Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Chana Kati roll with masala mashed potatoes at the Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The Rosebud diner has been a go-to in Davis Square off and on since the the 1940s. A popular weekend nosh spot for the hungover grungy-hip in the 1980s and early 1990s, it languished in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the square tilted toward upscale, then found a reprieve when it became part of Alpine Restaurant Group, owners of the nearby Painted Burro and Posto. Remodeling and care were applied; the interior, beyond the retro-cool dining car facade, was remade as an inviting and warm cosmopolitan lounge. Given the group’s recipe for success, rebirth seemed certain, but it never flourished like others in the portfolio and was ultimately sold to Bindas Concepts early last summer. That seemed promising for the eatery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999, but in late September the Rosebud shuttered – allegedly for renovations – with a loud, resonant slam. Staff were laid off and the fate of the eatery was left to social media speculation. 

Real answers came three weeks ago, when Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar reopened its doors with a new soft-opening menu that boasts a clear Indian accent applied to American diner fare and beyond. It’s a curiosity, to be sure, with some nice hits and just a few rough spots – which bodes well in a soft opening stage. Not much inside Rosebud feels changed; the renovations were mostly systemic (HVAC) and structural (roof).

As to that culinary shift, there’s Kashmiri deviled eggs, tandoori masala steak frites and Kerala fried chicken and green chili waffles, as well as pork belly curry tacos alongside classics such as mac and cheese and buttermilk pancakes. The menu is enticing and overwhelming. Adhering to the diner’s roots, Rosebud still sell pies and cakes from the host-stand display case.

To start with, let me say that the staff here are all in. If you don’t feel well served, you’re having a bad day. The menu, beside its cross-cultural cuisine curios, includes brunch, lunch, tapas and big-plate fine dining. My advice would be to not think too much and just dive in, which is what I did. 

The Rosebud retains a classic diner feel. (Photo: Tom Meek)

What wings should one choose at an Indian-accented place offering versions with mango chutney, Mike’s Hot Honey or gochujang sauce? I have big love for all things gochujang, but in the spirit of the new Rosebud went with the mango chutney. The wings came out plump and succulent. At first I feared the batter was going to be a bready distraction, but these were surprisingly light – and delectable. As for the sauce, I knew sweet was in the mix by definition, and I generally shy from it, but this won me over with a coconut signature and mango smoothness. Get the bigger order, because these go down way too easy. 

But the reason anyone should head to Rosebud is the Chana Kati roll with its spiced chickpeas, Bombay chutney and pickled veggie slaw. It comes with classic or spicy fries, but do yourself a favor: Insist on the masala mashed potatoes instead and get the wrap upgraded with chicken tikka. What arrives is a tightly wrapped blend of a light masala sauce, heart-warming chutney, those warm, pickled veggies and tender chunks of chicken. It’s like eating a gloriously delicious burrito without the tummy-filling overhead of beans and rice. And those mashed taters, wow! Essentially a vegetable samosa without the fried outer shell, these potatoes have nothing creamy going on like most will have at Thanksgiving, but a wonderfully dry, curried masala smokiness. It’s not your New England mom’s mashed, but a different mash that’s well worth coming back to.

Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar, 381 Summer St., Davis Square, Somerville

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.