hospitality. It’s no wonder people are waiting in line for a table!