Redd’s in Rozzie Business Profile
This is part one of a five-part series of photos and profiles of businesses in Roslindale Village. RVMS photographer, Bruce Spero, and RVMS Program Manager, Kelsie Evans, are visiting five businesses around the Village to capture some of what goes on behind the scenes. View more photos here.
If you ever feel inclined to ask Charlie Redd, owner of Redd’s in Rozzie, about his philosophy on food and food service, be prepared to settle in for a long, well-thought out answer. He’s been in the business for 25 years and over that time he’s honed his response to perfection.
“Cooks are craftsmen and display an attention to detail in everything we do, down to our dress,” Charlie says as he greets us in a crisp white button-down shirt.
Redd’s menu is built around fresh ingredients and aims to bring out the best flavors in every dish. They make everything in-house, except for the bread, which they get from Roslindale’s own Fornax Bread, Co. As they prepped for the dinner rush, Charlie gave careful, detailed instructions on every dish, from how to tweak a recipe to achieve the right consistency in that night’s chowder to the method for rubbing garlic on toast. “Our focus is always, primarily, on flavor and we’re always trying to find new ways to expand flavor,” explained Charlie.
Given that we visited Redd’s at the end of the summer, there was also a lot of talk about tomatoes. “When tomatoes come in, we have to change the whole menu to get the best out of them,” Charlie explained. Redd’s features tomatoes on about 75% of their summer menu. And while Charlie thinks supermarkets and the restaurant industry have done a “good job bringing tomatoes to the masses, they can be good but not great, and everything that comes in our door has to be great. Great ingredients will always be good and can be great, but good ingredients can only ever be good and usually no more than fair.”
Redd’s tomatoes come from Greg Murphy, who lives just two blocks away. In trying to preserve the abundance of tomatoes coming in, Redd’s developed a new fermentation technique to use the tomatoes as they split and crack. Not only does this help extend the life of the tomatoes, but is also indicative of Redd’s approach to food: “researching, testing, then experimenting to boost our own creativity.”
It is also an example of their team-based approach: the fermentation idea came from another cook. “People come to work for us because they get to learn, get to think,” said Charlie. He is proud of the leadership of two of his longest-serving employees – his sous chef Antonio and his dishwasher Jose. They’ve been with him since the beginning, and helped lay the tile in the restaurant. “People see that the dishwasher is going to be a partner in the next business venture and that says a lot to the team.”
Redd’s recently got a pig, and rather than do a classic BBQ, Charlie wanted to do something unique, so he used a technique called “cold feet,” cooking it for nine hours in an oven with both fresh and fermented tomatoes, letting the natural fats seal it off. The meat then cools in the cooking juices to develop the flavor. “I love dishes that transform flavor into something else. As a chef that transformation of flavor really drives me.” For this dish, Charlie also used a Chinese technique for developing crispy skin on the outside and tender meat inside by pricking the skin to allow the fats to render.
While Redd’s has a distinct southern sensibility (Charlie grew up in North Carolina), Charlie has worked in a variety of restaurants. “I’ve worked in Italian kitchens, French kitchens, and at a farm-to-table restaurant in Portland, Oregon. I take a little of all of that while tying in my Southern roots, which is the foundation of American culture and cooking.” And Charlie’s research into other cultures results in a new application of old techniques, like cold feet and fermenting tomatoes.
Once the pork is prepped, Charlie and Antonio collaborate to figure out how best to serve it. Antonio’s preference for healthier dishes balances out Charlie’s tendency to add more fats. (Earlier, in adding croutons to a salad, Charlie said, “We love bread here. We love flour.”) They settle on a simple presentation, to let the flavors of the pork shine: arugula, corn, and a cucumber salad.
Charlie pulls in another member of the team before adding a new item to the menu – his manager Matt, to help price the dish. “We think about where the ingredients come from – do we feel proud serving it, does it taste good, and what to price it at,” said Charlie. “The challenge is how to bring customers the best ingredients at a reasonable price.” Redd’s strives to keep all dishes under twenty dollars. “When you balance cooking from scratch and taking care of people, it does good for the community.”
As a result, Redd’s has a loyal following in Roslindale. When Charlie visited the neighborhood 15 years ago, it really spoke to him. “I believe Roslindale to be a down-to-earth neighborhood but also understanding of these concepts” of fresh, local food. “The growing Farmers Market is the reason we opened a restaurant in Roslindale.”
Charlie also values the “natural diversity, economically and culturally, that is unique here.” In other neighborhoods, Charlies observes, shops might “only serve one section of the community,” but in Roslindale, people come together and shop in the same places. Charlie cites the Roslindale Fish Market (“the best in Boston”) and the Roslindale Barber Shop (“one of my favorite Roslindale businesses in recent years…they’re touching a completely different demographic than I am and I love that”) as examples.
“The good energy and vibe in Roslindale are special. That’s why I started here. That’s why I’m still here.”
You can try out Charlie’s Brunswick stew and homemade biscuits at Savor the Square next week and visit his restaurant, year-round: