Chris Mordecai loves his East Rock neighborhood – the pedestrian vibe, the markets, the delis. What’s not to love about a vibrant city neighborhood? Only one thing was missing: a barista-style coffee shop with regular hours. A place you could grab breakfast or lunch, set up your laptop, sip a latte and watch the street life. Working at AT+T but not being a big fan of corporate America, Mordecai took a flyer and filled the gap by launching Cafe Romeo on Orange Street three year ago. He and his lifelong friend Bruno Massaro had no restaurant or food experience so they partnered with longtime market owner Romeo Simione of Romeo & Cesar’s farther up Orange Street. “Now my whole life revolves around Orange Street and the East Rock neighborhood,” he says.
Although Cafe Romeo is a relatively new arrival, much of the neighborhood feels it’s been there forever. “We have a lot of customers who come in two, three times a day. People love to come to the cafe, they truly do,” says Mordecai.
Cafe Romeo has been so successful that he’s had several inquiries to open others around town and in other cities. But between his constant presence at the Cafe and the additional breakfast and lunch catering he does, well, he’s got enough on his plate.
When they were mulling over the basic concept of the Cafe, the “original thought was coffee and lunch, and who doesn’t love pizza?” says Mordecai. “We had the opportunity to put in the [wood-stone] pizza oven” and one of their most popular menu offerings was born. They even offer gluten-free pizza.
Mordecai points out there’s a lot of restaurant competition on Orange Street. The Cafe relies heavily on foot-traffic. To entice eaters on their way to work or school by foot or bike (the Cafe has no parking lot) Mordecai points out, “The food is fresh, all made daily at the Cafe. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan options. We use the best ingredients we can buy. It makes food that would be okay taste better, it really does.”
Mordecai continues, “Every single baked good we make here at the cafe. We have two full-time bakers. Any dessert is made here.” Only the bread and croissants are from New York, which distinguishes the Cafe from other Orange Street eateries that use the same breads.
All the Orange Street delis and markets have outdoor seating, and Cafe Romeo is no different. “On a nice fall day all the places on Orange Street are equally busy, and everyone is sitting outside,” Mordecai says. But the Cafe also offers something the others don’t – indoor seating for when the weather’s bad.
No matter what the weather, even diners inside still get a sense of the outside through large overhead doors (up in warm weather, down in cold). Settled in with steaming mugs of latte, they can watch their laptops or the street scene scroll by.
Restaurant Website: http://cafe-romeo.com/
• The Detes: 534 Orange St., New Haven. 203-865-2233. Open seven days, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (winter), and to 9 p.m. in the summer.
• Price Range: Appetizers $5, Entrees $11-15, Large pizza $15 .
• Style of Food: Contemporary deli
• Favorite dishes: Pizza (gluten-free available), turkey club sandwich, mango wrap and mango salad in the summer, apple wrap in winter.
• Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free: Most definitely
• Drinks: classic, upscale coffee bar
• Outdoor seating: high tables and bar-style stools
• Catering: popular for breakfast and lunch