The cozy front dining room at Romo’s Italian Kitchen & Bar at 108 Abendroth Ave.
Jananne Abel|Westmore News
The cozy front dining room at Romo’s Italian Kitchen & Bar at 108 Abendroth Ave. Jananne Abel|Westmore News
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Taking over a space where two other Italian restaurants lasted only a matter of months before it, Romo’s Italian Kitchen & Bar at 108 Abendroth Ave. is destined to be different—for many reasons.

To begin with, this is James Romanelli’s first venture on his own after working in pizzerias and Italian restaurants since he was 14. The new restaurateur, who will turn 32 on Valentine’s Day, is motivated.

Second, his wife Ashley, who has worked in event planning and catering, is lending a hand to get Romo’s up and running. The couple just got married at the end of January.

Third, James and Ashley are hands-on operators. He designed the menu, makes the pizzas and does most of the cooking. She handles the front end of the business.

“I’ve been in the kitchen since I was real little,” Romanelli said. “That’s where I am most comfortable.”

Romanelli started working in pizzerias as a bus boy and waiter. “Then I started making pizzas and realized I like the back end the best,” he said. He worked his way up with The Lombardo Group for the past 15 years and became a small partner at Lombardo’s in White Plains. Then he was ready to go out on his own.

“Somebody told me about this space, and I decided it would be a good fit for what I was trying to do,” said Romanelli, who hails from Valley Stream on Long Island. “I wanted a place where I could do more than pizzas.” He wanted to have a bar, be able to do happy hour, dinners and catering.

The food at Romo’s can be classified as modern Italian. “There is a hip flair to all of the items that don’t make them so traditional, a new take on Italian food,” Ashley said. The prices are reasonable.

Specialties

Among the restaurant’s specialties are Lasagna Bechamel ($14), which is made with meat sauce, béchamel sauce instead of cheese and sliced hard-boiled eggs. “It’s delicious!” Ashley exclaimed. Since the menu explicitly says this lasagna is made with hard-boiled eggs, I had been hesitant to try it, but now I must.

“It’s a Sunday dinner type of thing,” said James. “I always cooked in the family.”

“They put hard-boiled eggs in the Sunday dinner sauce,” Ashley explained, “so it’s something he grew up with. Lasagna is one of his favorite meals.”

In addition, “Chicken Scarpariello ($22) is a big hit here with the sweet and spicy peppers and potatoes and sausage,” Ashley said. ‘The sauce is a little thicker than traditional. Ours is boneless.”

Thirdly, she said, Oreganata Pizza ($18) is a Romo’s specialty. Made with shrimp, clams and toasted bread crumbs, “it tastes like a big baked clam.”

The brick oven pizzas served in the restaurant are thin 10” pies while you can get 18” Neapolitan, Sicilian or Grandma’s pizza ($16-$30) from Romo’s Pizzeria at 23 North Main St. There pizza is also available by the slice, and chicken rolls and calzones are made to order.

Ambiance added to remodeled space

James and Ashley opened Romo’s Nov. 17 in the large space that had been newly renovated by the owners of Brandi Trattoria and Brandi Pizzeria which preceded it. “We made it a little more warm, added ambiance to the place,” Ashley said. “We switched some of the ovens, decorated a little more and made it a little more homey.”

The space, which seats about 150 in two dining rooms and a party room, is nicely broken up into different areas to make it feel cozy. Decorated in shades of gray and white, it’s modern but not stark, and the new operators have added silk flowers, potted plants, grasses and trees, a decorative pizza paddle with “Romo’s Italian Kitchen & Bar” emblazoned on it and new wall art.

The front dining room with its booths, tables, brick wall and large screen TV gives off the warmest vibe. It is separated completely from the contiguous long white bar which seats another 20. A cozy seating area adjacent to the bar creates a lounge which extends out onto the stone deck where there will be seating for 50 once spring and summer arrive. Behind the bar is the pizza prep station and a blue and white tiled brick oven from Italy, which cooks pizzas in 90 seconds. The name on it has been changed from Brandi to Romo’s, short for Romanelli’s.

The striking and varied light fixtures throughout the restaurant catch your eye, especially the one in the entryway which is duplicated on a larger scale in the second dining room. It is made from or designed to look like an amalgamation of metal test tube/bottle brushes and test tubes. On the same theme, large beaker-shaped globes hang above the bar and from the ceiling in the party room, reached by walking through the second dining room. Frosted glass doors separate the party room from the second dining room on one side and the pizzeria on the other. The pizzeria, which seats eight, is designed to be entered from North Main Street although you can also reach it by traversing the restaurant. You can also reach the restaurant by passing through the pizzeria. Besides the cool light fixture, a decorative wall in the second dining room was created by stringing together large round metal patterned disks which creates additional interest.

Dinner for two

My husband and I had dinner at Romo’s on the last Sunday in January. Starting with two cocktails, their Cranberry Moscow Mule ($12) and a Grey Goose Gibson ($13), both were up to snuff except the Mule disappointingly did not contain any fresh cranberries as I had expected from the description. It was flavored with cranberry juice, garnished with a sprig of rosemary and served in a Tito’s Handmade Vodka copper mug.

We started our meal with Baked Clams ($13), and they were among the best I’ve ever had. Nine meaty clams of various sizes were served on a rectangular white platter topped with bread crumbs, and extra crumbs and olive oil were swimming in the bottom. The clams were hot and crunchy and served with a lemon half covered in cheese cloth for neat, easy squeezing.

