Walking into Rose’s Fine Food, you can’t help but have a smile on your face. Located on a sparsely populated stretch of East Jefferson, this tiny diner welcomes guests with flower boxes, a bike rack, and benches outside, and a spit-shined retro interior featuring original wood paneling and an old-school diner counter with built-in stools spanning the length of the room. Mismatched vintage teacups and fresh wildflowers add to the friendly, eclectic atmosphere.
The first thing to know about Rose’s, named after proprietress Lucy Carnaghi’s grandmother, is that it’s all about the food. To this end, Carnaghi has opted for a no-tipping policy — the menu and website explain that employees are paid a living wage, and gratuity is included in the price of the food items. Any money a customer chooses to leave over and above the check amount will be donated to a local charity of the staff’s choosing. In light of this, the prices are fabulously reasonable, with items starting at just $4.50 and nothing over $10.
Most comparable restaurants would be charging 20-30 percent more, gratuity notwithstanding, and we can’t help but wonder if Rose’s will see price increases in the near future. Meanwhile, treat yourself to a steal of a meal while it lasts. (Update: Rose’s recently posed a question to customers on their Facebook page about whether they should raise prices or implement a more traditional tipped or partial tip system, so expect changes soon.)
Rose’s is a breakfast-and-lunch-only joint, and the menu is as tiny as the space itself. (Arriving with a party of more than four is ill-advised, unless you enjoy long waits and death stares from other diners). The menu feels personal; a selection of the foods they enjoy preparing and eating, rather than the same old diner standbys. This results in some unexpected but delicious combinations, such as sides of garlicky beans with breakfast, or a lamb meatball sandwich with marinara for lunch.
Over the course of a few visits, we got to sample most of the menu, and didn’t have a single bad or even mediocre bite. The food at Rose’s is of excellent quality, with house-made baked goods in the starring role. Crybabies (risen potato doughnuts) and Naughty Buns (cinnamon rolls) are available daily, with rotating pies and other goodies on the counter to tempt you. Rolls and bread for sandwiches and toast are also prepared on-site, elevating the overall caliber of the meals here. Our favorite egg dish is the Eastside Farmer’s Breakfast, which combines poached eggs with tart, lemony greens that have been sautéed with a generous amount of bacon — all piled high on a thick slice of Pullman toast. For lunch, lamb lovers will adore the meatball sandwich. And the Cluck, with succulent house-smoked barbecued chicken, is a close runner-up.
Of course, as with any new establishment, Rose’s has its share of kinks to be worked out. The main problems had to do with timing and inexperience; on one visit, a table seated after us had finished eating before our food even arrived; on another visit, we waited for over 40 minutes for two breakfasts. At lunch one day, our server had no idea what was on the vegetarian sandwich of the day, despite it being 1 p.m.
Food-wise, although we enjoyed everything we ordered, we couldn’t help but think the menu would benefit from at least one salad option and/or an increased selection of sides. I rarely finish an entire sandwich in a restaurant, but my Cluck left me wanting more (I gladly would’ve paid more for a larger portion of chicken). Or they could bulk out the sandwich with more slaw, which costs next to nothing. Alternately, the opportunity to add side dishes to round out a meal would be welcomed. That said, the modest portions do allow room to indulge in baked goods without feeling stuffed.
The neighborhood has responded to Rose’s with unbridled enthusiasm, packing the place daily and enduring long waits in hot, sticky weather for the privilege of a seat (Rose’s doesn’t have air conditioning, and the only ventilation comes through the front door, so be prepared if you visit on a warm day). In the first weeks of its opening, Rose’s regularly ran out of food due to high demand, and they’re currently seeking a way to obtain more cooler space and dry storage to accommodate the volume of food being sold. But given the landslide of online support and in-person patronage, we have no doubt Rose’s will overcome its challenges and continue to provide fine food to the community for years to come.