It is a unique place that can transform itself from a casual, family friendly lunch and dinner spot to a young and hip late night stop after a dinner of popcorn at the movies. Romanacci Cafe (which translates as “From Rome”) on the Norwalk-Westport border is such a place, offering Artisan pizzas, salads, Focaccia paninis, crepes and freshly made Italian pastries.
Tucked into a strip center on the Post Road, Romanacci is the handiwork of two brothers, Graziano and Maurizio Ricci. Both hail from Rome, where they attended culinary school and worked alongside their parents as well as in other family-run restaurants.
Graziano migrated to the US almost 18 years ago and eventually oversaw the kitchen in New Haven’s Hot Tomatoes. He subsequently convinced his younger brother, Maurizio, to join him as its maître d’, and they finally chased their dream of owning a restaurant. When the owner of Norwalk’s Osteria Romana decided to sell his business, the brothers decided to purchase the restaurant with the intention of bringing a younger attitude and clientele to complement Graziano’s fresh pastas, breads, and sauces. Osteria Romana continues to thrive with a loyal and regular crowd, outdoor seating and a cozy bar area.
But it is Romanacci, just a few doors away that now offers the casual, drop-in ambiance that reminds one of a café or espresso bar in Rome. Originally a variety store, the original plan was to use it as a back-up kitchen or “laboratory” to highlight Graziano’s daily made pastas, breads, sauces and pastries. Loyal customers started purchasing many of the freshly made items and eventually tables were added for them to enjoy pizza and pastries. Suddenly, Graziano’s dream of a fun, casual restaurant reminiscent of his homeland was within reach. Both brothers began to design the interior with its bright orange wall, blackboard menus, high-top wood tables, recycled wood counter/bar and a new brick oven. A savvy female guest even suggested the handbag hooks, which are provided at every table and under the counter (ladies take note…I love this!).
They outfitted the young and attentive staff in black and white striped tops and trained them to make the Espresso Bar drinks, which include “Cappuccino Romanacci,” with Nutella, foam and whipped cream, and a frosty “Frappuccino” topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The restaurant also serves Lavazza coffee and offers at least ten different coffee variations.
Pizzas include the traditional Neapolitan style Margherita with Marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, sliced basil and enough EVOO to create a soft, juicy slice craved by many. The Fontana De Trevi includes just the right balance of Arugula, Prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, Grana Padano cheese and truffle oil. The crust is flavorful and bubbled along the edges. All of the pizzas are served on rugged wood boards to add to the rustic feel of the place.
The salads and paninis are quite good, with three daily salads and up to six Paninis, including “La Classica,” Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil. The “Salame Che Sei,” a spicy Roman Salamino, Asiago, and Hot Cherry Pepper combination, all served on homemade Focaccia bread.
For late night visits, order a Meat and Cheese Plate, where each customer creates a personalized combination from over six Italian meats and cheeses. Pair wedges of Asiago, Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano with a side dish of honey, walnuts and dried cranberries. For meats, enjoy thinly sliced Prosciutto Di Parma, Prosciutto Cotto and Salame Genovese, all paired with a glass of wine. Romanacci offers both Italian and California wines by the glass or bottle, seven choices of bottled beer, Peroni on tap plus a constantly changing special beer.
If you crave sweets, fresh daily made Italian pastries including cannoli, tiramisu, cookies and crepes are also available.
The brothers spend equal time at both Osteria Romano and Romanacci, although Graziano smiled when I asked him which place he preferred, “This is my baby” he said gesturing around Romanacci…as a proud papa look crossed his face.
250 Westport Ave
203 956 7103