Phantom Gourmet: LaRosa’s In Andover

ANDOVER – Take a delicious Italian café, add in a stylishly cool bar, top it off with one extremely outgoing owner, and you have the recipe for LaRosa’s.

Located in Andover Mass, LaRosa’s is like two restaurants in one. Since 2009, it has been a friendly cafe where people come for awesome sandwiches and salads. A few months ago, when the spot next door became available, they decided to expand, in both space and style.

“I’ve always wanted to do something in the evening, where we’re able to do some creative food, some creative drinks, progressive wine list,” explained owner Paul LaRosa. “So that’s what we did. We went ahead and opened up this 28 seat bar.”

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While the cafe cranks all day, once the sun goes down, the white tablecloths come out and the Bar at LaRosa’s becomes the hottest spot in town.

“From the minute you walk in, to the type of the music that we play, to the overall look of the entire place, you feel like you’re in the city,” he said. “We’ve got a black floor. We’ve got a black ceiling, really giving that slick modern vibe. Then it’s followed by the main showpiece of the whole place and that is our marble bar.”

The other thing you will see when you walk in is Paul himself, because this guy is a triple threat. He hosts, he cooks, and he’s entertaining.

When it comes to the food, you can start with Oven Roasted Chicken Wings with truffle oil and pecorino; Tuna Crudo topped with fried leeks; or fiery Shrimp Fra Diavolo.

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Shrimp Fra Diavolo at LaRosa’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“We use some nice, big, jumbo shrimp, and then we blast it with some chili flakes, some garlic and some nice plum tomatoes. When you bite one of those shrimp, you get that nice little snap,” Paul described. “You dunk some bread right in the sauce, and the marriage is perfect.”

The apps at LaRosa’s are great, but the entrees include some real showstoppers, like their ridiculous One Pound Meatball, smothered in homemade tomato sauce, and topped with honey basil ricotta.

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One pound meatball at LaRosa’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“The ricotta is creamy, but you get that sweetness of the honey, a little bit of the herbal sensation from the basil. Now the meat is beautiful, it’s nice, it’s soft. And then as you scoop this tomato sauce, the tomato sauce has a little bit of tanginess, a little bit of acid, so when you mix that all together, you get the herbs, the acid, the sweetness, the creaminess, it’s really just kind of the perfect bite,” Paul explained.

Another jaw dropper, and head turner, is their spectacular bone-in Veal Parmigiano.

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Bone-In Veal Parm at LaRosa’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“We start off with the 14-ounce milk fed veal chop, bone sticking right off the plate. We’re gonna coat that in some panko crumb, bake that right off in the oven. Comes out super crispy. Top it off with some of LaRosa’s signature tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, some fried basil leaves right on top,” Paul described. “It walks out, the people look at it, it’s like a dinosaur coming right through the dining room.”

While most of the menu at LaRosa’s leans towards tradition, there is one item you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world: the Chicken Parm Pizza. Instead of dough, the base of this pizza is actually made from freshly ground chicken, breaded and pan fried.

“It plays with your mind a little bit because you think you’re gonna eat some dough, but you’re not. This is just pure protein topped off with all the stuff you love, sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a little bit of basil.”

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Chicken Parm Pizza at LaRosa’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Back to something a bit more traditional, the pastas are just about perfect, especially the Cavatelli Bolognese.

“You want somebody to kind of give you a hug through food, we’ve got you covered. It’s our lamb and short rib Bolognese, also has a touch of sausage in it. Goes all into the pan with some plum tomatoes, some marsala wine, a bunch of fresh sage, cooks down for six hours,” Paul explained.

For a pasta dish that’s a delicious twist, check out the Rigatoni Bianco.

“Rigatoni Bianco is taking a Bolognese and kind of flipping it on its head: a white Bolognese. We start with the classic ingredients of beef, veal, pork, cook that down, add the mirepoix, and then we toss in some chardonnay, a touch of sweet cream, a little bit of chicken stock, and we just let that cook for about three, four hours.”

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Rigatoni Bianco at LaRosa’s (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Paul’s passion for food comes from his family, and it’s what motivates him to share the love at LaRosa’s.

“There was nothing better than going to your grandparent’s house on a Sunday, and as you’re walking up the stairs in East Boston you can just smell the tomato sauce and the basil and the love coming from the apartment. Puts a smile on my face.”

You can find LaRosa’s at 7 Barnard Street in Andover, and online at larosasofandover.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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