If Roman’s Place, 2 S. Decker Ave., didn’t exist, “The Wire” creator David Simon would have had to invent it.
Linda Kuzmiw, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Roman, says Roman’s is definitely a throwback to “back in the day.”
“We are only the bar’s second owners. The first owned the place for 50 years,” she says.
The 27-year-old Highlandtown rowhouse bar/restaurant is about as far away from Canton’s gentrification as you can get. It’s typical Baltimore, but without the Honfest stereotypes.
It should come as no surprise that a newspaper writers’ and photographers’ group holds court in the tavern once a week.
Kuzmiw characterizes Roman’s menu as “old tavern fare,” and her description is apt. There’s nothing gourmet here. It’s strictly a hot platter (roast turkey, pork chops, roast beef) kind of place, where sauerkraut and lima beans are on the menu every day. You could call it unreconstructed American comfort food. Imagine eating at your grandma’s, but with a bar and six TVs.
A lot of Roman’s food is made from scratch by Roman, and all of the homemade items are worth trying.
“We roast three or four whole turkeys a week for our turkey club sandwiches. There’s no ‘lunchmeat’ turkey here. And I cut all of the rounds for our roast beef. We are fortunate in that we are small enough so that everything can be homemade. I like it that way,” Kuzmiw explains.
The turkey clubs ($7.75) and 1/2 chicken dinners ($9.95) are neighborhood mainstays, and local favorites like soft crabs ($14.95) and crab cakes ($14.95) are on the menu all year long. Ribs, which take a half hour to prepare, were recently added to the menu.
Roman’s is, fundamentally, a locals’ bar and restaurant.
“We have a group of customers who have been coming here since before we took over. We call them ‘the faithful.’ Until she passed away recently, we had a customer who’d been coming here to eat since the 1940s—60 years,” Kuzmiw explains.
Despite the retro feel, Roman’s is very much a part of contemporary East Baltimore. It has been sponsoring a monthly art installation, “Art on the Walls,” for six years.
“A lot of the bar’s and our neighbors are artists. They suggested we have monthly art shows at Roman’s,” says Kuzmiw.
Roman’s bar includes liquor, drafts—Fat Tire, Yuengling, Sierra Nevada, etc., $3.50-$4.50—plenty of canned and bottled beer, and a few wines.
Surprisingly, for a home-style restaurant, Roman’s does not serve dessert.
“My dad doesn’t make cakes and pies,” says daughter and bartender Andrea Butler, “and our portions are so large, people don’t usually ask for dessert.”
Kuzmiw chimes in: “Every once in a while though, a regular will bring in a homemade cake or cobbler to share with everyone in the restaurant. That’s kind of nice. It’s a neighborhood thing.”
Roman’s is open seven days a week. The kitchen is closed on Tuesdays. This month’s “Art on the Walls” features Kini Collins, whose work will be on display until June. 4.
by Danielle Sweeney