In his work, Kilmer describes a particular farm house that drew his attention each time he walked along the Erie tracks on his way to Suffern, NY. Obviously, he was referencing a locale along the Franklin Turnpike, and for generations, most assumed he was referring to the 150 address of that same thoroughfare. At least most did.
I say “most” because in a 1979 publication called, “From Pioneer Settlement to Suburb: A History of Mahwah 1700-1976”, there appeared a letter dated 1945 that disputed this fact.
Wherever the truth may lie, the restaurant is known today as Roxanne's, and except for the former establishment's “Nobody's Inn” sign that hangs above the bar as decoration, the place draws little upon the Kilmer connection. However, the mere possibility of the Kilmer connection being of some validity is what drew me to Roxanne's, and ultimately, dinner.
The establishment is separated into three distinct rooms to serve patrons – the bar, the main dining room, and an atrium.
At the time of its publication, and for the final five years of his life, Kilmer resided in Mahwah, NJ and garnered inspiration from his surroundings. This is evidenced by another of his works within Trees and Other Poems of almost equal repute as "Trees" called, "The House with Nobody In It".
Around the time this letter was written, the establishment located at 150 Franklin Turnpike was then known as Doyle's Tavern and the proprietors probably did little to dissuade the public that the address of this tavern was indeed, Kilmer's inspiration. After all, why would you discourage a legend that attracted business?
Beyond the main dining room lies the enclosed atrium. Although it is heated and by all means a four-season dining area, I am sure I would prefer this location and find it most enjoyable during the more temperate months where the outdoor environment can be enjoyed to its fullest.
The main dining room is decorated in warm, inviting tones and is comfortably casual. There is a long, sofa-like bench seat that lines one wall and leads to a back wall of brick ovens that not only provide a pleasant atmosphere, but offer extra warm on particularly chilly evenings.
The room emanates a nice vibe, but be forewarned, there is a startling difference between the dining atmosphere on a weekday and that of the weekend, where the ambient volume is raised dramatically.
Although Roxanne's has a stout reputation for its brick-oven pizza, the menu offers an extensive array of Italian fare such as Spaghetti con Pomodoro Filetto, Pappardelle alla Toscana, Gemelli Arula e Pollo and Rigatoni Alla Vodka. In addition to pasta dishes, they offer a full menu of chicken, veal and seafood options in the Italian tradition.
Upon closer inspection, I noticed that alongside every entree on their menu, there was an individual and family option; the family option being slightly more than double the price of the individual serving. I was told this option can feed three to four people and decided to put it to the test by ordering the family Eggplant Parmigiana ($35.95) with a side of Roasted Vegetables. As an appetizer, I opted for the Mussels Fra Diavolo ($9.95). With the added option of mild or spicy, I chose spicy.
With arrival of the entree, it was obvious the family menu did offer huge portions as advertised, and can indeed feed three to four people adults.
The Eggplant Parmigiana was good, but in all honesty, drew few comparisons to the dish I grew up on. I am far to used to the Italian home-cooking of my upbringing and prefer the alternating layers of eggplant, sauce and cheese of the more traditional preparation. Conversely, this offering consisted of two layers of breaded and fried eggplant covered with mozzarella, then tomato sauce. It was okay, but underwhelming.
Judging by my menu choices and keeping a keen eye toward what other patrons had ordered and their reactions, I get the sense that although the food at Roxanne's can range from merely pedestrian to very good, it is consistent enough for the crowd it attracts to keep its popularity soaring; particularly on weekends.
Though my meal was satisfying, I wish I could say as much for the service. It's not that the service was “poor” or “unfriendly” per say, but rather, I would term the staff as "fundamentally accommodating" and nothing more.
The server/guest relationship never escalated beyond the basics and included no real greetings, unsolicited chit-chat, recommendations or any interaction that would turn a good dining experience into a great dining experience – it was simply a utilitarian service that was lackluster at best, which considering the many dining options available to today's consumer, is somewhat unacceptable.
In retrospect, if one were to judge by the obvious lack of available parking spaces and the sheer volume of weekend business, one would think this is a five-star establishment. It is not.
Instead, I would have to assume Roxanne's success is based upon the crowd it plays to and the fact that it has established itself as a hometown favorite that offers good, solid and moderately-priced meals in a family style atmosphere.
Although it is not an restaurant I can deem much above others of its ilk, nor is it a foodie destination by any stretch of the imagination, it is what it is and can certainly be enjoyed for what it is, particularly if you don't set your expectations too high.
Brick Oven Pizzeria • Bar & Grill
150 Franklin Turnpike
Mahwah, NJ 07430