Hyattsville’s Rhode Island Reds
You'd be tempted to put Rhode Island Reds on your list of regular haunts purely on the merits of its eccentric owner. Christopher "call me Red" Brophy opened his small Hyattsville place in September 2008, naming it not only for the avenue on which it stands but also after a flock of chickens he used to keep, illegally, at his home nearby. He's also the local character who ran for mayor this year on a platform of "everything is screwed up" and who co-hosts an annual "mature gentleman's belly-flop exhibition" each Labor Day.
Brophy, 52, once owned a cafe in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood where patrons could buy the furniture as well as the food. His setup at Rhode Island Reds is no less quirky, but as with the man himself, one senses a method in the madness. The menu is simple and inexpensive (sandwiches, $7; 12-inch pizzas, $11). There's a weekend brunch with quiche and waffles, as well as breakfast sandwiches intriguingly named the McTrotsky and the Frida (egg and cheese on a kaiser roll, the former with ham, the latter with tomato; each cost $3.50 and can be ordered just about all day), and an occasional special such as seared tuna
on a bed of greens ($14) and a fresh tomato soup laced with Parmesan cheese ($4).
The Roman-style pizzas, baked in a New York-style clay oven, have a crust that is crisp but not charred, with toppings such as pineapple and prosciutto, or hot salami and cherry tomatoes. The lemon fish pizza is a perfect combination of Spanish-style white anchovies - fishy and not too salty - and the sweet tang of thinly sliced lemon, peel and all, atop tomato and mozzarella. There's also the cheese-free Broforino, with fresh tomatoes, anchovies and Brophy's own pesto, which seems to have equal measures of basil and garlic, and not much else.
The short list of sides, called the Fiat 500 plates (all $5), includes chicken wings roasted in a sweet orange tarragon glaze, served with horseradish basil dip; and the Awesome Amaretto Apple Thingy With Cream, which features baked apples wrapped in pastry dough, then made gooey with almond and cinnamon syrup. The thingy, served in a nice ceramic ramekin and topped with whipped cream, doesn't travel too well out of the dish and merely wrapped in aluminum foil. But when you get home, close your eyes and you'll never know.
Brophy makes sourdough from his own starter, for boules of chewy bread worth buying whole ($5) or savoring by the slice with the soup or salad specials. The restaurant serves wine and beer, the usual suspects pulled from the espresso machine, and sugar-sweetened Coca-Cola from Mexico.
Rhode Island Reds is an inviting space, reminiscent of a small-town cafe, with wood floors stained red, red-framed windows and doors, and even a piano with a red finish and a truncated 66 keys. If you're lucky, Brophy might sit down and play a few bars of the blues; the small piano's sound fills the room. Like Brophy himself.
-- Martha Thomas (June 8, 2011)