Rosie’s Italian, along with its sister restaurant, Crown Republic, is located in a relatively out-of-the-way corner of downtown Cincinnati. It’s on the northeast side of the central business district, notable mostly for the density of high-rise apartments. Many are in recently renovated buildings, and they are almost fully occupied. I know this from having gone on a Downtown Living Tour about a year ago, during which we got an insiders’ look at these high-demand dwellings.
The apartments, and there are hundreds of them, tend to be on the small side – one-and two-bedroom units populated mostly by younger singles and couples without children. They make up an excellent market for restaurants like Rosie’s, which offers straightforward, uncomplicated Italian fare and pizzas at mid-range price points. Tables are closely packed, the surfaces are hard, and even when not fully occupied, the room resounds with a lively buzz of laughter, conversation and people enjoying themselves.
Crown Restaurant Group owns Rosie’s, and their first venture in this neighborhood was on the same block. Crown Republic Gastropub opened in June 2018 with Anthony Sitek as chef alongside his wife, Haley Nutter-Sitek, co-owners of what has become a growing empire of “scratch-kitchen” eateries. A few months later, the couple revamped the former Anchor restaurant near Washington Park and opened the steakhouse, Losanti.
In 2021, they added Rosie’s Cocktails & Pies, specializing in pizzas, and this fall rebranded the restaurant as Rosie’s Italian. They’re still making a couple of pizzas, but now you can also try one of several pastas and a few classic Italian dishes along the lines of eggplant parmesan, chicken piccata and shrimp scampi. Several of these additions spring from Sitek’s grandmother’s recipes, he says.
The changeover took a few weeks and involved more than new menu items.
“We changed the cosmetics completely,” Sitek says, adding that they transformed the dining room into “more of a Brooklyn or North Jersey 1950s vibe.”
While Nutter-Sitek is from Cincinnati, Sitek grew up in New Jersey and wanted to turn Rosie’s into a traditional red-sauce Italian eatery, a plan that grew into reality in part when pizza ingredients became more expensive during the past year or so.
“You can only charge so much for a pizza,” he says, noting the steep increase even in something as basic as flour.
Although Sitek now oversees four kitchens, he relies on a core management staff that has been with him for over four years. Each restaurant also has a chef de cuisine to handle day-today operations, including Ivan Rufino at Rosie’s, who worked with Sitek even before he moved to Cincinnati to begin this phase of his career.
I never made it to Rosie’s in its earlier form but went recently with three others to give it a try. Although it was midweek, the place stayed full until about 8:30 p.m., when a few tables opened up.
Right away, I was intrigued by the drink offerings. In addition to a list of mostly Italian wines by the glass or bottle, another menu page includes four sections: cocktails, beer, aperitives and spritzes. All of these emphasize Italian ingredients and techniques, even offering a couple of Italian beers. The spritzes are especially fun and inventive with not only the popular Aperol spritz, but also one with Miller High Life as an ingredient and one of my favorite light drinks, Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda). And I really do want to go back and try some of the seven house cocktails.
The restaurant serves seven antipasti, five primi (pasta) dishes – three with roasted tomato sauce – and five entrees or secondi. We didn’t delve into the antipasti very thoroughly, opting for the one salad on the menu instead of any of the other, heartier appetizers. The salad wasn’t exactly light, with salami, parmesan, spicy peppers and a dressing that was a bit too vinegary for my taste. It definitely was large enough to split, and two salads were satisfactory for four of us.
Two of the pasta choices vied for my attention, but it was an easy decision to go with one of the best flavor combos in Italian cooking: Italian sausage, bitter greens and red chili flakes atop pasta. At Rosie’s, it’s orecchiette Pugliese (from the Puglia region of Italy) and delicious. This version uses chopped broccolini instead of the more traditional bitter rapini, and the result still has the satisfying blend of rich sausage, a bit of spice from the chili and a hint of bitterness from the greens. I thought it was the best thing we ordered.
Another pasta preparation you shouldn’t miss is bucatini carbonara. The toothsome pasta comes bathed in a rich egg-based sauce with bright English peas and salty lardons. We also tried the chicken parmesan, which did not come with pasta and was a little disappointing. The chicken came out on the dry side, a little overcooked. I think the shrimp scampi might have been a better choice; Sitek told me later that the shrimp dish was inspired by one of his grandmother’s recipes.
Rosie’s has only two desserts on the current menu, and we tried both. While I’m not usually a fan of fried, sweetened bread – also known as donuts – the sweet potato bomboloni won me over. A handful of two-bite, warm pastries came with a couple of sauces – salted caramel and a rich, dark chocolate – and made a perfect ending to our meal.
There’s more on the near horizon from this restaurant group: within the next few months, they’re opening Five on Vine in the expansive, corner space that was Mercer OTR. I was sad to see Mercer close, so it’s good news that the prominent spot in the heart of Over-the-Rhine’s bar-and-restaurant scene will once again serve the hungry masses.
Meanwhile, though, if you make your way to the northeast corner of downtown, you might enjoy a meal of pasta, scampi or pizza – perhaps with a glass or two of Italian wine – at Rosie’s.Rosie’s Italian, 300 E. 7th St., Downtown. Info: rosiesitaliankitchen.com.
Pama Mitchell is CityBeat's dining critic.