Proving the secret is in the recipes, not the building
Don’t judge a restaurant by its building. That’s what I learned after eating at the Northland’s newest Italian eatery, Roma, located on Barry Road. While the Pizza Hut shaped building may look the same, the kitchen is pumping out family recipes from Sicily, not stuffed crust grease bombs.
Owner Jimmy Fetahu opened Roma Italian Restaurant in March. It’s his fifth restaurant; most are in Arkansas but this is his first outing in the Northland. Restaurants run in his blood–his parents have been in the industry for as long as he can remember. While there is no shortage of Italian food in the Northland, and in fact, Roma sits just down the street from the perpetually busy Olive Garden, but Fetahu says that he saw a need for some authentic recipes for the foods that he grew up loving.
Much of what sets Roma Italian Restaurant apart is their dedication to quality. They produce most of their products in house daily–fresh bread dough, pizza dough, lasagna, manicotti, you name it. If it isn’t made in house, Fetahu says that he works directly with a distributor that sources products such as desserts, olive oil and dried pastas from Italy, so an emphasis on authenticity is clear.
On my first visit for dinner, you could taste that quality. After being seated in a booth, we were greeted with warm yeast rolls. Roma doesn’t have a liquor license at the time of this writing but they are awaiting approval. The menu features a little bit of everything from expected Italian American appetizers like mozzarella sticks to the much more authentic sliced Italian sausage appetizer for $7.99.
The sausage itself was tasty, as I believe most sausage is, but the sauce that it came in was what made it stand out–a light sauce of olive oil, shallots, garlic, white wine and red peppers was fantastic. And with more homemade bread appearing all the time, there was plenty to sop up the sauce with. I had to pace myself though. Dinner was coming.
I ordered the Roma Special–grilled chicken and sausage mingled with roasted red bell peppers, ham, and black olives in alla panna sauce. It was served over spaghetti cooked al dente, just like ma would have made. The cream sauce was light and rosy with a tinge of tomato flavor as well. It was a large plate but not an embarrassing amount of food for $13.99. I still had lunch the next day without feeling like I had stuffed myself.
My husband chose the chicken piccata. Summer in Kansas City can prove daunting to the appetite and the lightly pounded chicken in a lemon and white wine sauce with capers over spaghetti hit the spot. His portion was similarly generous. Had we not devoured the sausage appetizer, it would have been a perfect amount for a single meal but with an appetizer, there was plenty for leftovers.
I returned for a solo lunch a week later. Their lunch menu includes many options from the dinner menu with a slightly reduced price. I chose the Pasta Sampler for $8.99. What I received was a bubbling, cheese covered celebration of baked pasta with portions of their manicotti, lasagna, and a tortellini. While the dish was satisfying, it could have used more space to breathe in a larger dish so that I could more accurately tell what was what under the comforting layer of cheese.
While there is no denying that you are eating in a former Pizza Hut, Fetahu and staff have done all they can to elevate the experience. Service is quick and kind and judging by the steady stream of customers during the dinner hour, the wait at Olive Garden may not be as long in the future. Roma is bound to pull some people away with reasonable prices and a friendly local staff.
There were so many items that I would like to go back and try–they make a selection of pizzas, as well as strombolis and a chicken roll that sounded like a grinder, something I haven’t seen on a menu since Mario’s in Westport closed so many years ago. And of course, Fetahu says I must come back for the tiramisu. I may just take him up on that.