Stepping inside the front doors, the sweet smell of rosemary-seasoned chickens, revolving on a rotisserie half-hidden behind a tumbled-marble surround, fill the heart of the establishment.
“This is a Mediterranean recipe, in which all of our chickens marinate overnight,” boasts Peppe Guida, co-owner of La Rosa Chicken & Grill, the new upscale fast-foodery at 33 E. Main St. “It is a recipe that comes from my country.”
It is a couple of hours since another busy lunchtime crowd has descended upon the eatery that opened on July 5. La Rosa’s is the to open amid Moorestown’s tree-lined thoroughfare.
“We have been so busy every day since opening. We’ve been filling up mostly at lunch. Very crazy!”
Guida, an animated and buoyant fellow, gestures with waving arms around the nearly 2,000-square-foot kitchen and dining areas. He is excited, enthused and enlivened, partly because he is enjoying the reception of his new eatery (and partly due to his warm Italian roots.)
Moorestown’s La Rosa Chicken & Grill is the first in South Jersey of the six restaurants, which was started 18 years ago by Enzo Pugliese and his former wife, Rosa Pugliese, the chain’s namesake. The duo opened the mini-empire first in Marlboro, and later in Freehold, Madison, Manalapan and Tinton Falls. Back in their native Naples, Guida and Rosa Pugliese grew up in the same district. By 1989, both had moved to New Jersey.
Armed with many years in the restaurant business, Guida, 43, with collaboration from Rosa Pugliese, opened La Rosa's with Antonio Russo, 40, another boyhood friend. Guida reunited with Russo while the two worked together at Aldo Lamberti’s in Mount Holly, now closed. Russo is the quieter of the two—choosing to cook, and allowing Guida to be the front man.
“I wanted to get out of the fine dining places,” says Guida. “And, I thought about a more casual and friendly place.”
Besides chicken, comfort creations offered at La Rosa’s are char-grilled burgers, Buffalo wings, pitas and soups. Meal-sized salads, with or without chicken, are fare options.
Favorite sides are macaroni and cheese, garlicky potatoes, barbecued black beans and steamed veggies. Fresh cornbread and multi-grain breads are baked each day.
“Our chickens have no preservatives or antibodies,” says Guida. “And, we only cook with olive oil.”
But, the smash sensation, Guida says, is the finger-licking baby back pork ribs popularized by local word of mouth.
“Since we opened, we cannot make enough of them," Guida says smiling.
Patrons can eat in one of the chartreuse booths bordered by more tumbled marble after ordering food at the counter. Rich brown granite countertops are rimmed by one-inch mosaics in shades of copper, slate and stone. Guida and Russo have hired local teens to help deliver food to the tables.
Hours are Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Party platters and take-out are offered. Kids' menus are available, too.
In a couple of years, Guida, who lives in Mount Laurel, might spread La Rosa’s into Cherry Hill and Haddonfield, or possibly Philadelphia.
“The people in Moorestown have been so good to us since we have opened,” says Guida. “Most people who stop in tell us how happy they are that we are here.”