Rosella, a new wine bar, cafe, and restaurant in Mid-City, has been open just a few days, but there’s already been a moment that’s made its existence feel like kismet, says co-owner Alixandra Petrovich.
It came as a result of the jukebox, says Petrovich, which she and her partner in life and business, Paul McCaige, bought from a local prop store that was going out of business. After getting it repaired and cleaned up by two local experts, they filled it with 45’s owned by Petrovich’s mom and aunt, who both grew up here in New Orleans. “The other day someone played ‘It’s Raining’ by Irma Thomas, and it was a moment that was just like, ‘This is perfect.’ The whole thing has been a real family affair, with our son and my mom being involved, it’s such a warm feeling.”
That warm feeling is central to Rosella, which is named for Petrovich’s grandmother. “Our plan was kind of backward. We didn’t have as much of a plan for the food as we did for a place,” she says. That plan was for somewhere locals in the neighborhood and beyond could come and congregate, relax, and enjoy good food and drinks, “with a touch of nostalgia,” Petrovich says. She grew up in the house next door and says a lot of her memories involve going to restaurants and running into people she knew. “I wanted to recreate that,” says Petrovich.
That sense of familiarity can also be found on the menu, which Petrovich calls “a little bit comfort food, a little bit New Orleans, and kind of tongue in cheek.” For appetizers, there are dishes like smoked catfish dip, boudin balls, and shrimp remoulade lettuce wraps, but also an andouille corn dog, which started out as kind of a joke. Richard Horner, a former co-owner of the popular, now-closed Blue Giant, consulted on the menu. The trio joked about just serving “carny” food, and in typical Richard fashion, Petrovich says, he continued to take the joke “pretty far,” resulting in the corn dog. “It’s so delicious,” she says.
There’s also a chilled red bean salad, “the dark horse of the menu,” says Petrovich. Horner created it as a riff on red beans and rice, that creamy New Orleans staple, but in salad form and vegan. “It really does hit all the same notes somehow,” she says. There are a few other salads, like a cold fried chicken Waldorf salad, and a small menu of mains including loaded baked potato gnocchi, three cheese manicotti with spinach and artichoke, and meatloaf with a classic onion gravy, cauliflower puree, and green beans. “It’s all small, weird twists on these classics,” says Petrovich.
That includes the dessert, a clever seizing of the Hubig’s Pies moment. The beloved, locally-produced hand pie returned about a year ago after a 10-year hiatus following a factory fire in 2012. The company has been rolling out flavors in succession since November 2022 to great excitement, with apple, lemon, chocolate, peach, and coconut currently available. Rosella is frying the confection for dessert — any of the flavors — and topping it with powdered sugar and vanilla Angelo Brocato gelato. The chocolate pie is Petrovich and McCaige’s son’s favorite, but Petrovich says apple goes best with the gelato. There will be sno-balls when it gets hot again, probably a mix of traditional and artisan flavors, and definitely a boozy option, served on the back patio (which is set to open soon).
As for the wine, the most important thing was to create an atmosphere that wasn’t pretentious or intimidating. “When you say wine bar, people can get a little overwhelmed,” says Petrovich. Rosella carries low-intervention, biodynamic wines, with a majority coming from smaller, female-owned vineyards. The list includes five wines by the glass or carafe (priced at $11 and $18, respectively) and another two dozen or so bottles, most of which are between $25 and $50. There are five house cocktails priced between $10 and $12, including the Purple Drank (named after the famed Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar daiquiri) with vodka, creme de Violette, and Luxardo; and the Mr. Tony, with Flor de Caña, lemon, Curaçao, orgeat, and orange bitters.
Rosella is Petrovich and McCaige’s first restaurant; the couple’s background is in the local film industry. Petrovich’s mom, who still lives next door to Rosella in the house Petrovich grew up in, owns the building. It was most recently home to Fullblast Brunch, and before that a Ruby Slipper. When the owner of Fullblast said he was ready to move on, it came at an opportune time for Petrovich and McCaige given the writers’ strike. “We went to the neighborhood and talked to people about what they needed,” says Petrovich. “Instead of another brunch place, it was a neighborhood cafe,” she says. They transformed the interior while avoiding much structural change — 20 years in the art departments of films has taught Petrovich that it doesn’t take a lot of major moves to make a lot of change.
They hired friends to sand the paint off the window trim, exposing the original wood, intricately painted the walls, changed out the light fixtures (which also came from the prop shop, along with the tables and chairs), covered the bar in pressed tin tiles, and changed out the bar top to marble. “We wanted it to feel like Morning Call,” the classic Mid-City beignet destination, says Petrovich of the bar. “That marble is old, and worn, and comforting.”
Petrovich says creating a positive space was the main motivation behind opening Rosella. “We were spurred by the writers’ strike but ultimately inspired by what we wanted to get out of it — emotional joy.”
Rosella, located at 139 S Cortez Street, is open Wednesday through Monday from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.