RIP The Rome – 2008-2013

There was a time when The Rome generated some excitement. Italian food! An Italian grandma writing down recipes! And hey, Italian food! Then it opened, and very quickly sucked. The cavernous space sported cheesy “Italian” awnings over the booths. The salads were beyond dull; like a time portal to a salad bar circa 1988. The bar – gorgeous and full of potential – seemed geared more to slinging Bud Lights at the college crowd than putting on big boy pants. And the food, it started out as a total roll of the dice and steadily got worse – though I see on Facebook they crafted something of a gluten free following (nothing better than a gluten free Italian place!). My general take was: either be Bambino’s or aim higher; you can’t do both. I hadn’t been in for four years.

Now, they’re closed, per the website it’s for renovations. Their voicemail says it’s just for the summer. On Facebook they say they’re looking at different locations, to “better accommodate our customer base.” Right. Given the various messages, and the fact that I’ve heard separately that it’s closing for good and that the staff has been let go, I’m calling it. Time of death: none too soon.

Now the question becomes, What should go in there?


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

16 thoughts

  1. Hi Scott,

    You know I’ve been critical of The Rome from its second year. That’s when they decided to be second-rate, cheesy American style Italian.

    The first year I remember their lasagna (which is my barometer on good Italian food.) The pasta layers were thicker than I like (but I like to see through mine), but flavorful. There was good quality ricotta in between the pasta layers topped with a too sweet but OK sauce.

    The second year the lasagna was covered in thick, goopy flavorless mozzarella cheese. Ugh. Now I LOVE a good quality, TASTY, lightly elastic mozzarella cheese – but this frosting of lasagna with ridiculous amounts of mozzarella is beyond the ken.

    My favorite first year appetizer was the calamari. I liked it so much I ordered a party-platter of the lightly fried, tasty squid for a major dinner party at my house.

    During its second year of operation, I treated a guest to The Rome and insisted they try calamari. Boy did I pay for that grievous error! This person will not take any recommendations from me again and even accused me of not being really Italian!

    Yes, Scott, we too have not been back in years. Too bad. They made the conscious decision to pander to the bastardized Italian taste styling of cheap Italian food aficionados.

    Good riddance.

    What should go there? I can’t say. I rarely eat downtown (although I brag incessantly about our delightful downtown) anymore and with Mike Odett leaving Sycamore’s, I will be frequenting downtown for meals less and less. Sadly, what seems to work is cheap eats (and not necessarily good cheap eats.)


  2. The Rome is the kind of place the seems to me so typical of the CoMo restaurant scene: mediocre food, badly conceptualized theme, erratic presentation, overpriced.

    I’m not sure this can be explained just by saying that we’re in a college town. Other college towns (Iowa City, Lawrence KS, Chapel Hill, Ann Arbor) have better restaurant scenes than we do. A lot of the college crowd I know didn’t like The Rome either, so it’s not that the students don’t care and will eat anything. The few times I went, it wasn’t crowded.

    Is there some sort of massive wholescale underestimation of the collective Columbia palate to blame for places like this? That’s how it looks to me. I’m not sure I can explain it any better.

    As for what should go there, how about a wickedly good Mexican place? And I mean good, not the ketchup salsa and stale taco shells type that seems to predominate downtown. Or maybe Chim’s That could move down there.

  3. I tend to think Columbia’s palate is on par with most places, but in this neck of the woods, it seems people want a good value for their money. Places like Sycamore, for instance (just pulling a high-end restaurant out of my hat), are good for a date night or other occasion. However, it doesn’t lend to good value when entrees are well over $20 for a plate with not a terribly large amount of food for that money. Don’t get me wrong – the food was great the both times we went there, but in each case, I left hungry.

    I do think that it is possible to successfully marry value and taste. As was mentioned above, Mexican cuisine tends to accomplish this rather well, and such a place would be good to replace The Rome. German food accomplishes this, too. One other idea that came across my mind would be a Cuban or African (Moroccan?) restaurant. I have had both and when done right is out of this world.

  4. Another Michael, I respectfully disagree. Sycamore might be priced high, but their business is thriving. Every time I’ve been there, it’s packed or near packed. On weekends you can barely get in the door. Which would suggest that people are willing to pay those prices in order to eat very good food in that setting: an upscale, rather urban, adult sort of space.

    I actually wonder if what Columbia needs is not more reasonably priced chow halls, but more urban-esque upscale places like Sycamore.

    This town has a huge population of urban transplants. The university student body draws overwhelmingly from KC, St Louis, Dallas, and Chicago. Then there’s the faculty and the city’s growing non-academic professional class, most of whom probably have higher standards than a place like The Rome offered. Those people will likely pay well for better food presented in a sophisticated way.

    Sorry for rambling, but this really is on my mind these days. I just had a perfectly disappointing snack at Bleu and it’s gotten me wondering why it’s so hard to get a good meal in this town.

  5. All I remember about the Rome is the absolutely horrible service we got during lunch on our last time in. That was some months back and we never returned.

  6. I will agree with you on that, Not Michael. The one time we went, the food was so-so and the service was meh.

  7. I’ve been wanting a tapas place in Columbia forever. That would be a great addition to the food scene. I’ve also wanted a fondue place to come to town. I wholeheartedly agree that Columbia needs more upscale, urban, adult venues (restaurants/bars/lounges) that serve the non-college crowd. I’m still in my 20s, but I’d be willing to pay more for that kind of environment.

  8. Tapas, in my observation, haven’t really done well in Columbia. There’ve been a number of tapas places over the years and they don’t last long. I think Cafe Ole was the longest, and that was the best, but it’s long gone.

  9. Indeed, Not Michael. Cafe Ole was in the Coley’s space – and is incidentally where I first met Mrs. SMEs. They later moved south to the current Las Margaritas location before cashing in after the chef moved on. In a related note, I think there is a 0% chance that we see a real tapas place here anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s