Roma Cafe on the edge of Eastern Market. It boasts of being Metro Detroit's oldest Italian restaurant. I read several other articles about the history, the food, and most of all how wonderful the wait staff were. So after reading the acclaim, and hearing of its history I really thought that this one was going to be a winner.
First of all, I have to tell you that you had better know where you are going when you headed to Roma. It is simple to get to, but not in an expected location. It is bordered by empty lots on one side and a fire station on another. The building it's self is an old corner store front building that would not stand out if it were not for the large font of "Roma Cafe" that really stands out from it's surroundings. Parking appears to be a problem at first with the Roma lot appearing to be exclusively valet. There is a gravel lot available caddy corner from Roma.
When you step inside don't expect to be wowed by the decor. Roma has a very old feel and does not appear to have been updated in the last twenty years. Plane walls, dark woods, tuxedo-ed wait staff, and dark red table cloths give Roma its ambiance. When you walk in, it feels like you are stepping in to a piece of Detroit history. You can look around and imagine Detroit moguls drawing up plans for a growing auto industry or a husband and wife enjoying dinner after shopping at Hudson's on Woodward. If these walls could talk I am sure they would have a lot to tell us.
Knowing the long standing history, the countless write ups on Roma and the fact that it has remainder over five generations left me expecting an awesome experience. I have to say I was disappointed and quite surprised that it was not at all what I expected. It was not that the food or the experience was bad, it just was there. The entire place feels tired. The decor is tired, the server was distracted, and the food was far from meeting our expectations from a place with it's credentials.
We were seated right away and our waiter introduced himself. One of my companions asked him about recommendations and he looked as if this was something that had never happened to him before. He stammered a little and then came around and looked at the menu seeming to select random items. We did not take much stock in the recommendations and wrote it off to the fact that, "he must be new". The menu is what you would expect from an old Italian restaurant. Many of the old standards were present. Some had different names than what you might be familiar with, but it is a very straight forward menu.
Around the table we ordered four different dishes. Spaghetti & Meat Balls, Cannelloni, Tortellini, and Lemon and garlic chicken with spaghetti. One dinner salad was ordered this seems to be a Roma signature. The wait staff bring out salads in a mixing bowl and dress with the house dressing. This appeared to be red wine vinegar and oil. They then begin to very aggressively toss and beat the salad. This bruise the leaves and elements of the salad and takes the crispness away from the various ingredients. While it did have a good flavor, personally am not a fan of this technique because it leaves a rather mushy salad. I don't know if this was intentionally done at Roma or if our waiter was new and had not been taught any differently.
When our entrees came, they all looked good with the exception of some cold limp green beans that were a side of the lemon garlic chicken dish. Around the table all of the dishes were good. The meat balls were the hit of the table. They were moist and tender and really made you want to go back for more. The Cannelloni dished turned out to be almost like an Italian meat loaf wrapped in large noodles. The flavors were simple and clean, but all the dishes felt just as tired as the decor. Don't get me wrong, none of the dishes were bad. In fact they reminded me of something that your old Italian grandma would put together in her kitchen, but there was no wow factor in any of the dishes.
We were really expecting greatness, but all of the dishes were just good. We were expecting great service, our waiter was green. We were expecting a cool experience, but the whole experience felt tired.
If you like simple Italian food you will likely enjoy Roma. If you are looking for big flavor and food that is alive and vibrant you will likely want to be looking for another dining establishment.
Passion for food!
If your reading this then you likely find yourself in a category that many classify as foodie. That is simply to say that you love food. I too, am a food lover, and I love to experience the eclectic mix of food opportunities that Metro Detroit has to offer. I have created this site because I love to explore new restaurants, tastes, and cultures. My work has granted me the opportunity to experience all of this, both here in Metro Detroit, and in other parts of the world. Detroit is a wonderful mix of some of the worlds best foods. I hope that reading these entries will stir you to want to experience something new and exciting.