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Jan 8, 2001 09:31 AM

RED ROSE or My Efforts for Good Neighborhood Italian Fail Again...!

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I haven't found any threads on Red Rose Restaurant in Carroll Gardens -- which I perhaps should have taken as a sign not to try it, ha, ha! -- but in case anyone else shares my aspiration to enjoy a good meal in one of the 'neighborhood' restaurants which have been part of the landscape long before we entered it, I wanted to issue a warning against Red Rose. IMHO, the ONLY place on Smith and its immediate environs to get good "red sauce Italian" served by non-Neanderthals-- except maybe for Helen's on Court -- is Vinny's b/w Union and Sackett. The Red Rose did NOTHING to challenge Vinny's last nite.

A friend and I arrived shortly after 8:30 for dinner and the place, as it generally appears whenever I look in, was virtually empty, with only one party of four way in the back and a party of two closer to the bar. We ordered salads to start and my Caesar came with the croutons I specifically requested be omitted, a dead giveaway to me that the salads are not freshly made here, since there presence could not have been the result of le chef's great pride in the croutons which were clearly straight out of the McCormick's box (and not necessarily a fresh box, judging by the trail of grit they left as I picked them out of my salad).

They managed to get our entree orders right in terms of the plates, but the service was some of the sloppiest I have ever witnessed. Although this place is supposed to be open until 10 on Sundays and in fact left its said little "Daily Chef Specials" chalkboard out on Smith Street until 9:15 or so, the gang had apparently decided that 10 minutes, which translated to shortly before 9:00, was sufficient time for me to have reworked my salad, for the lurking began around then. I personally find it very unnerving to be trying to eat and converse while my peripheral vision is distracted every two minutes with an impatient looking waiter but we tried to ignore it, my companion in better stead to do that because he had his back to the waiter.

Unfortunately, my companion's advantage was short-lived, because his position left him open to an Attack of the Ill-timed Entree, as the waiter arrived with both entrees in tow without ever clearing our salads, the result being that we essentially had to coordinate the plate change for our tableside "professional." The entrees were prepared as ordered, but clearly had been sitting under a weak heat lamp or such because my allegedly center cut chop could not have been more rubbery had it been served directly from one of those display models one sees at lower-scale sushi restaurants. My companion's salmon had a decent texture but his mashed potatoes and veggies, like my own flavourless vegetable sautee, were at salad-bar temperature.

If enjoying the food wasn't challenging enough due to its lackluster flavor, the professionals occupying Red Rose last nite, including, I was appalled to eventually figure out, the owners, did everything to convey that at 9:15 we were intruding on their evening. A brief listing of the clumsy if not rude overtures to which we were subjected in the minutes that ensued: (1) not a single offer to refresh water or beverages; (2) two attempts to pull away our plates (not simultaneously but at five minute intervals between); (3) the departure of our waiter to assist in garbage hauling duty; (4) an inquiry as to whether we would be paying by cash or credit card even before we were done eating what was edible off the hotly pursued plates; and (5) a sudden and louder than necessary playing of "Who...Millionaire" on the bar top TV, louder than necessary I suggest because the entire 'staff', including Le Chef and the erstwhile owners, all gathered directly beneath it, mesmerized when they were not glaring in our direction!

As we awaited our check -- which one would think the initial preparation of would have been a more productive way for Slappy the Waiter to endure our actual repast than jerking around like a jack-in-the-box, the party of four left to scowls from Madame Owner and bartender and not a single thank you or good nite. When Slappy had completed the check, he placed it on the table and asked for the credit card before we even had a chance to open the portfolio. My companion, with more calm than I would've expected either us to muster by then "asked" Slappy for a moment to review the bill. Slappy backed off visibily chagrined and not three minutes later sent over a Jr. Slappy to whine about their having to "shut off the Visa account." The $52.00 Visa bill was tendered with a grudging 15% tip, clearly more than these people deserved but...

I note for the record that this nightmare concluded at 9:45, with Slappy/Jr.; bartender and le chef all racing across Smith Street into a car -- think of clowns piling into a circus jalopy -- and Madame Owner pointedly glaring at us as my companion helped me on with my jacket -- silly us, we should have rushed out coatless so as to leave unspoiled her final special moments with Regis. We brushed right past her insignificant other (not Regis, Hubby) making our exit and as with the party of four who had preceded us, neither had even a grudging valedictory to offer.

