For years, Joe Pace ran the foodie mecca that is J. Pace’s – where your grandmother shopped in the North End, and later other area locations, for imported cheeses, olives, and cold cuts, fresh and imported pasta, Italian desserts, and sparkling Italian soda.
Back in the 1960s, Nicolo Pace opened a groceria in Boston’s historic North End. He was an immigrant from Orsogna, Italy, who brought over his son Joe, his wife, Rosaria, and his daughter, Maria. Today they still sell fresh meat, bread, cheese, produce and desserts, made with traditional specialty items that only Italian markets sell, at several area J. Pace's, but soon after Joe expanded the Saugus grocery to a luncheon counter, which served sandwiches and Italian dishes, he got the itch to open a steakhouse. So he built one upstairs over the Saugus market with his son, Joe Jr., and opened up over the summer. The restaurant started out as a steakhouse with seafood, but due to demand, expanded its Italian offering.
Named after Joe’s mother, Rosaria’s Steakhouse and Function Facility is off Route 1, next to J. Pace’s market on Main Street and a VFW. It’s easy to miss. But when you enter the lobby, you are greeted with a grand staircase (and an elevator is available. That didn’t stop us from overhearing a pair of women complain that they needed an, um, escalator.)
The restaurant is elegant yet relaxed. There’s a function room that features live music on the weekends, a large bar with sports on two TVs, and in good weather an outdoor patio with a waterfall. We sat in a comfy round booth. Lighting was muted, and when the band started in the nearby function room, it wasn’t loud. We arrived on a Saturday night we arrived at around 6:30 pm with no wait for a table, but by 8, there was a wait-list crowd lined up outside the bar.
Wait staff was friendly and very willing to answer any questions. Our glasses were constantly filled. Martini decanters were kept on ice. Eggnog martini was fantastic, but I recommend this for dessert, not as a starting drink; the limoncello martini was refreshing and crisp.
This came with warm house-made Italian bread, with a side of marinara, ricotta and olives for delicious dipping.
We started off with a Caesar salad, which came with white anchovies that were chopped finely, and crispy romaine; a special bonus were the deep-fried tiny balls of ricotta. It had just the right amount of dressing.
Appetizers included a platter of meats and cheeses with vegetables, and beef carpaccio with arugula, parmigiano Reggiano, crab cakes, and clams casino, but we wanted a pasta starter. We quickly disappeared a round of ricotta gnocchi, which were the lightest little pasta pillows dressed in San Marzano tomato sauce and parmigiano. We also loved the pumpkin ravioli in brown butter sage and walnut sauce, with a filling sweetened a bit with ground-up biscotti. Yum.
For our main dish, we ordered the swordfish with livornese sauce – capers and olives in tomato sauce – with grilled asparagus and a rice cake with truffle oil; and the surf and turf – filet mignon, which was perfectly medium rare and tender, and lobster carbonara, sweet chunks of lobster atop house-made fettuccini served in a martini glass for effect. The pasta seemed a bit dry, but the lobster was perfect.
As a steakhouse, they serve corn-fed aged Midwestern Prime grade cuts of Filet Mignon, New York Sirloin, bone-in Prime rib-eye, rib lamb chops, and veal rib chops. You also get your choice of Barolo mushroom demi-glace, béarnaise sauce, arugula pesto, horseradish cream, or melted bleu cheese.
This place was wasted on the kids: one ordered good ol’ spaghetti, and another the pappardelle with tomato sauce, instead of the delicious-sounding Short Ribs and mushrooms with Truffle Oil (I did get the recipe, see below.) They would have nothing to do with the mac and cheese with mushrooms. But the tomato sauce was flavorful and light.
Sides include Tuscan Brussels sprouts with onion and pancetta, baked sweet potato, crispy onion strings, sautéed spinach or broccoli rabe, and grilled asparagus, along with daily veggie specials.
Manager Massimo D’Alelio was on hand to check on all the customers, and recommended a bottle of Toscana based on our entrees. For VIP customers, ornate wine lockers kept in the darkened hallway hold their chosen wines, which the restaurant provides at a discount to locker holders.
The meals were served on time; we were warned that dessert would be slightly delayed because I had ordered the chocolate soufflé. It was worth it, rich and warm with vanilla gelato atop a sunken cake. The boys loved the gelato, which was rich and creamy. We were also tempted by the tiramisu, ricotta cake with pine nuts, and panettone bread pudding, or for a lighter ending, maybe a sorbet. Maybe next time.
Overall, this spot rivals Boston steakhouses in terms of swank as well as price point, but the parking is free and it’s convenient for the North Shore crowd. There aren’t a lot of high-end restaurants in the area, and even fewer nice steakhouses that also serve Italian. It's an independently owned restaurant, which I always like to support.
We didn’t feel rushed, and the service was great. The atmosphere was elegant, but we could still bring the kids and not feel out of place.
D'Alelio said that they have offered Groupons to build up the Monday-Wednesday crowd, because the prices seem pretty special-occasion. But the bar menu is reasonable and creative: $1 Oysters, Shrimp Scampi Bruschetta $10; Grilled 12oz burger — the house blend of Chuck and Brisket — topped with Aged Vermont Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, and Maple Bacon on a Fresh Bakery Roll $10; Sliced Sirloin Sandwich with Caramelized Onions and Hand cut French Fries $8; Meatballs with Spicy Arrabiata Sauce $7; Chicken Saltimbocca Sandwich – Served open face topped with Parma Prosciutto, Fontina Cheese & Sage, served with Hand cut French Fries $9; Fettuccine Carbonara with Lobster - $10; and Mini Arancinis – Traditional Mini Rice Balls $8.
Rosaria’s is also offering a Thanksgiving menu this Thursday, 1-5pm: prix fixe special menu at $44 per person, $18 for children under 14, and children under 6 free, not including tax. Choose from each course: Appetizers that include jumbo shrimp cocktail; sausage and rabe stuffed mushrooms; jumbo lump crab cakes; or a house salad with bleu cheese and crispy pancetta. Main course choices are salmon fillet with a truffle oil rice cake and julienne vegetables, and citron sauce; baked stuffed shrimp; filet mignon with rice cake and sautéed rabe; prime rib; or roast turkey with all the trimmings. And end with dessert: tiramisu, chocolate cake, apple or pumpkin pie, or NY-Style cheesecake.
For reservations, call 781-558-2759.
190 Main St.
Saugus, MA 01906
Pappardelle with Short Ribs
by Simone Fioretti, Rosaria’s Executive Chef
- 1oz Shallots
- 2oz Butter
- 1oz Olive Oil
- 6oz Homemade Pappardelle
- 5oz Wild Mushrooms
- 5oz Shredded Short Ribs Meat
- 2oz Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1oz Heavy Cream
- 3oz Chicken Stock
Sauté oil, shallots and butter in a pan. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add the meat, chicken stock and cream. Let it simmer. Cook the pasta in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss it in the sauté pan with the other ingredients. Add the parmesan cheese and Buon Appetite!