Bar Rosa opens in Tacoma’s Hilltop with wood-fired pizza, flavorful cocktails
Bar Rosa opened Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. It’s a mighty fine companion to a lineup of favorite Tacoma bars: The Eleven Eleven across the street, Zodiac Supper Club just around the corner, plus 1022 South J just a short few blocks away.
Do I dare say Bar Rosa has a Hilltop Kitchen vibe?
Beyond crossover with the fancy cocktails and micro-focused food, a reason for that similarity is that the architecture of Bar Rosa’s home at 1206 S. 11th St. is similar to the low-slung building where the Hilltop Kitchen operated from 2013 to 2015 at 913 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (and the beloved Tempest before that).
Bar Rosa is 21-and-older only and is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday right now, but keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media for details on expanded hours. Here’s what you need to know for a first visit.
THE BUILDING AND OWNERS
Locals will remember when that space was Thai Garden, the itty bitty mom-and-pop Thai restaurant that closed four years ago. I appreciate that Bar Rosa kept the old Thai Garden sign with the space’s new name bookmarked between vintage Coca-Cola logos. Nice touch.
The backers of Bar Rosa bought the building, which includes the Thai Garden space and neighboring space that once was a pharmacy.
The business is operated by Meghan Seale and John Bracey Rogers, who previously owned Seattle’s Bar Sue, which closed last year after the bar’s lease was not renewed. Seale and Rogers are the operators, but they’re also the contractors behind the build, with Seale’s husband Michael also slinging a hammer. The renovations were extensive. I don’t even recognize the space and that might be because the space that holds Bar Rosa combines two business spaces.
The Hilltop has been an eating destination for a generation with longtime Tacoma treasures like Le-Le, Bob’s Bar-B-Q Pit, the Fish House Cafe, Quickie Too, and Johnson Candy Co. Newer standbys like Tacoma’s No. 1 Fried Rice, Ezell’s, Pho Bac and Pho King have diversified the eating in that neighborhood. Newcomers include Ice Cream Social, which just opened a location around the corner this year, and Red Elm Cafe and Manifesto Coffee. There’s also a new cidery in the neighborhood.
A LOOK INSIDE
The dining room is split into two sections with a bar to the right with high-top seating and a row of low-top tables next to a wall of windows. To the left, there’s a step-up platform dining area with two booths and three two-top tables.
Roll-up garage doors flank the dining room.
THE MENU AT BAR ROSA
The menu is micro focused: Wood-fired pizza in a Mugnaini oven fueled only by apple wood.
Pizzas are Neapolitan-style with a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes and a crust built with double zero flour.
The debut menu lists five pies, priced $15 to $18, ranging from straightforward classics to a fanciful green pie topped with broccolini, garlic and capers. Pies are about 12-inches wide and are suitable for sharing, along with the brief starter menu of an arugula salad ($12), oven-smoked spiced almonds ($5), an olive mix ($5) and oven-roasted carrots with lemon ricotta ($10).
I stuck with two classic pizzas: a margherita ($15) and salumi ($18). Crusts arrived with the requisite leopard spots, a telltale sign of a blast of concentrated heat rolling over thinly stretched dough. The tomato sauce carried a balanced tang of acidity and robust flavor. The approach in the kitchen is on the austere side with toppings, which a pizza slinger has to be when baking Neapolitan-style pies. The crust cannot be burdened with too many toppings or floppy disaster will strike.
Sparsely-distributed pools of fresh mozzarella did not overwhelm the crust on the margherita. The salumi was dotted with mozzarella, sprinkled with oregano and thinly sliced red onions. The sopressata was firm textured and licked with heat.
Bar Rosa’s pizza style is a nice fit in a dining region with quality wood-fired pizzas. Add Bar Rosa to your list along with these wood-fired destinations throughout Pierce County: E9 on Fawcett, which makes its pies with a starter built from its beer. The Carlson Block in Wilkeson, which makes its pies on a incredibly delicious long-fermented sourdough crust. Wooden City in downtown Tacoma that makes good use of the Marra Forni pizza oven left over from when Cafe Vincero closed. Millville Pizza, in Gig Harbor, which also has a Mugnaini oven. Did I mention the multiple locations of Fat Zach’s in Puyallup and Sumner? And make sure you put Sirius Wood Fired Pizza on your list to try. There’s more, especially restaurants that cook with a gas-wood hybrid, but this is a good start for a to-try list.
THE PIZZA OVEN
If you’re lucky and the side door is open, you can catch a peekaboo glimpse of the Mugnaini. Looking directly through the side door, passers by can get an up-close view of the oven deck. From the dining room, there’s a nice side view, but you’ll really want to be a looky-loo in the doorway on the side of the building to get a good look at that gorgeous oven.
“We got it from Mugnaini in California. It’s an all Italian oven with parts from Italy and manufactured in California. It’s a 3,000-pound pizza oven. With the crate, it was almost 4,000 pounds. We had to forklift it off the semi truck and then get it into the building. That was a fun and stressful 8-hour day,” said Seale this spring when she gave me background about Bar Rosa. It’s also their only cooking surface, which is why the menu is so micro focused on pizza, roasted vegetables and other dishes that perform beautifully in the oven.
The opening menu features eight cocktails with many leaning on aperitifs and amaros for flavor profiles.The Jewel Box pairs campari with vodka, passionfruit and lime ($10). The Zelda is a classic gin cocktail boosted with aperol and citrus ($10). Oddball in a Highball combines Fernet Branca with two unexpected flavors – Mexi coke and cynar ($11).
If you order anything on a first visit, make it the fancy gin and tonic topped with a sprig of rosemary and a generous helping of juniper berries, plus a broad swath of orange peel and a splash of lemon tonic ($13). Beer and wine also served.
ARE KIDS ALLOWED?
No. This is a 21-and-only bar.
The Spicy Green Pie ($16) can be made vegan. The starter menu looks vegan friendly. Vegetarians will have plenty to eat. No gluten-free menu items noted on the menu.
The raised dining room to the left will be a no-go for those on wheels, but there is comfy and accessible low-top seating on the right side of the space that is accessible.
1206 S. 11th St., Tacoma; firstname.lastname@example.org