Roslindale Is Preserving Its Culture Through Food
I revisited my old haunt to eat — a lot — and admire how Classic Rozzie restaurants are preserving the town's culture in the middle of a revival.
Long before I started writing about food, Roslindale (also known as Rozzie) was my beat. It was the late 90's and I was a high school senior. With my legal pad and silver Sony voice recorder in hand, I pounded the pavement as a plucky reporter for the local newspaper, eagerly chasing down whatever came across the newsdesk. I lived in neighboring West Roxbury at the time, but always found Rozzie more interesting. The area had seen hard times, but new shops and restaurants were moving in and you could see the seeds of a revival.
I look about the same as I did in high school. (Pay no attention to the receding hairline!) And in 15 years, the city's center, Roslindale Village, has aged nicely, too. I was happy to see that many of my favorite haunts, like Tony’s Market, are still there, adjacent newer arrivals like Redd’s in Rozzie. And, according to my sources (I still got em'), the neighborhood is flourishing and property values have never been higher.
But I'm not in the market to buy right now. I came to eat. It's the Monday after Christmas, and the first really cold day of winter. Rozzie’s a bit quieter than usual and some spots remained closed for the holiday. The limited options just made my lunch decision easier. Opened in 1997, Fornax Bread Company was one of the first establishments to participate in the city's resurgence. Fresh baked breads and cookies lined the back wall below a colorful chalkboard menu. But it's the quiche special, with roasted vegetables, chicken and cheddar that called to me. Cheese oozed out as soon as I cut in, and I had to scramble to keep it from mixing with my side of warm rosemary carrots.
After loading up on dairy and caffeine, I took a right turn up Washington Street to Pleasant Café. The Café is a Rozzie institution and has been around since 1937, serving pizza and Italian specialties. It’s a place where the staff rarely turns over and the interior looks the same now as it did when you were a kid; a great example of the deep roots in this part of town. John Morgan, who owns the restaurant with Jack Lynch, grew up in West Roxbury and purchased the café with Lynch from the original proprietors about 35 years ago. He chatted with me about his lifelong connection to the restaurant. “There are some old Polaroids my dad had taken of me when I about four years old,” he said. “And you can see there’s actually a Pleasant pizza box on the table.”
Morgan’s seen the ups and downs in Roslindale and is excited about its growth potential. “Back in the ’80s, in Roslindale Village you saw a lot of businesses closing and not much new coming in,” he said. “The square has definitely been revitalized. A lot of new families are moving into the area and property values reflect that. I hope it continues on the same path.”
After chatting with Morgan, I sat at the long bar with planted vinyl stools and tried to order a pizza. But they weren't making them for another hour. It was probably a good thing because as a rule I don’t eat a whole pie by myself unless I’m home alone with the shades pulled down and the lights off. Instead, I went with an overflowing antipasto plate of salumi, olives, cheese and pepperoncini, served on top of iceberg lettuce with creamy Italian dressing.
I finished up at Pleasant Café — full, but not uncomfortably so — and headed to my old date spot, Sophia’s Grotto. Approaching this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant always feels like discovering a secret. To get there, you have to go down a red brick alley, leading to a courtyard nestled behind the trinity of modern storefronts: the yoga studio, cheese store and wine shop, amen. I used to try impressing women by bringing them here and requesting the corner table under the faux barrel tile roof covering the kitchen. Since I’m alone and a little bloated the time, I sat at the bar and had a nice chat with the bartender. We have friends in common from the neighborhood, which is something I miss about living out here. Everybody knows everybody and Boston doesn’t feel so big.
Sonia Garufi, who lives in Roslindale, converted the windowless Greek social club into Sophia’s with her husband Joe and brother-in-law John in 2005. She loves Rozzie’s small town feel. “It’s great working in Roslindale. I live about a four minute walk from the restaurant,” she said. “It’s so great to be able to go to Fornax and Tony’s and then go get some egg lemon soup. I walk around and get to know the other shopkeepers. It’s like a little village feeling in the city, which is nice. There’s a strong sense of community here.”
This sense of community also shows up on their menu. Garufi sources meat from Tony’s, burrata from Boston Cheese Cellar and bread from Fornax. I ordered my final meal of the day: a small plate of piquant pork, beef and veal meatballs with a rich tomato sauce and roasted mushrooms—the perfect dish to usher me into uncomfortably-full territory. And with that, I settled my bill and stepped back into the cold.
Happily, the Rozzie I loved as an 18-year-old is still alive and well. Modern restaurants sit side-by-side with trusty standards, and progress continues without losing the elements that always made this neighborhood special. Now that I’m an adult with a CharlieCard instead of mom’s station wagon (progress!), Rozzie’s as fun as ever. Better really — not only can I pop into Redd's for a craft cocktail to wash down my Pleasant Café pizza — I don’t have to be home for curfew.
Fornax Bread Company - 27 Corinth St., Roslindale, 617-325-8852, fornaxbread.com
Pleasant Café - 4515 Washington St., Roslindale, 617-323-2111, pleasantcafe.com
Sophia’s Grotto - 22 Birch St., Roslindale, 617-323-4595, sophiasgrotto.com
Redd's in Rozzie - 4257 Washington St, Roslindale, 617.325.1000, reddsinrozzie.com