Apparently many people find Roseland Apizza "Nirvana in the Valley" while others say there is no competition. This place has a cult-like local following and gets good press, even though the service can be spotty and with an attitude. How does a typical Derby "Joe six-pack" family afford to eat here where pizzas can easily reach $20 and specials soar to $30?
It was not easy to find Roseland. It is up on a hill, in a residential area on the north end of town. It just about looks almost like any other house except for the neon signs and small parking lot.
Over and over people speak of the charming, comfortable,down-home, down at the heels feel of Roseland. It looks like a house with neon signs and may have once been a home. It's not very big and looks like it might seat 75, max. The interior is sorta "old Italian pizza joint" or country cafe. Lots of booths. It could be transported anywhere in the US and look at home. However, there is no lobby, foyer or bar. There is a place for about six to squeeze into a small corner while they wait, ala the long waits at the big three in New Haven. Obviously there is some connection between pleasure and pain when it comes to apizza! Like waiting in line, in the cold, snow and rain to be served by ill-tempered waitstaff. People exiting Roseland must run the gauntlet of those packed at the door waiting to be seated. I was "rammed" by a short, heavy-set woman as she bulled her way in without a word. She was obviously a local as she went right up to an employee and started having a long, congenial conversation.
We arrived at 6:30 and were seated about 7, even though they had some empty tables in the next diningroom. When we left at 8 the place was almost empty. They are not open for lunch. We had a chance to look at the large chalkboard across the room where they have appetizers, pizzas and specials listed. Once seated it was impossible to clearly read the board and the menu is very sparse. Sparse too is the wine and beer selection.
When our table was ready a waitress pointed across the room and said, "That's your table". On it was stacked three odd plates, of different sizes, three paper napkins and three forks. That was our seating and setup. One fork was a small salad fork.
We ordered a $25 bottle of 2006 Beringer Founder's Estate Cabernet. This is an $8-10 bottle of wine in a store! That's a big markup. And they were out of several other reds, when they only offer nine reds and three whites, total. They do offers some wine by the glass. Six beers in bottles and six beers on tap. Nothing real fancy except Sam Adams on tap.
We wanted to share a shrimp with prosciutto pizza. The waiter immediately asked us if we had been there before. He said the pizza was going to be $42. After we got off the floor we said OK. We were there for "the experience" based on the hype.
A sliced boule of Italian bread was brought to our table. It was cold and very cold in the middle. It was ordinary and was too similar to "white bread" to suit our tastes.
For the table I ordered zuppa de clams with white sauce (meaning fish-wine stock with basil). The stock was super salty and inedible when you dipped bread into it. What a waste! The dish obviously sat under the lights for a while. It was hot but the clams were partly dried out and were a little tough. That dish was $20!
The pizza we ordered was very much like a pizza from the big three in New Haven, with a thin, well cooked crust. There were 25-30 butterflied medium shrimp and a little prosciutto on it. We felt like they were skimpy with at least the cheese and sauce. The pizza was quite good and the shrimp were obviously fresh.
We ordered penne with sausage and marinara sauce. The sausages were probably the best Italian sausages I have eaten. They were extremely flavorful in a subtle way and the quality was very high. The meat was not ground, but chopped. Though flavorful, I was surprised to see that the marinara in the dish had only a small amount of oregano and parsley. A very good cheese was melted on top. For the price and the amount of pasta, we felt they skimped on the amount of sausage. This dinner came with a nice-sized, high quality salad. The house vinegar and oil was very good and just the right amount.
The three of us dropped $129, didn't have dessert, and only had one $25 (inflated price) bottle of wine! For the cost of the meal we thought service would be better. We poured our own wine and they didn't offer us anything else to drink when we ran out. They were slow to remove dishes and we did not ever get clean plates, fresh forks or additional napkins during the meal. One meager paper napkin apiece.
The menu itself is sparse and once seated it was hard for some of us to read the chalkboard. Why not a printed daily specials menu and some prices?
They have a policy of not permitting tips to be charged on your credit card. This seems very strange! How can they do that and why do they have that rule?
With prices at high-end downtown New Haven Italian restaurant levels (higher than apizza joints in New Haven), we thought we deserved more, regardless of the reputation. The food may be good and some portions large, but it is a very expensive no-frills joint.
350 Hawthorne Ave, Derby, CT 06418
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