Roma Tomatoes: A plum Italian-American experience

Roma Tomatoes serves up Italian-American flavors on Old Trolley Road in Summerville.

Tomatoes Restaurant morphed into Roma Tomatoes Restaurant this year. New ownership and management have tweaked this destination for “Sunday supper” where Nonna is in the kitchen and the flavors of the “old country” are kept alive.

The space has been reconfigured with a snug, classic bar to the left of your entry. It is remarkable for what it does not have: no flat-screen TVs. The only sounds are that of glasses clinking with refrains of cin-cin or salute.

The open kitchen now has a carefully set counter where you can watch the live theater of your meal being prepared. The dining room proper is home to booths and tables, and a small “staging” area has been set aside for musical performances of piano or guitar. At the time of our visit, Thomas Bailey Jr. provided the perfect ambient soundscape and a repertoire of music that spanned eight decades.

The Italian tchotchkes are out in full swing, from travel posters to still life, ornate metalwork to the “soldiers” of wine bottles lining the room or captured in the artwork.

The feeling is comfortable and cozy with flowers and tea lights enhancing your experience.

The menu has increased just a bit in price, but entrees and pastas can easily be found in the $11-$15 price range. Roma stays the course with agro dolce chicken wings ($9.95) served with Gorgonzola dipping sauce (an Italian blue cheese). Antipasti can be had for four at the cost of $15.95, a mere $4 per person for a platter of cured meats, cheeses and vegetables. The mussel appetizer ($11.95) served in a cream sauce is rich and filling, and can easily be a meal in itself.

We began with a bruschetta trio ($7.95) of thin, crisped bread slices topped with freshly diced tomatoes fragrant with garlic, a spread of pesto flavored ricotta cheese and roasted peppers with a bit of vinegar’s tang. Nine generous pieces made for an auspicious beginning.

Salads are available in full and half-portions ($4.25-$10.95). The leafy romaine was fresh and crisp in the Caesar salad, but anchovy and garlic were lacking and we missed the robust kick these ingredients add to the dressing.

Entrees are served with your choice of a side. Additional sides are $3.25 and include spaghetti with marinara sauce, the risotto of the day, seasonal vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes and fresh fruit.

The pasta options have been streamlined from the former Tomatoes menu, where more than 19 choices provided either pasta nirvana or confusion.

A simple pasta fresca ($13.95) or spaghetti marinara ($10.95) will please those who like their macaroni uncomplicated. Ravioli ($14.95), lasagna ($13.95) and eggplant Parmesan ($13.95) will please the ricotta lovers.

The coastal connection is made with scampi ($14.95), mussels ($18.95) in cream sauce or ($16.95) in white wine sauce. The kitchen will cheerfully switch clams, shrimp and mussels in these pasta dishes; up-charges apply.

The new kitchen has crafted four signature dishes, and we tried the baked ziti ($12.95) that combines tender tubes of ziti with fresh mushrooms and piquant sausage, all tossed in a thyme-flavored tomato sauce crowned with a lush mantle of mozzarella cheese. This classic “Sunday at Nonna’s” dish made for one night’s dinner and another day’s lunch.

The dishes at Roma Tomatoes are entrenched in the Italian-American vernacular.

The portions reflect the “American” in the Italian-American dining experience: Many dishes are abundant in size and awash in sauce. Neighboring tables were delighted with their to-go bags, as the night’s dinner would become tomorrow’s lunch. The same was true for us.

Along with pastas stuffed and pastas layered, Roma Tomatoes offers the Parmesan, piccata and Marsala families: Look for fork-tender veal and succulent chicken cutlets, all served with a side of your choosing.

Veal Marsala ($19.95) is the most expensive menu item, and the kitchen does justice to the nutty Marsala sauce. The tomato sauce topping the spaghetti side was a bit lackluster in flavor, but the veal was tender as promoted and the sauce well-made.

Wines are available by the glass ($5.50-$10) and offer well-matched selections to the restaurant’s menu. The list is well-organized, and we stuck with the menu’s pairings and were not disappointed.

Desserts are made in-house and feature cheesecake, tiramisu and chocolate mousse cake, all $6.95, or a scoop of ice cream for $1.95. They were rich and filling.

Our young server was attentive and polite, but as the dinner hour approached 7:30 p.m., she was not sure of the bruschetta of the day, the risotto of the day or the seasonal vegetables. With dinner service well under way, that was baffling.

In the true manner of the Italian-American experience, Roma Tomatoes is not an impostor on the scene, but an adapter.

Roma’s embraces the red sauce nation of the immigrant Italian in America.

Just as most of those immigrants brought their “tables” with them, Roma Tomatoes flexes its culinary muscle with its interpretation of regional classics and local ingredients.

Roma Tomatoes is no ordinary pasta mill. It is headed in the right direction for a plum Italian dining experience.

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