Penny Roma opened on Monday, October 11, bringing cacio e pepe, shinko pears and prosciutto, and woodfired ribeyes every night of the week to the Mission. Does the Mission really need any more rustic California-Italian restaurants, one might reasonably ask? Well, this one is from the Flour + Water Restaurant Group (as it’s now officially rebranded, retiring the Ne Timeas name). And true to longtime chef duo Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow, while Penny Roma might not be wildly innovative, it promises to be deeply satisfying. Duck inside the cozy heated courtyard of the former Central Kitchen space, and here’s a first taste of the simple but classic menu.
While Flour + Water is known for its creative pasta tasting menus with many courses and unexpected twists, Penny Roma aims to be satisfyingly simple, hitting classic pastas not only from Rome, but also a few other Italian regions. A trio of fresh crudos fans out fresh amberjack, albacore, and king salmon. Starters feature only a few ingredients from favorite farms, such as the shinko pear draped in prosciutto and Sardinian cheese. Pasta fanatics will head straight for the classic cacio e pepe tossed with pecorino and black pepper, although McNaughton recommends the fregola sarda that’s briny with mussels and sea urchin butter. From the woodfire hearth, there’s also crispy trout with chanterelles and a serious 32-oz bone-in ribeye with salsa verde enriched with bone marrow. Check out the full menu below.
This is the biggest restaurant in the Flour + Water group, and it was a big refresh to the former Central Kitchen space. Stroll down residential 20th Street and glance down the entry, and you’ll now see an inviting bench, stacked wood, and whispering potted plants. Step under the glow of the blue neon sign, and there’s a fountain filled with pennies wishing for Rome. The courtyard was always the heart of this space, and it still has heated floors and that retractable roof, sheltering 36 seats. The dining room still faces the open kitchen, although it’s a little more divided with open shelves and plants now, giving a partial view to 24 more seats. Unlike Central Kitchen’s industrial space gilded in bright green, Penny Roma has chilled out with blues, grays, and natural woods, and it’s a little more lived in with patterned rugs and lush plants, and light fixtures that resemble white petals.
Penny Roma encompasses the courtyard and dining room, but on the other side, the Pasta Shop that popped up during the pandemic will continue. It’s the actual pasta production station, which makes all of the pasta for the various restaurants, and peeking through the window, pedestrians can see the cooks rolling and folding. The Pasta Shop is a bottle shop by day, where fans can grab a hoagie, salad, box of fresh tortellini, or bottle of wine for half off. Then it flips to an enoteca by night, with a menu of cheese, salumi, tinned fish, and wines by the glass. There are a dozen seats inside the shop, sitting in the window or among the bottles, and 26 more seats spill out on the sidewalk and around the corner. The wine list of more than 80 bottles bridge California and Italy, new naturals, and classic comforts, with some spritzes for light cocktails.
“We could have just reopened Central Kitchen, and it would have been fine,” McNaughton says. “I definitely had mixed emotions. But we’re 13 years more mature with more experience and mistakes. What else, what’s next?” So for their biggest restaurant, with the most outdoor space, he says the whole team is excited to dig into the classics, and craft craveable weeknight pasta. “With a menu this simple, you have to stay focused. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Penny Roma is open every day from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and accepts reservations, while leaving room for walk-ins. Flour + Water Pasta Shop is open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.