The bread comes direct from a bakery, “we blend it right on the spot and use extra virgin olive oil,” said Romanelli. “That’s what makes the difference.”

A bowl of Pasta e’ Fagioli ($7), made with white beans, carrots, tomatoes and ditalini (short tubes) pasta, was tasty, not too thick and served piping hot.

No bread came with the meal, so I asked about that. “We have bread upon request,” said Romanelli. “We don’t put it out because we want to encourage them to order the brick oven pizza. That is one of our signature dishes. Also, there is a lot of waste. I would rather have them ask for it.”

The Stuffed Shrimp ($24) entrée brought four large splayed shrimp stuffed with crabmeat in a savory scampi sauce and served with four small potato halves, two baby carrots with tops and two shoots of asparagus. The portion wasn’t huge, but this dish was tremendously satisfying.

This entrée also came with a small house salad of iceberg and romaine lettuce, sliced carrots, grape tomato halves, cucumber and red onions. I chose the excellent house Italian dressing with crumbled gorgonzola ($2).

The only choice that was somewhat disappointing was the Papardella Bolognese ($16), thick noodles with a tomato meat sauce which was a little sweet and light on meat. The pasta was stuck together, and the sauce was lukewarm, so we sent it back for heating.

For dessert, we ordered the crème brulée ($8) and two coffees ($2.50 each). Served in a large ramekin, the dessert was just the way it should be: creamy and light with a crunchy layer of burnt sugar on top.

Our check came to $107.40

Our waitress was pleasant, perky and efficient.

Other recommendations

Going back for lunch with two other people, we started with the 10” Brick Oven Margherita Pizza ($12) which filled a plate with the thin crust spilling over the edge. This popular pizza is topped with plum tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella and basil. It was plenty tasty and crunchy but not as good as that served at Brandi, the best I’ve ever had. Their Margherita pizza, made in the same brick oven, was advertised to have been made from the same recipe as the original Margherita Pizza created for Queen Margherita of Savoy when she visited Naples in 1889. It was designed to resemble the Italian flag with its red, white and green colors.

The menu is the same for lunch and dinner.

I wisely chose the Stuffed Pepper ($8) from the weekly specials, which are printed out on a separate menu and brought to your table along with the regular one. A red bell pepper was sliced open and filled with an appetizing, delicate blend of crumbled sausage, rice, onion, fresh tomato and garlic topped with tomato sauce.

Weekly specials include one appetizer, one pasta dish and one entrée—a meat or fresh fish dish determined by the season.

I also had the Insalata Pera ($10) which I highly recommend. Served in a 3-sided white bowl, this fresh spring mix also features walnuts and cranberries, a sliced soft purple/pink pear and a crunchy fried goat cheese patty on the side. There was nothing not to like about it. I was only disappointed that I had saved some for later and forgot to take it with me.

The Homemade Baked Manicotti ($12) brought three beautiful pasta rolls smothered in cheese and topped with tomato sauce which easily slid down my throat and were devoured by my husband in no time flat.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and James has a special price-fixed menu planned in addition to the regular one. In fact, the special menu will be available from Monday, Feb. 12 to Sunday, Feb. 18. You get a glass of wine, choice of appetizer, entrée, dessert and a glass of Prosecco for $75 per person. For entrée, there is a choice of Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb, Chilean Sea Bass with roasted red pepper sauce or Chicken Cordon Bleu and, for appetizer, Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi or Fig Crostini with burrata and a balsamic drizzle. Crème Brulée or Chocolate Lava Cake will complete the meal.

Happy hour

I haven’t yet taken advantage of the happy hour at Romo’s, but Mayor Richard “Fritz” Falanka, a big proponent of Romo’s, tells me you can’t beat it. The hours are 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 p.m.-midnight Thursday and Friday. The later hours are particularly intriguing.

During these hours, you can enjoy wine for $6, beer for $4, a Margherita 10” brick oven pizza for $6 and a variety of appetizers for $5 and $6.

Trivia Night at the bar, run by Let’s Go Trivia, got off the ground this week on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Brunch starting this month

Brunch will be served Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a mid-February launch. Brunch items range from $10 to $16 and include a complimentary cocktail: Mimosa, Bloody Mary, Peach Bellini or Apple Cider Prosecco. French toast, Cinnamon Swirl or Homestyle Pancakes, Belgian Waffles, Morning Flatbread with eggs, bacon and siracha, Nutella Crepes, Crabmeat Eggs Benedict and Lox and Cream Cheese on a pumpernickel bagel are some of the offerings.

Hours and parking

The hours at Romo’s are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch and 4 to 10 p.m. for dinner. The pizzeria, where you can eat in or take out, shares the same hours.

Free parking is available in the marina lot on Abendroth Avenue or in the temporary parking lot across from AMC Loews movie theaters until Colony Grill, currently under construction, gets its Certificate of Occupancy. Street parking is paid until 9 p.m. and free on Sunday.

How’s it going?

James said business has been good. “Weekends are very busy. We are trying to get people to know we are open for lunch. I don’t think everybody around here does that. I don’t think the previous place did. We had a nice crowd today which is nice to see.” That was Friday, Feb. 2. The previous Friday my party was alone in the dining room for lunch.

James is encouraged that Colony Grill will be opening on the triangular piece of property off the marina parking lot in the coming months. “The more people advertising and promoting this area, the better,” Romanelli said. “The fact that they are doing such a nice building” is a plus.