Eating At Rolo’s: the Archetype of Contemporary Dining Done Right

By on Monday, August 28th, 2023 at 8:24 am

Rolo's place setting

I’ve been to Rolo’s a few times every couple of months and each time I mean to write up the experience. The food is good, but also slightly different each time I visit, making it all the more interesting.

It opened in Ridgewood, Queens amidst the pandemic. Outdoor dining has always been part of their offering, and they did it well. It became a safe place to gather outdoors and my friends and I did, even on cold nights in December where we were thankful for the electric heaters.

My most recent trip was late this spring. My in-laws had taken the baby, and my wife wanted to eat at the restaurant I kept raving about. The challenge with babies is dinner plans are either well orchestrated months in advance rivaling the launch of a NASA spacecraft or so ad hoc and last minute you might as well be throwing dice in Atlantic City. In this case, we chose the latter, and decided to wander over on the hopes of finding a table. The joys of dining with just two people!

Last winter my friends and I had an outdoor reservation that was moved indoors on the threat of heavy rain, and they largely were able to accommodate us. I was hopeful we would get a table. There isn’t much in the equivalent alternative in that neighborhood if we were turned away.

We arrived to a busy but not yet too crowded restaurant. The hostess offered a table with the caveat that there was a reservation on it in about two hours. That was plenty of time.

Rolo's pastrami, a special from their deli section

Rolo’s regular has a selection of charcuterie meats labeled as “deli” on the menu. That isn’t something I’ve ordered in the past, but that night there was a pastrami special. I’m partial to pastrami, and I suggested we order it.

The pastrami was paper thin, almost melting in the heat of my fingers. It was smokey and fatty, but in a delicious kind of way.

Rolo's pastrami, close up of the fatty, smoky meat

The chickpeas with tahini has a nice balance of savory –. Not too salty, not too much tahini. The beans themselves had a nice texture, and the olive oil a peppery little punch.

Rolo's chick peas in tahini sauce

Rolo's polenta bread with calabrian pepper

We almost didn’t order the polenta flatbread, but at the last minute I recalled how delicate it was. The breads are like small pizzas in a few varieties. The Calabrian chili is not all that spicy and it was great for dipping in the sauces. The crackling crust gives way to a soft, steamy interior.

We also ordered the grilled romano beans. I assume the name “marco polo” was a nod to borrowing to easterns flavor influences.

The beans had a tasty sauce, a little sweet in comparison to everything else. The char of the grill was a good flavor but the beans could have had a crispness to them that was otherwise missing.

Rolo's Romano beans roasted

The Caesar salad arrived overflowing out of the bowl. It looked a lot like a fuzzy chia pet covered in Parmesan cheese. It’s sloppy but in a way that keeps you going back with a sting of anchovy.

The original Caesar Salad was invented about a century ago by an Italian Chef in Mexico. It’s hard to improve on this classic when it’s done well, but Rolo’s has pulled it off. (Win Son Bakery has as well).

Rolo's Caesar salad fuzzy with parmesan

The lasagna verde is a standout dish. There are plenty of restaurant’s like Winona’s and Leo’s that are doing fun things with lasagna, but Rolo’s definitely hits the mark. It’s bright green and cheesy and salty.

Rolo's lasagna

The showstopper was the half chicken. Thin was crisp, and it came plated in that bright red-orange sauce.

Rolo's  roasted half chicken

We rounded off the meal with the War Potatoes. We probably didn’t need them but they are an iconic part of dining there in the past, and they seem fun, like a new interpretation of disco fries. They are topped with creamy something – aioli?– and a peanut satay sauce the waiter revealed is flavored with Kaffir leaf.

Rolo's war french fries with peanut satay sauce

They are great to split with four grown men drunk on cocktails and beer, but with just one other adult they felt like a burden. Delicious, but a burden nonetheless.

We ended up with espresso on our way out, and then as we stepped out the door, a sun shower exploded. We stepped back inside to have one more drink at the bar. Everyone out that night was young and hip and dressed like the Italian prostitutes from White Lotus. Rolo’s is a fun place to eat, and to linger for a while longer watching all the people who aren’t racing home to a baby.

Rolo's dining room at night


853 onderdonk Ave,
Ridgewood, Queens


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