Spicy, fried, with a side of quirky
Redd’s in Rozzie has genuine fun serving casual, eclectic comfort food
What is the opposite of formal dining? Redd’s in Rozzie, where a chef-owner with an impish sense of humor throws together local, sustainable ingredients, Southern dishes, random snacks, burger and bingo nights (every Tuesday), and weekend brunches to make a neighborhood spot that’s not completely coherent, but charming both in spite and because of that. The restaurant’s nickname, R ’n’ R - featured prominently on its logo - suits it perfectly.
Charlie Redd, who formerly cooked at Back Bay gastropub Coda and Harvest in Cambridge, jokingly calls himself “Chef Delicious.’’ (“The whole celebrity chef thing has gotten out of hand,’’ he says later by phone.) Servers are sweet as peach pie, and honestly, genuinely friendly. So if they’re occasionally spacey, you can forgive them. They deserve a fat tip for being completely unfazed by crabby children and high-maintenance adults. (The server who loudly schooled a new hire on the wine list directly below the lone TV during a major Bruins game is another story.) If sometimes your food comes quickly and sometimes it takes forever, well, that’s just how it is here.
Redd’s in Rozzie operates in the space that used to be Salute and then Geoffrey’s, which recently relocated to the Back Bay. (Beth McNichols, who ran Salute and is also behind West Roxbury’s Spring Street Cafe, is a partner in the project.) Opened in April, R ’n’ R features a front room with a bar, a dining room in back, and a sweet side patio where dogs lounge, hipsters brunch, and parents dandle babies. Decor is basic, with cherry-red and pumpkin walls and a curved bar, stocked with Fernet-Branca, Old Overholt rye, and other cocktail-geek bait. Pictures of Julia Child and James Beard show ladies and gents which bathroom door to head through.
The menu is small and eclectic, illustrated with chickens and tractors. Redd’s food feels homey and handmade, and not stealthily unhealthy in the way of some restaurant food, where you eat and enjoy and try not to think about the stick of butter contained within. Which is not to say it’s always healthy - some of the prime joys of the menu at R ’n’ R are fried.
Chief among them is an avocado that’s been sliced, dipped in batter, and sizzled until golden - basically, good fat fried in bad fat. It’s pretty amazing on its own, but even better dunked in the spicy, tangy buttermilk dressing that comes with it.
Hush puppies are uncommonly light, the rounds of dough accompanied by a delicious bacon and onion ragout. The sweetness of the onions plays well with the salt of the pork. Toasts come spread with chicken liver, just like Bubbe used to make if Bubbe had a fondness for cayenne. There’s a warmth to the pate that spreads across your tongue and into the back of your throat. Chicken liver should get spicy more often.
The menu makes a departure from the South to New England with fried clams. They’re whole bellies from Ipswich, fresh and so sweet you’d swear Redd put sugar in the batter. They’re treated to a perfect fry job, a pure summer delight. For dipping, there is spicy aioli. Perhaps you are sensing a theme here.
When it comes to barbecue, Redd looks to North Carolina, where he grew up. Vinegar-based dip flavors his Lexington-style pulled pork. A generous pile of pig on a bun, it comes with more of the sauce on the side. On one visit, the meat is dry. On another, it’s very good, smoky and tender.
Entrees are simple and often very tasty. They make great use of R ’n’ R’s grill. Grilled trout is served with mashed potatoes, greens, and pecan compound butter; one night it’s oversalted, another just right. A grilled half-chicken is far above average, the white meat just as juicy as the dark, and very flavorful; it comes with dirty rice that’s heavy on the liver. Grilled hanger steak is charred and chewy on the outside, perfectly medium-rare on the inside. Slightly dry, wispy hash browns benefit from a swipe through the red-eye gravy on the plate. Fresh fettuccine is topped with tender beef braised in red wine, cozy and comforting.
There are frequent specials, such as fried chicken, grilled head-on shrimp, or sausages made at Tony’s Market next door. Tuesday-night burgers are substantial patties of grass-fed beef topped with cheese. R ’n’ R also makes its own veggie burgers, studded with chickpeas and lightly tinged with Indian spices.
They’re very good, but they’re the exception when it comes to vegetarian food. R ’n’ R makes a real effort to please non-meat eaters, providing many options. But the meat dishes are superior. A cold asparagus soup is boring; it would benefit from salt, more ingredients, perhaps a dollop of curried creme fraiche. Gnocchi with local vegetables could also use salt and flavor. Where’s all that spice when you need it?
Homey desserts fit right in on the menu. Redd makes a mean pecan pie, his Oma’s recipe. While local strawberries are here, a shortcake with whipped cream is a simple pleasure. Profiteroles are filled with house-made mint ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce; the excellent ice cream tastes like the herb from the garden rather than extract.
There’s a short list of house cocktails, such as the summery Stone Fruit Rooster (cucumber-infused gin, lemonade, and apricot) and the Fernet Smack, which combines the Italian liqueur with ginger beer, lime juice, and bitters. Many of the microbrews on offer are local. The wine list is affordable and full of interesting bottles - a sparkling red Vernaccia di Serrapatrona, the Basque wine Txakoli, a crisp Piquepoul for $6.50 a glass.
Roslindale Village is having a good year when it comes to neighborhood restaurants, with Redd’s in Rozzie opening on the heels of the nearby Sugar. R ’n’ R is casual, quirky, and down-home. For those more interested in character than polish, pull up a chair and a bingo card. Chef Delicious is cooking for you.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.