Rosebud’s Growing Empire of Pie

Chef-owner Joe Cassinelli is finding his niche with the most American of desserts.

rosebud american kitchen

Photo by Kristin Teig

Even though chef John Delpha is an award-winning barbecue pit master 30 times over, it’s not a stack of applewood staves or a creosote-encrusted smoker you’ll see when you first walk into Somerville’s Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar. That would be a hostess stand carved out of a glass display case exhibiting lattice-topped apple pies and billowy banana creams gilded with tendrils of chocolate.

“When we started Rosebud, I told the guys I wanted everything to have meaning to us. I didn’t want anything to feel contrived,” says chef-owner Joe Cassinelli. “When you see pie, it tends to instill a certain comfort level. So, when you walk into Rosebud and you see all those pies—besides getting a sense of the style of cooking we’re going for—it puts you at ease.”

Inspired by the slices of pie he used to see twirling in the rotating display case at his local Kmart, Cassinelli has made that most American of desserts a foundation for his revamped 1930s-era diner. Even Delpha’s fantastic griddled cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and barbecue take a backseat to baker Kim Chapel’s “hyper-seasonal” pie menu with selections that range from classic apple and pumpkin to a holiday sweet potato crowned with toasted marshmallows.

“Kmart used to have these diners in them that were like mini Bonanzas,” Cassinelli says. “They were more for truck drivers, but I would go in there with my dad who loved lemon meringue and banana cream pies. The pie probably wasn’t very great, but it’s just one of those childhood memories that gets stuck in your head. I wanted to have a banana cream pie on the menu in honor of my dad. That’s where this whole idea was born.”

The pie-focused dessert program has already paid big dividends. Since opening in September, Rosebud has hardly been able to keep up with demand. Cassinelli says there have been several nights that the bake case has been picked clean and its overwhelming success has delayed the kitchen’s intended rollout of house-made crullers and doughnuts. The sugary boon has even motivated Cassinelli to move into phase two of Rosebud’s pie prominence: the wholesale industry.

“Bigger picture really is to create a small wholesale pie program,” Cassinelli says. “We’re currently looking for a commissary space and I’m trying to work with someone who can produce the pies for us. My pie in the sky ambition is to have distribution at grocery stores because there’s no good frozen or fresh pie options there. ”

The actuality of walking to your local Shaw’s or Stop & Shop and picking up one of Rosebud’s ginger-laced apple and cherry pies might still be a distant reality, but there’s certainly no reason to doubt its inevitability. Cassinelli has a tendency to think big. Just look at burgeoning Davis Square, where Cassinelli’s  Alpine Restaurant Group now owns a stretch that runs from The Painted Burro to Pizzeria Posto on Elm Street.

“I definitely think that’s our next step,” says Cassinelli, in regards to his pie sovereignty. “Anything is possible as long as I’m upright and breathing.”

381 Summer St., Somerville; 617-629-9500 or rosebudkitchen.com.

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