Brad Brown had something of an epiphany last year when he started a pop-up pizza night on Fridays at his Blue Frog Bakery in Jamaica Plain. A casual attempt to beat the dog days of summer, it unexpectedly caught fire.
“I remember one night we did 70 pizzas in two hours, and Brad turned to me and said, ‘I’m in the wrong business,’” recalls Ginger Russell, Brown’s fiancée and business partner. “People still call the Blue Frog and ask about Pizza Fridays.”
That success planted the seed for Brown’s latest venture, a pizzeria that doubles as a charming cafe and bakery during the day. Also on Green Street, across from the Green Street T stop and just an 8-minute walk from the Blue Frog, the new place is called La Rana Rossa (Italian for “The Red Frog”).
With a five-year lease, and the option to extend for another five, La Rana Rossa is a major improvement over the previous tenant. Cafe Bartlett Sq had good intentions but a glaring identity crisis. In addition to pastries, coffee, soups, sandwiches, and ice cream, it was fond of touting its “oysters on the patio.” None of it made much of an impression.
La Rana Rossa, however, is poised to join Canto 6 Bakery, Ula Cafe, and the taqueria Chilacates as another neighborhood standby in this underserved stretch of JP. In addition to Bella Luna, it’s giving the neighborhood another solid option for pizza.
Brown and Russell took over the space in December but officially opened in early January, with pizza delivery starting a few weeks ago. After more than a decade in the cozy confines of Blue Frog, Brown, a veteran of kitchens at Sonsie and Masa, now has room to stretch and flex some culinary muscle.
He’s off to a promising start. The menu is still limited, but his pizzas — thin and soft with chewy crusts — are inspired. (They’re served nightly from 5 to 9 p.m.) The Cheeburger Cheeburger Cheeburger ($14) is as delightful as its name. Essentially a deconstructed cheeseburger in pizza form, the pie is layered with chunks of seasoned beef, shredded lettuce, and a “secret sauce” that would indeed work well on a burger. “I’m a little scared of that one,” said a dining companion upon seeing it, before changing her tune after the first bite: “OK, that’s pretty good.”
Oil-cured black olives, onions, capers, anchovies, and spicy tomato sauce create a melange of intense flavors on the pizza Puttanesca ($14), and even this avowed hater of olives reached for a second slice. For the traditionalist, the roasted mushroom pizza ($12) arrives under a pile of arugula and red onion, the mushrooms tender and savory. The four cheese pie ($11) doesn’t sound too tempting, yet it disappears within minutes.
Of the three salads, the classic Caesar ($6.50) is enough for a meal, heavily dressed but delectable to the last bite. There’s no dessert yet, but try to snag one of the chocolate chip cookies ($2), which are usually still for sale during dinner hours, along with loaves of bread.
Brown admits La Rana Rossa is a work in progress. He and Russell, who manages the restaurant, hope to introduce appetizers soon, and they’re in the process of applying for a beer-and-wine license. The space posed serious restrictions, as it wasn’t constructed with the proper ventilation system to accommodate a fully functioning kitchen. That means there’s no grill, no gas stove, no deep fryer, and so on.
“Which is why it worked perfectly for us to open a pizzeria,” Brown says, noting that the menu relies exclusively on two convection ovens. “Not everyone could make this space work, but so far it’s a good fit for us.”
LA RANA ROSSA
154 Green St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-5373, www.laranarossapizza.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Pizzas $11-$14. Salads $6.50.
Hours Daily 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
What to order Classic Caesar salad, Cheeburger Cheeburger Cheeburger pizza, roasted mushroom pizza, pizza Puttanesca, chocolate chip cookies.James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jreedwrites.