And so we wandered over towards the forgotten, old-timer Italian places that are holdovers from when Carroll Gardens used to be Italian rather than "seasonal and sustainable American." That's how we found Red Rose.
The decor made a friend of mine shudder. Literally. The chairs had these black lacquered backs that were probably cool n contemporary kitchens in 1987. The servers wore red polo shirts and black pants and when we walked in, the owner, bearing an uncomfortable resemblance--in both physique and style of dress--to the James Gandolfini of television lore, commented, "boy, this neighborhood sure has changed."
Well, nevermind. We're snobs, but we're up for a challenge. Semolina bread arrived seriously hot with a ramekin of balsamic vinegar and a handful of those tiny peel-back butter packets that I have not seen since 1.) my last breakfast in a diner, or 2.) an Italian meal I ate in, oh, 1987. We ordered "Tony's Famous Rice Balls," because how could we not. We ordered two. That was excessive. Each was the size of a proper goiter. They were gooey inside, one stuffed with ground beef and peas (decent), and one stuffed with cheese (tasteless). They both came with watery marinara, as did our hot antipasto plate: fried shrimp, fried mozzarella, baked clams, fried calamari. I haven't had that much fried anything in front of me in a very, very long time.
The baked clams were really good. I swear. But the shrimp tasted suspiciously fishy (if hot oil and batter can't mask bad seafood, what, I ask you, can?). The fried mozzarella was nothing to write home about, but it was decent enough.
And then. Entrees.
I ordered chicken marsala. My friend swore he could hear them pounding the chicken in the back--we sat near the kitchen. The portion was massive, flanked by all sorts of wilty green veggies (zucchini, broccoli rabe, broccoli, string beans) bathing in olive oil and garlic. Also on the plate? Rigatoni with that watery marinara. Everything was fine, though there was too much of it.
Across from me, a friend had ordered grouper oreganata. She pronounced it "disgusting," but the grouper, a fish not native to the east coast anyway, was always a risky gamble.
To my right, spaghetti and meatballs threatened to strangle my friend, who seemed unable to make even a tiny dent in her massive meal. Across from her, her husband pushed around baked ziti, which wasn't really all that baked. Thirty minutes into the endeavor, I heard him say, "Ricotta cheese, where did you come from?"
Places like this need to exist. They are culturally important and they can, at their finest, make you wonder if there's anything more satisfying in this god forsaken world than a bottle of pasta and a warm piece of bread.
Not last night, though. Sigh. Not last night.
315 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231