Photos | Daniel Anderson/Lagniappe
Roma Café’s extensive and satisfying menu includes Italian favorites such as baked ziti, eggplant parmesan and cheese steak. Try to save room for dessert.
Roma Café • 7134 Airport Blvd • Mobile 36608 • 251-341-7217
Still getting into the swing of things and dealing with “new baby syndrome,” my life is slowly starting to find some order. There has been an appreciated outpouring of love in the form of gifts of onesies (for baby Henry), a bottle or two of liquor (presumably for me), as well as diapers and baby wipes (for humanity). I expected some of our wonderful friends to pitch in and donate to the efforts of furthering a newly appointed human in his quest for longevity, but what I wasn’t expecting was all of the food.
Breakfast casseroles from Priscilla Belle Jenkins, dinner from Snake and Company, chicken and veggies from the All Saints Caring Committee and plenty more I’m leaving out. The one dinner that stood out in my fading memory of last week was Frank Trice’s famous postpartum baby lasagna. Frank gets pretty legit when he throws one the apron, and I’m told Ashley engineered the béchamel sauce; the whole affair was good enough (and large enough) to have us eating lasagna at inappropriate times. Like breakfast. Midnight snack.
With the Italian flavors coursing through our veins it set my mind to thinking about all the great Italian restaurants we have in Mobile. Then I realized there aren’t that many. Via Emilia is a favorite out by USA. Pizzeria Delphina is the downtown pasta spot. Mirko serves the Interstate 65 crowd while Cortlandt’s Pizza Pub is slinging the good crust and macaroni to the Spring Hill folks. The one old-school joint I’ve never been to was the perfect place to repay Frank for his generosity — West Mobile’s Roma Café.
It was a rainy evening, the kind of unexpected typhoon that creeps up on a Mobile sundown, when I rescued Frank from a family dinner. I breezed by and slowed to a near stop knowing Frank was gonna jump in. He always does, and did. We made our getaway followed by a quick stop at my house and the funniest Uber I’ve ever been a part of to Roma.
The fact that we Ubered is key here. We believed we were about to have a bit of wine with our meal, but it wasn’t in the cards. Our waiter offered us sweet tea and Coke products. They have a bar, plain as day, it just doesn’t function as one. With tears in our eyes we shed one or two for the mistake of using a ride service and warmed to the idea of an unsweet and a Coke.
Our night was not off to a perfect start but our appetizers were. Tuscan Meatballs ($8.50) arrived in a brown gravy that would make a grandma proud. By gravy I mean demi-glace, but this was more plentiful than you’d imagine. More on that later. The three meatballs were surrounded by toasted garlic bread.
We also tried the Spinach Pastry ($8.50), a pair of triangular puff pastries with spinach, garlic and cheese. It was a bit like spanakopita, actually a lot like it, with a side of cold tzatziki sauce and a warm cup of marinara. Frank was smitten.
Our entrees came with salads, the usual romaine, cucumber, carrots and red onion, not that I’m complaining about the simplicity. Frank had the Eye-talian dressing while I stuck to the blue cheese. But it was the entrees that should have your attention. Frank zeroed in on the Veal Cacciatore ($15.99). The description said it was, “Good enough to save you a trip to Italy!” The Roma sauce was a creamy blend of Alfredo and marinara that worked well with the sautéed peppers and mushrooms but the veal stole the show, as it should. Fork tender, the breading was fantastic as was the flavor.
I had my eye on the Tuscana Grilled Salmon ($15.95), a hearty meal of angel hair pasta loaded with garlic flavor and a pesto cream sauce (perhaps pesto and Alfredo mixed?) with a little extra basil, more than the sauce provided. As if that weren’t enough, a handful of grilled Gulf shrimp topped the dish. I was worried the salmon would be overdone with all the heat associated with this recipe, but it came out fine. The shrimp were perfect.
At some point our conversation turned to how much money we were saving by not having a couple bottles of wine on our bill, so we thought it a grand idea to revisit the appetizer menu. “Bring us an order of fries ($2.65),” I shouted, as if I were royalty calling on my staff to fetch. I felt bad immediately, but it was short-lived because the fries were fantastic, golden and perfect with the brown gravy of the meatballs. This was my first batch of Italian french fries, and if that is a thing then consider me hooked.
Dessert was definitely going home with us, as was most of our entrees. Chocolate Chip Cannoli ($5.99) we were told were not made in-house but definitely good. They were. Served with chocolate sauce on the side, this made for a perfect 8:15 a.m. breakfast until I had the Italian Cream Cake ($5.99) at 8:19 a.m. Perhaps there was a little Grand Marnier in the spongy cake with a layer of cream cheese in the middle and a topping of powdered sugar. A container of caramel made it a tiny bit better with my morning coffee.
So the verdict is in. This place is full of good eats. The ambience could be better — dimmer lighting, etc. — but I was impressed by the food. It’s a great family place rather than a romantic date night, but that could change with a couple of candles and a liquor license. Thank goodness the romance was out the window. It was just Frank.
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