While expanding his West Roxbury hot spot Rox Diner to a second location in Newtonville two years ago, John Fortin stumbled on a site for a possible third venture in nearby Newton Highlands. At the time, of course, his hands were full.
After work was completed in November 2011, he and partner Paul Louderback revisited the onetime Bakers’ Best location and began designing a new restaurant with a slightly different name and what he calls “a variation on our theme. We’ve taken the basic values when it comes to our approach to cuisine and service, but we’ve narrowed it down a little bit to something that is not as extensive as our diner menus,” Fortin, 39, says of Rox Cafe, which had a soft opening on Lincoln Street last week. In addition to a full bar, the place has a market, with takeout food. “The location that we moved into was famous for that sort of product and we wanted to make sure that we had something to maintain that demand.”
Q. How do you see Rox Cafe fitting into an area that has quietly developed into a food haven?
A. 51 Lincoln’s Jeff Fournier has been a tone setter here for awhile. He does fantastic work. There is a bar and restaurant around the corner called O’Hara’s [Food & Spirits], which is a neighborhood favorite that recently expanded. Bread & Chocolate — Eunice and her husband, Steve [Feller], are very talented and thoughtful. They’re more focused as a bakery but they can also do it all. So you’re right, I think you have a lot of solid options in Newton Highlands and the neighborhood itself is so cozy and quaint. Hopefully we’ll incrementally add to that.
Q. Are you more of a lunch place because of the market side?
A. We’ve definitely anticipated a really solid lunch crowd. We do breakfast, lunch, and dinner, that’s our thing, so we’ll have all three. Typically, I’m sure the midday will be the strongest at first, but we’re putting a lot of effort into the night menu. We’re going with a beverage program that doesn’t include national brands at all, so it stays kind of in line with the way that we do things in West Roxbury and Newtonville, which is trying hard to use as many local suppliers, farms, and artisans, as possible.
Q. Tell me about a few key dishes for each meal.
A. For brunch, the shining star is duck confit hash. We do a frittata with avocado and local chives and Alex’s Ugly Sauce, which is awesome. Our stuffed French toast is big. On the market side, we’re rolling along with the success we have with our Maine lobster roll at our other two places, so that’s going on a brioche roll from Iggy’s. There’s nothing more summery than that. We do the chicken salad with chicken, pears, and walnuts on our croissant. We do a lot of grilling of eggplants. There’s a grilled eggplant wrap with organic greens, fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil pesto. For dinner, we’re bringing in a rotisserie and we’re getting farm-raised chickens and doing a rotisserie half-chicken with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes. We’re doing a fig and pancetta meatloaf, ratatouille over grilled polenta, which is using a ton of local produce. With our flat-iron steak, rather than a compound butter or something of that ilk, we use herb Greek yogurt which is a nice little spin and works perfectly with steak, whether you’re going to dip your potatoes into it or the steak itself.
Q. What seasonal specials will you offer?
A. Our chef here, Mike Petrarca, we hit it off right away because we both agree that especially in the summertime in New England, you’re treated to so many local options. As far as brunch goes, we’re big into matching summer fruit with protein, so figs will be all over the summer menu as well as peaches. There’s a grilled chicken breast with grilled peaches and mint that will absolutely be a special. We’ve got a grilled cherry, arugula, and pecan salad that we’ll be special-ing. So especially when it comes to dealing with CSAs in summertime and cooking in Boston, I’d be leaving something out if I didn’t say that we’re going to be showing a lot of creativity and a lot of seasonal and local appeal through specials as the weeks change.