Among the list of venues participating in the Fall 2013 Detroit Restaurant Week is Roma Cafe, the oldest restaurant in Detroit (possibly even the oldest operating restaurant in the country). Officially opened in February of 1890, Roma Cafe has retained its old world charm (not to mention delicious food) for well over a century.
Located just down Russel Street from Eastern Market, the building originally served to board farmers travelling to the market beginning in 1888. It was, however, the complimentary hot meal provided by the matriarch of the Marazza family that really drew a crowd. Thus, at the behest of many satisfied boarders, the Roma Cafe was opened in early 1890.
After 28 years, the Roma Cafe was sold to John Battaglia and Morris Sossi. The partners set about expanding the property, but within a year of the purchase, Battaglia unfortunately passed away, and Sossi assumed full ownership. Though Sossi’s nephew Hector bought Morris out in 1965 (working his way up from busboy to owner), the restaurant has been in the Sossi family ever since.
Hector’s daughter, Janet Sossi Belcoure, is now the current manager (and future owner) of the piece of history that is the Roma Cafe. And, though the venue has passed through three generations of Sossi hands, the restaurant is still very much rooted in history and tradition. (Once a haunt of the infamous prohibition-era Purple Gang, Roma Cafe even boasts it’s own resident ghost!)
Whether you are seated at the hand-carved cherry oak bar (which predates the restaurant itself) or at a red cloth draped table, you will find yourself surrounded by servers clad in full tuxedos, many of whom have been at Roma Cafe for decades. It is also one of the only restaurants in the area to be a part of the Union, meaning that employees have healthcare and insurance available to them.
This is another long-standing tradition of Roma Cafe: in a people-serving industry, this is one establishment that truly goes above and beyond to create a haven and a home for staff and patrons alike. In fact, I would dare say that I have never received as warm a welcome upon entering a restaurant (or possibly even a friend’s home) as I did upon visiting Roma Cafe. Perhaps this is why many diners are regulars (some even coming from generations of regulars). Not only are they known by name, a number are considered true friends. And, boy, are they treated like it! Roma Cafe even stocks specific beverages for some of its more selective regulars.
However, unless you are partial to a very specific beverage, the menu at Roma Cafe will have something for everyone. And I’m not just referring to their extensive wine and spirits menu; the classic, old-school Italian American menu caters to all tastes. With inspiration from both Northern and Southern Italian flavors, the menu boasts the best perch in the city and a meat sauce that simply can’t be beat. On the Detroit Restaurant Week menu this year, favorites include fried calamari, gnocchi ala Palomina (a personal favorite), eggplant parmigiana, and (of course) the classic cannoli.
The full menu for Detroit Restaurant Week has been released, so feel free to check it out and make your selections now, and allow yourself even more time to enjoy the old-time ambiance of Detroit’s oldest restaurant. Be sure to also like Roma Cafe on Facebook and keep up with the latest happenings by following Roma Cafe on Twitter!
And check back on the Awesome Mitten for a feature on another Detroit Restaurant Week favorite!