Roseann Melisi Rostoker consummated a longtime love affair with New Orleans by making the city her home in August 2010. Three months later, she opened her restaurant, Red Gravy (125 Camp St., 504-561-8844; www.redgravycafe.com). Located in the Central Business District, Red Gravy is a small, friendly diner serving Italian home-style cooking.
"I'm from northern New Jersey and my boyfriend Lou [Lombardo] and I would come to New Orleans every year for my birthday," Rostoker says. "It took a while for us to get here because I had to sell my house. I put that money into my restaurant. I own Red Gravy, but I run it with Lou."
In its cozy, 15-table dining room, Red Gravy serves breakfast, brunch and lunch to a mix of locals and tourists. "Most of our breakfast diners are tourists, but we get a business crowd in for lunch," Rostoker says.
Breakfast items such as pecan waffles, cannoli pancakes and Sicilian egg pie have Southern or Italian flair. There also are house-made pasta dishes, shrimp and grits with Tuscan beans and meatballs with red gravy made by Rostoker and Lombardo using family recipes.
"No one can make the red gravy except for me and Lou, and no one can make the meatballs except for me and Lou," Rostoker says.
Many ingredients are sourced from farmers markets and small farms including Happy Hen Farms and TangleWood Farms.
"This is the kind of food I grew up on — fresh and home cooked," Rostoker says.
Growing up in New Jersey, Rostoker always wanted to cook, but her parents had other plans. "I wanted to go to cooking school as a kid, but my parents didn't think that was an appropriate career path for a girl," she says. "When I was in college I was studying to be an English teacher, but that didn't work out. I dropped out after a few semesters, got married and had kids."
Eventually, Rostoker got a job in food service at a UPS corporate office "by lying to the chef about my experience," she says. Within six months, she was promoted to sous chef. "I must have been doing something right," she says.
Rostoker spends the bulk of her day in the kitchen at Red Gravy, but she wears a number of hats at the restaurant.
"I do everything here," she says. "I work the room and talk to the people dining here. The restaurant is meant to look like the inside of my house. If you were eating at my house, I'd be sitting and talking to you about trips, travel, food and wine. Red Gravy is just another part of my house."