When in the City, Wander this Way
By Christopher Malone
ROAM Cafe, located 260 Park Ave., came up on a search for lunch places in Rochester. Due to a shift in my life, finding a lunch spot turned out to be slightly more of a challenge than finding a place for dinner. Due to the pandemic, hours for some places are still atypical and some restaurants aren’t open on the beginning days of the week.
But ROAM popped right up. It’s 11:30 a.m. opening was also perfect enough to squeeze in a road trip and get to bed for an overnight shift.
The sun was blasting through the large pane windows of the clean dining area of the Italian-leaning cafe. All of the restaurant was clean, and not a spot could be found on utensils. Aside from a fresh atmosphere, the menu kept boasting a locally-focused mind with fresh ingredients. It was time for the eatery to prove it.
The soup of the day, chili ($5 for a cup), met its fate first. The hearty concoction bosting a medium heat was filled with beans, veggies, and chunks of pork. Soup or chili is good any day of the year, but it hit the spot for a late November afternoon.
Arancini or meatballs? Balls of risotto and mozzarella or beef and sausage? It’s a tough choice. There is the option to order both appetizers separately or save a couple bucks and go with “The Pair” — one of each ($15). It’s difficult to say no to trying these from a new place.
I expected these Italian staples to be slightly larger than golf balls. I love it when I’m wrong. The pair of balls, which sounds so wrong but this is how it’s going to be written, were softball-sized. The meatball was dressed in a generous amount of house marinara, and blush sauce covered the arancini. There was an unapologetic amount of shaved parmesan cheese atop.
How do you cook these so large? My suggestion is to come and try them. The meatball wasn’t overly seasoned either. The arancini had a great crispy coat around soft risotto and melted, stretchy mozzarella cheese.
The steamed pork buns ($10) followed. The trio of soft, folded buns boasted a brick of pork belly were joined by scallion rings and dressed in hoisin and sriracha sauces, with the former being more prominent than the latter for good reason. There was just enough heat from the dashed drops of sriracha.
Compared to the last steam bun and pork belly I enjoyed a couple months ago, ROAM’s was better and less expensive — not that price matters. But the pork belly was a better cut, had more flavor, and wasn’t as dry.
When in ROAM, do as the roamers do — get a pizza. The 10-inch rustica pizza ($14) is actually the sole vegan option of the lineup of nine. I made mine non-vegan because a hearty amount of cheese was thrown on top and melted.
The pizza consists of grilled eggplant, stewed peppers, onions, grape tomatoes and olives. The seasoned-in herbs are a strategic amount. Because of the charred veggies, there is a beautiful smokiness to the pizza. Even a couple days after, the smokiness didn’t fade.
And the dough, similar to the ingredients ROAM promises it uses, is locally sourced from Baker Street Bakery. It’s a puffy crust but not overly doughy. The bottom isn’t crispy, so two hands are needed to guide a slice into a mouth because of all the ingredients.
And then there is the gnocchi con fungi ($18 or $20 gluten-free option). The generous amount of pasta makes for a heavy pasta dish. It also promises a fair amount of leftovers. Eating a quarter of the portion is actually really filling for an empty-ish stomach.
The potato and cheese gnocchi wade in a mushroom cream sauce, as the name of the entrée insists. The mushrooms aren’t dinky and chopped either. In the mix are chunks of pancetta and green peas. Oh, and more parmesan cheese.
Before tip, the feast came to just under $80. It truly was a feast. Getting through the first three “courses” was easy. Honestly, I probably shouldn’t have eaten all of the meatball and arancini in one sitting.
As I said, the amount of food provided a lot of leftovers for a couple days. The flavor was just as great as it was the day it was ordered. Keep up the great work, ROAM.
260 Park Ave.
Rochester, NY 14607
585-360-4165 | roamcafe.com
Sun.: 10:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Mon. – Sat.: 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Featured Image: The steamed pork buns ($10). The trio of soft folded buns boasted a brick of pork belly, which was joined by scallion rings.