Frank and Rose Trifiletti have developed quite a reputation as the place to get sandwiches on the mainland at Rose's Garden Grill in Northfield. Using the freshest and best ingredients mixed with creative takes on classic sandwiches, soups and salads, it's a common sight to see people lined up in the tiny shop waiting for their sandwich fix.
With Rose's going strong for more than seven years thanks to a loyal customer base, the Trifilettis decided to take on its latest challenge: Roman Grill at Central Square.
"I'm reinventing the Roman because I'm a Roman," says Frank Trifiletti, the more eccentric and much more verbose of the two owners. "A lot of customers were saying we should expand and get a bigger place and do entrees and do this and that, and we were always just happy with having the Northfield location. But I thought about it and said, 'They're right. Rose's is quaint and offers the best sandwiches this side of the Mississippi, so why not try something new.' Central square got us motivated with an opportunity we couldn't turn down, and we thought we could offer a nice dinner menu. So we did it."
Open for about a month now, Roman Grill is really Rose's by day. Although the Northfield location remains open and busy as ever, diners can experience Rose's menu inside Roman Grill at lunch with a nicer ambience and plenty of seating.
But at night, Executive Chef Geoff Johnson, of Copper Fish in Cape May fame, takes over the kitchen, turning the Roman Grill into an approachable yet upscale dining experience.
"We wanted to give our customers an affordable dining experience in a great atmosphere," Trifiletti says. "We want them to enjoy some spectacular dishes - a real dining experience in Linwood - that won't break the bank. We want people to explore different cuisines and receive the same high experience that people know us for."
The menu, designed by Trifiletti and Johnson, offers a diverse experience ranging from the approachable gladiator burger ($10) topped with pork roll and maximus cheese fries ($7) with bacon, cheddar and Cheez Whiz to Italian dishes such as chicken or veal parmesan ($15, $17) and tortellini Carbonara ($14) with bacon, peas, mushrooms, onions and a parmesan cream sauce, to gourmet cuisine such as rack of lamb ($28) with port demi, to teriyaki-glazed Bermuda Bear salmon ($17), to lobster fra Diavalo ($24).
"You can get everything from Jamaican-style wings ($8) and crabby mac and cheese ($10) to veal osso bucco Milanese ($28) with saffron risotto," Trifiletti says. "We have a New York strip that makes your head spin off your shoulders for 20 bucks with mashed potatoes and frizzled onion. We are changing the way dining is perceived in Linwood."
Trifiletti is happy to find Johnson, a Little Egg Harbor resident best known as executive chef at Copper Fish, which he says recently closed. Johnson also has appeared on the Food Network's "Restaurant Stakeout" as a mystery diner and in a culinary competition on Bravo's "Rocco's Dinner Party" with Rocco DiSpirito.
Trifiletti says he knew he would hire Johnson immediately: "In the trial stage, all of these chefs were cooking for two hours and I went up to Geoff and said, 'You got the job.' He asked me, 'If I got the job, why are these people still cooking?' And I said, 'Because I paid for the ad in the paper, that's why!'
"It's great here because I still have the freedom to come up with dishes and to do a lot of stuff that I did in Cape May and bring it to Linwood," Johnson adds. "It's a different crowd here, but everything we have been doing has been a hit. I think people in Linwood are looking for a quasi-upscale experience without getting hit with a big bill at the end of the meal. I think we are offering a casual, but great product but people aren't blown away by the prices."
Some of the dishes at Roman Grill will look familiar to Copper Fish fans on the winter menu, including Kobe Loaf ($18), mini Kobe meat loaf stuffed with lobster and topped with lobster Bearnaise and severed over mashed potatoes; crab cakes ($20) with chipotle remoulade and crab potato hash; tuna carpaccio ($9) that is sesame-seared with seaweed salad and wasabi vinaigrette; and firecracker calamari ($10) with a spicy pepper-tomato sauce.
"We have a lot of fun by taking Frank's ideas and then I tweak them and we run with it," Johnson says. "Like the paella and the duck. He said, 'How about duck?' And I said, 'How about a duck confit ($23) with wild mushroom risotto?' And he loved it. I am open to anything, so it's a nice relationship."
Johnson will change the menu seasonally, so current, heavier items such as shepherd's pie ($17) with braised lamb, beef and veggies will be replaced by more seafood and dishes using Jersey Fresh produce.
"To me, it's about freshness … fresh seafood and sustainable produce," Johnson says. "It's about making soups and sauces fresh, and getting the fish in and cutting it down myself. Our popular bloomin' artichoke ($9) comes from fresh artichokes breaded up as we need them, and our calamari is fresh. And in the summer, I love cooking with seafood, especially white fish like flounder and sea bass as a healthy alternative, not fried. And everything has to look good. People eat with their eyes. So if it looks good, it starts the meal off on the right foot."
Roman Grill, located in the former Barrels location, looks nothing like the former Italian restaurant. With bleached oak hardwood floors, a fireplace, an incredible sound system and a counter area with a plasma TV, Roman Grill is comfortable yet classy.
"I wanted a relaxed atmosphere where people can bring a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer and see a movie on in the background while listening to incredible music and having great conversations," Trifiletti says. "I want this to be people's home base to eat in Linwood. I want them to bring a family and not have to spend 50 bucks on a steak. And the customers have reacted well. It's been outstanding. I think the mainland and island customers are the best in the world, and I want them to enjoy what we have built here."
Rose's Garden Grill
Roman Grill may offer the same lunch menu as Rose's Garden Grill in Northfield, but owners Frank and Rose Trifiletti say Roman Grill is an addition to their restaurant offerings, not a substitution.
"We are operating both places," Frank Trifiletti says. "Rose's is a monster, and it will continue to be so. Roman Grill just offers Rose's menu at lunch and then changes to a totally different menu at night. So if someone wants to experience what we have to offer at Rose's inside Roman Grill at lunch, they can do so with more seating and a more comfortable atmosphere."
At either place, you will experience some of the best sandwiches, salads and subs you will find in South Jersey, including the South Philly ($7.85) with parma prosciutto, imported capicola, Dilusse Genoa salami, sharp provolone and roasted peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and onions; hand-cut chicken cutlets such as the Enio ($7.45) with broccoli rabe, spinach and sharp provolone; the Cronick ($7.50), a cheddar cheesesteak with sour cream, fiesta ranch sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion; the John Fleishman ($6.95), crispy fried chicken, buffalo sauce, blue cheese and American cheese; and the old-schooler, the George Cimino ($6.50) with garlic roast pork.
There's also plenty of homemade soups, including the famous coral snake chili, burritos, salads and even vegetarian selections.