So the search for good neighborhood Italian fare goes on! I urge the inmates at Red Rose to keep watching "Millionaire" because any one of them is more likely to get rich on an appearance there than in conducting business as we experienced it last nite! Anyone with better leads or thoughts that might persuade me that we just caught this crew on a bad nite, e.g. maybe they're Eagles fans, please share! :)

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  1. Thank you for a great Monday morning laugh! It never fails to boggle the mind how some restaurateurs' minds operate. And the well-timed use of Slappy never fails to work. :>)

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      George Lynch

      I read your post with interest and amusement (inspired by your writing, not the misfortunes you encountered at Red Rose).

      I decided to respond to your post because my wife and I had been satisfied patrons of Red Rose for a long time over the years. We liked their food (not all of it, but a lot of it), and we were forgiving of service foibles because it's a neighborhood place and we liked the friendly attitude of the kids they hired as waiters. Also, the place was definitely a bargain.

      However, we haven't been to Red Rose for several years now, for no particular reason, just the ebb and flow of our restaurant-going. But lately we had been thinking of going back, partly because of fond memories, and partly because we wanted to see how they were doing now that Smith Street has become a "restaurant row". (For a long time, they had Smith Street pretty much to themselves, although there were and still are other long-time Italian restaurants on Court Street.)

      After reading your tale of woe, it sounds to me like they haven't adjusted very well at all. Nothing like you describe ever happened to us, and when we used to visit, the place was almost always crowded to the extent that we would have to wait for a table.

      Maybe their business has declined dramatically since the new restaurants arrived. If that's the case, indulging in treatment like you described certainly won't remedy that.

      2 Replies
      1. re: George Lynch

        If you did return there you might be surprised to see the menu -- seeing what was going on around them on Smith Street (presumably), they took the opportunity to double their prices a while back. I can't imagine that went over too well with their longtime neighborhood regulars. Whether the food got any better I can't say -- I've only been a couple of times, and not in several years. I was never partial to the place, though a lot of people I know used to like it quite a bit.

        1. re: Chris E.
          George Lynch

          Thanks, Chris, for the heads-up. One of the big features for us was the very reasonable cost of eating at Red Rose. We could forgive service lapses and meals that were OK rather than terrific because of the really good value.

          Sounds like they've lost their bearing. Based on these reports, it seems like they've strayed from being a solid and inexpensive neighborhood spot. Maybe they're trying to cash in on the restaurant boom in the area and doing a poor job of it.

          Well, there are plenty of other places...

      2. I liked your report a lot, though have been to Red Rose (mostly for the over the top Italian service), thank God I have never had such experiences.

        Anyway, a suggestion, I tried "Mamma Maria's" (right next to Sal's) and though the service was a bit spacey, the food was very good. They serve your choice of red-sauced pasta with each entree. I loved what I had so much that I can't wait to see if the other offerings are as good.

        I also agree about Vinny's, great food.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Savannah

          I second the recommendation of Mamma Maria's. The decor's a little tacky, but the first time we went my husband ordered shrimp francese and I was sure it would be frozen-tasting and greasy, but it was so good we keep going back for more! We also really like the hot appetizer plate and fried calamari, although those *are* a little greasy.

          My husband also likes Nino's (a few blocks West), but he's from the neighborhood and I think the appeal might be based more on fond memories than on the food or service, both of which are better than Red Rose but nothing stellar.

          1. re: Kendra

            I've had a few good meals at Caffe Carciofo (Court & Baltic). However, I've always ordered one of the pastas off the daily specials list and nothing from the regular menu. Based on my rather limited experience, I'd especially recommend their ravioli. Soups of the day that I've had have been likewise excellent. The salads seem to suffer from overdressing, but the ciabatta (from Caputo's, I assume) should keep you very happy.

            1. re: Lauren

              I am Carciofo regular, but here's the caveat - I'm a vegetarian. This means pasta and salads (and a bruschetta) are all I eat at this place. The regular menu pastas are basic and hearty but the specials are where the kitchen does some of its best work.

              The bread (I also assume it is Caputos) doesn't come to the table if you order a bruschetta or a bread-based appetizer, so be forewarned (or just ask for some).

              The reason we keep returning to Caffe Carciofo is that the service has been unfailingly friendly.

              If you like sweet or meal-ending types of wine, they also have a nice Moscato by the glass.


        2. Sorry to hear that Ann had such a bad experience. I have been going there for years (since the time when there were no other real choices on Smith St.), and have never had a bad experience. In fact, I have always found the staff to be very accomodating. Perhaps the lesson from Ann's experience should be not to try eat there late in the future. BTW, those interested in haute cuisine should go elsewhere--this is just homey Italian food, usually served with a lot of heart.