There is nothing fancy about Caffe Roma, the Italian eatery at West 130th and Lorain, and that’s just the way diners want it. No linen tablecloths, silk curtains or highly polished floors. The emphasis is on food here, and that’s what draws people in, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
The success of Caffe Roma proves that word of mouth can be just as effective as heavy marketing if you offer a great product. We discovered Caffe Roma by accident a couple of years ago and decided to give it a try. The food was excellent, and business was slow enough on a Friday night that the owners were able to leave the kitchen and talk to us. We decided to make this our personal hangout any time we were on the West Side.
Imagine our surprise a few months later when we confidently strode in on a Saturday evening and asked for a table for five. “Do you have a reservation?” the hostess asked. A reservation? What had our no-frills ristorante become?
It still was a no-frills eatery, but word of Caffe Roma’s excellent, reasonably priced Italian food had spread like wildfire. Couples, families and boisterous groups of friends descended on the place, making it their own personal hangout.
We don’t mind sharing Caffe Roma with others. In fact, we like that we can’t get in the door on Saturday at 7 p.m. without a reservation, because that means the restaurant will likely be around for a long time.
Caffe Roma serves up hearty Italian food the way an old Italian grandma would: with heaping portions and plenty of fresh, mouth-watering ingredients. Spaghetti is ladled onto the plate, smothered in tasty meat or clam sauce. Cavatelli are cooked just right — not too meaty, not too wimpy. The lasagna stands about four inches high and is layered with the perfect amounts of meat and cheese. Even people who aren’t crazy about eggplant agree that the eggplant parmigiana is tender and delicious.
The pasta fagioli makes a great appetizer. The calamari, which is usually tender and not overly fried, was covered in a little too much breading the last time we were there. We’re willing to give it another shot next time, since it’s usually quite good.
The real test for our children is the pizza. These are kids who have been raised on American-style Italian pizza, and they don’t look for “authentic” Italian crust or toppings. But at Caffe Roma, the Sicilian-style pizza manages to offer both a thick crust and a sweet, airy dough, topped with tangy sauce and a mix of parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. In its early days, Caffe Roma only served cheese pizza, but these days you can enjoy it with your choice of toppings.
For dessert, there’s cannoli, pizzelles and gelato, and of course, you can enjoy these with an espresso or cappuccino.
Prices are reasonable, especially considering the amount of food you receive. Chances are you’ll have a healthy amount of leftovers to take home and enjoy the next day.
Things happen quickly at Caffe Roma. Originally, it was cash only, but the restaurant has been accepting major credit cards for about a year now. BYOB was the standard until a few weeks ago, when we brought our own bottle but then noticed an assortment of beer and wine at the bar. You can still bring your favorite alcoholic beverage, but Caffe Roma now has a license for beer and wine.
Caffe Roma is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 216-889-9999 for reservations and more information. We recommend making your first trip to Caffe Roma at lunchtime, on a weeknight or on Friday or Saturday around 5 p.m. That way, you’ll be able to dine at your leisure and also have a friendly chat with the owners, who have managed to create their own delicious Little Italy in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood.