Described as the 'hidden gem of Branford,' Rosso Vino has thrived since COVID

Rosso Vino in Branford is probably the last restaurant that should have survived the pandemic, let alone thrive during it. But thrive it did. 

A tucked-away gem on the shoreline — far enough off any beaten path that you have to go out of your way to get there — it sits on Short Beach Road, directly across the street from the beach and enmeshed in a very tight-knit residential community that constitutes only some of its clientele. The remainder are people who do just that: go out of their way. 

It's owned by Joe Flores, who established himself as a force of nature in the New Haven restaurant world at Adriana's Ristorante. Everything from the cocktails to cuisine is meticulously crafted. Who'd want it curbside, robbed of its aesthetic grandeur while crammed into brown paper bags and containers? Evidently, many. 

The restaurant's curbside service did such big business during the pandemic, Flores has kept it in tact. Plus, the inside of the very quaint (in other words, pretty darn small) Italian villa-esque joint never saw one empty table throughout those bleak bygone days. The tight space spots were the toughest to keep afloat. Flores put in the necessary partitions, rearranged the tables accordingly so the proper distance could be achieved, and the people came.

Rosso Vino Wine Bar + Bistro owner Joe Flores, center, is photographed with chefs Joe Dusa, left, holding Capesante Picatta and Chris Rydell holding Cozze Fra Diavolo.

Rosso Vino Wine Bar + Bistro owner Joe Flores, center, is photographed with chefs Joe Dusa, left, holding Capesante Picatta and Chris Rydell holding Cozze Fra Diavolo.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

Was it for the batter-dipped squash flowers, a peasant food delight, steeped in tradition, which sell out more often than not? Or the seasonal martinis, bursting with both color and flavor? 

Jules Dusa, the defacto spokesperson for the humble, soft-spoken Flores — and wife of the head chef, it should be noted — has her theories.

"We have the best bosses," the hostess/head waitress said. "Joe and Lisa (his wife) are the hardest-working people you could have for bosses. And we definitely give you the portions. We have a valet, which not a lot of restaurants offer, and that takes a lot off your plate, while we're giving you a lot on it." 

To be sure, the veal Milanese looks like something Fred Flintstone might order, served on the bone, and sizable, to say the least.

"Every time I bring it out I feel like it's the beginning of 'The Flintstones,' and the car is going to flip over, it's so big. There's so much flavor, leaving it on the bone like that. (Joe) perfected that at Adriana's while I was tending bar at the old (Branford) Margarita's for ten years. It's everyone's favorite."

But for her, it's an Italian classic that takes the cake.

"My number one, whenever I'm asked by a customer what I would recommend, is our Bolognese. It's out of this world. I've been to Italy, and I think our Bolognese knocks the Bolognese that I've had in Italy out of the park. We use basically an oversized Rigatoni, and it's just so good with a dollop of ricotta on top. Everything is such a visual sight when you bring it out to people."

So how then did wrapping these stunning dishes in aluminum foil and plunking them down into containers for curbside not slow things down for Rosso Vino?

"Our regulars just kept saying they had to have this dish or that dish. That they just couldn't live without it. They kept us going. And the fact that we already had this well-oiled valet thing already in place made pick-up feel like it would be real easy. And it was," she said.

Rosso Vino also delivered during this time, and continues to, which was new.  

Dusa moved on from Margarita's to Wooster Street — Consiglio's, to be exact — before partnering up with Joe and his wife to take over a secluded spot that many just couldn't make work for decades.

"It's the hidden gem of Branford," Dusa said. "In a town of many hidden gems."