TEN INGREDIENTS…with Chef Frank Roda
By Sally Deering
Fame came to Maxwell’s back in the 1980s and it has since become a Hoboken landmark as revered as that other Hoboken celebrity Frank Sinatra. Through the years rock stars and wannabees have set up their amps and drum kits in the small back room reminiscent of the old CBGBs in the East Village. And along with live music, Maxwell’s features a big beautiful bar that dates back to when the place served boilermakers to longshoremen who worked the docks.
Good food has always been a big part of Maxwell’s allure. Whether it’s the Angus beef burgers on the bar menu or the omelets served at brunch, hearty dishes of American fare – nothing fancy – just substantial good food keep Maxwell’s customers nourished and coming back for more.
It’s now 2016 and along with a new year, Maxwell’s Tavern has a new chef (well, he started six months ago). Frank Roda, former owner of Francesca’s in Jersey City, now runs the kitchen at Maxwell’s Tavern where he creates Italian fare with a flair.
Chef Roda took a break on a busy Thursday afternoon to sit down with River View Observer and share the Ten Ingredients that make him a chef.
RVO: Did you attend culinary school?
CHEF FRANK : I went to the Culinary Institute at Hudson County Community College. It was the first year the school opened and it was awesome.
RVO: Before culinary school, was there someone or someplace that inspired your love for cooking?
CHEF FRANK : Nonna.’s kitchen. My grandmother Nonna was an amazing home chef. She taught me how to make sauces like marinara and Sunday Gravy. She would make her gravy, with Oxtail.
RVO: What is your cooking background?
CHEF FRANK: Italian food is in my DNA. I love the food and watching people taste it. I’ve had so many people applaud my food, from New York to Naples, Florida. Two years after culinary school I got a job as a sous chef at Rafaella’s. I was put in charge right away. I was 22 years-old. It was when Nouvelle Cuisine was coming out. The plates were $100 plates. I stayed there two years and came back and worked at Pegasus at Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford. I was on the line as a seafood chef. They called the orders out and you had to remember them. It was the height of Pegasus. When orders came in, they came 25 at a time. Ten Zuppa de Pesche; ten Dover Sole; I also had to cook the pasta.
RVO: And now you’re bringing Italian food to Maxwell’s Tavern?
CHEF FRANK : Maxwell’s is more known for the bands. I’m introducing Italian dishes and slowly but surely they’re adapting to it. This past week we’ve had so many repeat customers. It’s been packed for the past two nights. We’re starting to take off as far as Italian cooking, although we do have amazing burgers. We use only Angus beef. We don’t want to move away from that.
RVO: Can you describe some of the Italian dishes attracting repeat customers?
CHEF FRANK: I’m making traditional Chicken Sorrentino; chicken topped with prosciutto, eggplant and mozzarella in a light tomato demi-glass sauce. I make a nice Angel Hair Pasta with Crab and Shrimp in a light tomato-basil broth. It’s got the essence of the tomato, garlic and basil. The angel hair pasta is light and the jumbo crab is succulent, and instead of chicken stock, I put lobster stock. The Tour of Italy is a great dish. It’s like Tapas; a dish of smaller portions of Chicken Francese, Veal Parmesan, Shrimp Scampi and Sautéed Lobster. We do a version of that called Tour of the Mediterranean, which is more about fish. Instead of Chicken Francese, we serve Sole Francese, Sole Parmesan and Lobster Francese. And we serve all our dishes with the best grated cheese, fresh Romano, top shelf. We pay a lot, but it’s worth it.
RVO: Since you are now serving traditional Italian at Maxwell’s, the question arises: how are the meatballs?
CHEF FRANK: In my recipe, I use fresh bread, no breadcrumbs. Instead of kneading the meatball, I put it through the food processor. Our meatballs are on the money, and we serve them with our Sunday Gravy. They’re not just beef. We make them with pork and veal.
RVO: Another question that must be asked; why do you call it gravy and not sauce?
CHEF FRANK: Why is it gravy? Because it’s like a brown gravy. You have the meat, sausage and oxtail drippings. I take the skin off the prosciutto and start it with that. It’s not a sauce, it’s a gravy.
RVO: Since you’ve been serving Italian cuisine, has it affected business?
CHEF FRANK : We’re booking lots of parties. We’ve been getting word-of-mouth on parties. We just had a repast last week and from that one repast, we booked four new parties.
RVO: Any other changes to Maxwell’s menu?
CHEF FRANK: We’re introducing brunch on the weekends. Hoboken wants a good brunch. It’s going to be good food and we’re keeping prices down.
RVO: How would you describe your signature cooking style?
CHEF FRANK : Home cooking with passion and love.
If you go
1039 Washington St, HOB
Mon-Wed, 5-10 pm
Thu-Fri, 5-11 pm
Sat, 11 am – 11 pm
Sun, 11 am – 10 pm
Mon-Wed, 5 pm – 12 am
Thu-Fri, 5 pm – 2 am
Sat, 11 am – 2 am
Sun, 11 am – 12 am