There’s no skimping at Rox Diner. French toast is sliced thick, a bulging club sandwich measures 3½ inches tall, blue cheese dressing is generous. And as these things go, there is often a wait for one of the 35 seats.
Rox Diner opened in Newtonville a year ago as a breakfast and lunch spot that now serves dinner. It also offers beer and wine, unlike the original West Roxbury location (a small wine list is ordinary, but you can order craft beers such as Berkshire Brewing Co. and Mayflower IPA). The combination has drawn crowds to Newtonville, which opened with fits and starts. Customers took to social media to complain about that long wait, absentee staff when it’s time to take orders, and dishes emerging cold from the kitchen. “After some rockier moments and some good moments, we feel more adventurous and more confident in this location every day,” says John Fortin, co-owner with Paul Louderback, a Newton native.
The breakfast crowd includes many locals with young children, students from nearby Newton North High School, and business types. The retro-modern restaurant, with its exposed brick wall and black and white tiled floor, offers breakfast all day, including a full page of free-range egg and omelet options and another of French toast and pancakes.
That French toast begins with Fornax Bread Co. challah turned into variations such as Nutella and bananas ($11), “health nut” with fruit and pecans ($11), and Tahitian ($11), topped with coconut and layered with mango. We opt for plain ($9) and drizzle our crunch-perfect stack with real Vermont maple syrup. There are no sides so we order fresh fruit ($4), mostly hard melon, no berries.
At lunch, a lobster roll with fries is generous, but pricey ($19). We substitute onion rings for fries and get sweet, fat, crisp rounds. A Lambourgini burger with pancetta, provolone, arugula, and balsamic glaze ($12) is a little messy but worth the caloric uptick. A California club ($11), with ripe avocado and real roast turkey, is satisfying on its white bread. Lobster mac and cheese ($9), chunky with sweet meat, is creamy and delicious. Alas, we learn it was a seasonal item.
The dinner menu was tweaked last month by recently hired Bruce Harris, a chef who was working in Florida. Appetizers feature a duo of tender lamb sliders with goat cheese ($12), chunky lobster sliders ($14), or one of each ($13). Buffalo chicken tenders dip ($8) is unattractive, has too much vinegar, and is served in a hard bread bowl.
Three chicken dishes — piccata ($15), Florentine ($15), and Marsala ($16) — are on the menu. You can order the trio ($17), a sampler of all three on a bed of spinach. The piccata has a perfect lemon-garlic tang, and the Florentine is mild and well balanced, with nice sauces on both, which is where the Marsala fails. Its sauce is lumpy and bland.
Risotto with rosemary grilled chicken, wild mushrooms, and asparagus ($13) is dry and in spite of the herb, lacking flavor. Anyway, why isn’t there some wonderful fall squash in this dish instead of out-of-season asparagus?
Desserts are made in-house or purchased from nearby Bread & Chocolate Bakery. Louderback occasionally makes cheesecakes and puddings. One shared bread pudding disappeared in minutes.
A year out, Rox still has some kinks. Manager Bob Demerais makes everyone feel welcome, but servers can be brusque. After being on the receiving end of this, we finally got a waitress who was full of cheer. There are no reservations, but customers can call ahead and put their names on a wait list. Last month, the city approved Rox’s request to increase seating to 61. Fortin says the extra seats will be used only for extremely busy moments.
That means the line isn’t getting shorter anytime soon.