The opening of Ridgewood’s newest restaurant Rolo’s, located at 853 Onderdonk Avenue, at Cornelia Street, may be several months behind schedule than its the owners had hoped for, but if there’s one thing the team has learned over the past year, it’s that constant change and adaptation is par for the course during a pandemic.
“We’ve stopped trying to guess what’s coming next,” says Howard Kalachnikoff, a Gramercy Tavern alum, and one of the chefs and owners of the restaurant. “Our concept right now allows us for a lot of flexibility.”
In time for the January 13 debut, the restaurant has developed a robust takeout and delivery program while also opening a grocery store and cafe indoors to sell sauces, condiments, and fresh pasta — all prepared in-house, alongside the restaurant’s hearty wood fire-grilled food.
The changing needs of the pandemic era lines up neatly with Rolo’s rotating weekly menu. Customers can either opt for the $17 per person family-style dinner package that will come with three to five items like grilled porchetta, sofrito fried rice, and a cauliflower salad. Or there’s an a la carte menu that will be available for lunch and dinner; this includes items like the porchetta on the dinner menu that goes into a sandwich served on ciabatta topped with provolone cheese, broccoli rabe, and a fennel gremolata. Other sandwiches include a turkey creation with celery salad and blue cheese, and a vegetarian option with cheddar cheese, sliced cucumbers, pickled peppers, and a hard-boiled egg.
Their a la carte menu is grab-and-go friendly with items like a wood-fired half chicken that’s served alongside garlic confit in chile oil; a variety of focaccia served with toppings including kale, currants, and pecorino; and dessert items like house-made pies and cookies.
Ahead of its opening, the Rolo’s team partnered up with Park Slope’s Winner Cafe and Bakery on its friends and family meal series. “It was one of the first times we got to cook publicly in Rolo’s name,” says Kalachnikoff. “We got a lot of positive feedback.”
But the freshly prepared food is just one side of Rolo’s; the grocery store component will be a large part of the restaurant’s early existence as well. Much like other new establishments — like Milu — that opened during the pandemic, the Rolo’s team is banking on the grocery and cafe model to help it stay afloat as the restaurant industry faces a raft of COVID-19-related restrictions, including the back and forth return and subsequent ban on indoor dining in the last few months.
As part of this grocery store operation, Rolo’s will be serving up freshly made pastas like fusili and tagliatelle, sauces like lamb and pork ragu and pumpkin seed pesto, and a variety of dips and dressings including a yogurt and beet garlic dip and a green peppercorn ranch. Rolo’s will also stock a limited amount of fresh produce and sell meats butchered in-house, such as sausages. The grocery’s ready-to-eat items include mac and cheese and a line of house-made ice creams with flavors like mint stracciatella, caramelized banana, and grapefruit sherbet.
“We’ve been thinking about how we can give people a great experience, what will give people joy, while also creating dishes that can travel well and will last in your refrigerator,” says Ben Howell, one of the partners at Rolo’s, who will be overseeing the front-of-house operations at the establishment.
What’s now serving as the restaurant’s grocery store and cafe was originally the space for its bar operation, but that hasn’t stopped Rolo’s from serving booze to go. Under Howell’s lead, the restaurant is preparing batched cocktails that can serve either two to three people (small) or four to six (large). Cocktails include an apple cardamom old fashioned, a pineapple rum negroni, and a spicy mezcal punch. The grocery store will also have a small wine, beer, and liquor section highlighting local producers like Forthave, New York Distilling Company, and St. Agrestis.
For now, Rolo’s is sticking to takeout and delivery indefinitely alongside the market and cafe. Once restaurants are allowed to resume full-service operations, the bar room will open to the full expanse of this 2,400-square-foot space that will eventually be able to seat 100 people in the dining room and will be anchored around the restaurant’s wood-burning stove. At that time, the cafe and market portion will transform into a bar in the evenings with banquette and table seating.
After initially planning an outdoor dining rollout, Kalachnikoff and Howell say they decided against it because of the cold weather and the enormous financial undertaking to make it comfortable for people to eat outdoors right now. Instead, the duo says they are prepared to roll out an outdoor dining setup within a week once the warm is warm enough.
Kalachnikoff and Howell say they’re unsure if the grocery store will be a permanent fixture but if there’s enough demand, they envision the grocery store getting its own little space nearby in the future. Along with Kalachnikoff and Howell, Rafiq Salim and Paul Wetzel — all colleagues from their time working at Gramercy Tavern — are also partners and chefs at the restaurant.
“We feel really lucky that we have this opportunity to practice and get good at doing takeout and our dinner package before fully opening the restaurant later in the year,” says Howell.
Rolo’s is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Customers will be able to place orders through the Toast tab on the restaurant’s website, and can also call the restaurant to schedule a delivery or pick-up.