My prom at the Jersey Shore in the '90s was as kitschy as you'd expect. I wore a shiny teal dress. I had big hair. We got drunk beforehand and piled into a big banquet room decorated with blow-up palm trees and paper lanterns. We smoked with our friends outside and danced to Prince.
That's what I'm reminded of at Rosie's, the Wilton Manors mainstay. It's the setting for a big gay prom. There's even a pair of pink painted palm trees adorned with purple lights, firming up Rosie's identity as a place for absurdity, boozing, and fun, where the food is beside the point.
The place opened first as a Hamburger Mary's, a national burger chain with a sassy shtick. It went independent in 2006 and sauced up its image. Mary was dumped for a more voluptuous Rosie. Instead of working assembly like Rosie the Riveter, she's working the line in the kitchen. Dish names are pornier than Mary's, with burgers like the Ida Givahumma with hummus, sprouts, and avocado or the Rhoda Cowboy with cheese, barbecue sauce, and bacon.
Outside, faded pastel paper lanterns on strings reach for corners. Diners lounge at umbrella tables, the few chilly ones wrapped in the restaurant's zebra-printed, neon blankets. In one room, walls are draped with cornflower blue and sea green. "God knows when you don't tip" declares a sign behind the bar. It's paired with a plaque of a '50s company man who points to patrons: "Tequila!" he says. From the speakers, Prince sings "Let's Go Crazy," followed by a four-on-the-floor playlist.
"You have to get there by 11:30," says my friend, who's a frequent bruncher at Rosie's. The place gets packed, with regulars crowding the bar and the standing tables. I normally don't care for brunch — why get dressed to wait in line for overpriced eggs? — but I was curious to see the scene.
"I need help with my order," I tell my server, Josh, on a recent Sunday morning from my seat at the bar. He's wearing a shirt that reads, "Don't make me talk about you when you're gone."
Josh grimaced. "Hold on," he said. "I need to confer." Off in the corner, Josh and bartender Nate powwowed.
My friend Andrew suggested the "big 'dict crab cake" or the "fat Elvis." The menu describes that second dish as "A big, ripe banana smothered in chunky peanut butter and stuffed into challah bread, and soaked in Rosie's delicious French toast mix and deep fried until crunchy."
Josh returned, facing me, hands on hips. "We don't think you should order either dish. You'll be done for the afternoon if you get the Fat Elvis," he said. "And, frankly, I don't like our crab cakes. We think you should get the 'tortilla stack attack.' "
Like everything else here, the stack attack is over-the-top: crispy tortillas, black beans, fried eggs, sour cream, tomatillo salsa verde, cilantro, avocado, fried jalapeño, and Jack and cheddar cheese. It's a gloopy, guilty pleasure as likely to drop in your lap as your mouth. House-fried tortillas are light and flaky. I liked it enough, but it was Josh's honesty and charisma that won me over.
Brunch is the meal of note for the scene and large plates, and yet dinner is nearly as festive. On a recent Wednesday night, three friends and I grabbed an outside table with the intent of getting a round of burgers. The menu categories them like friends: Rosie's Fave, the Wild Girls, Rosie's Pen Pals, and Fringe Friends (for vegetarians). They're all giant. The Miley Highclub on brioche, for example, is a flattened patty of ground beef that too closely resembles a Bubba burger. It's near black on the outside. There's no juice. Instead, toppings deliver flavor: avocado, bacon, Swiss, and an herb mayo that garnishes in a manner that riffs on the name. If only this were a gastropub burger or even a gourmet fast-food rendition. Each bite is dry. The bun seems stale.
"Is this burger medium?" I asked my table, scraping through ingredients to find it's barely pink in the center. Onion rings on the side are supercrunchy and overdone. I should have chosen fries or slaw or something healthier, like a salad.
Rosie's does accommodate its lean, muscular regulars with a separate light-bite menu on a narrow sheet of paper. Smaller wraps, vegetarian sandwiches, salads, and Spartan soups seed the menu: fuel for the health conscious but a clash to the wanton surroundings.
Encouraged by the décor, most patrons abandon restraint when visiting Rosie's. If you're not stuffing yourself with bar food here, it's a place to get drunk. Brunch cocktails are $3 a pop. Happy hour is more like happy day, with specials from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., which includes half-priced beer and wine and a dollar off rail drinks. Even during my lunch visits during the workweek, I want several rounds of beer.
"Don't feed the pigeons. No, really. Don't," reads our server's shirt on our burger night. If only the food were as engaging as the wit and kitsch. Instead, it's irreverence and cheap drinks that make for a regular stop. With so many patrons who take Prince's advice, Rosie's is relegated to food for fuel and a recipe to party.