Editor’s Note: Romolo’s is now closed.
If you’re inspired to visit a restaurant in St. Paul and travel through time by way of its menu and interior design, Mancini’s may well leap to mind. But if Mancini’s modest 1950s-inspired supper club pomp exceeds your budget or patience, head out to the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, and eat at Romolo’s Restaurant.
Unlike Cook St. Paul, Ward 6, or Tongue in Cheek, Romolo’s is no charming upstart — it has been planted near the intersection of Arcade and Sherwood for more than 40 years, and it wears its history with pride. The exterior combines a drive-in-style roofed parking lot with a vintage gondolier sign that screams “classic, unadulterated Italian-American fare served here.” The interior delivers on the exterior’s promise. Romolo’s features large portions, low prices, and simple, classic flavors.
Pizza ($9-$19) at Romolo’s is square cut with chewy, aggressively browned cheese and a crust of almost cracker-like crispness. The sausage and green peppers pie we ordered was charmingly old school, with a nice, even distribution of toppings.
Better still was the menu’s featured hot Italian-American sandwich. The Rom Special ($8) builds on the Hot Dago concept (marinara, sausage patty and cheese between slices of bread) but makes some important tweaks. The menu describes the bread as “Italian toast,” but you might know this thick, buttery stuff as Texas toast. Whatever you call it, it could easily swamp the fillings of a less-aggressively stuffed sandwich. The Rom Special’s crispy bacon, thick, classic sausage patty, onions, and two types of cheese (American and mozzarella) speak up loud and clear. Marinara and hot peppers are served on the side, but both are needed to take the sandwich from “good” to “great.” The marinara moistens the texture and mellows out the flavor, while the mild heat and acid of the peppers brighten the whole package and serves as a counterpoint the cheese.
The food of Romolo’s is not world-changing nouveau anything. It’s simple, humble, classic fare. And at $8 for a sandwich big enough and substantial enough to feed two, it’s food worth coming back for.
Italian-American in Payne-Phalen
1409 Arcade St
St. Paul, MN 55106
BAR: Beer and Wine
PARKING: Lot and street
ENTREE RANGE: $6.50-10