At the Rumpus Room, it’s retro hip and cozy eats
The small, wood-panelled Rumpus Room is decked out with the kind of knickknacks that usually take a lifetime of garage-sale scouring to acquire. A mirror emblazoned with Elvis in his white ’70s jumpsuit and pink lei, a Jenga-tile East Van cross, and a shelf of mismatched earthenware pots clutter a wall covered with mod-orange-geometric wallpaper. Elsewhere, a tabletop Pac-Man/Donkey Kong video game sits near a portrait of a fabulously hirsute, Olympic medal–wearing Mark Spitz. Look up toward the ceiling, and macrame pot hangers dangle amid what looks like someone emptied out Dad’s old shed and cannon-shot the contents—think vintage waterskis and old tennis rackets—onto the rafters.
It’s late Sunday morning, and we’re sitting on a beat-up floral-green couch, chowing down on fried chicken and waffles, and playing Sorry at a chunky coffee table that looks like it was salvaged from the set of the The Brady Bunch. There’s a distinct feeling of being transported back to Mom and Dad’s rec room circa ’77—except for a few crazily contradictory things. On a big screen pulled down over part of the bar, Jon Cryer is lip-synching “Try a Little Tenderness” in John Hughes’s iconic ’86 teen-angst extravaganza Pretty in Pink. And then there’s the 2011-vintage, plaid-wearing Main Street hipsters at the surrounding tables.
All these elements collide cozily in the beyond-casual Rumpus Room, where the menu reflects the retro-homey vibe. Rachel Zottenberg, the onetime curator of Main’s late, great Grace Gallery, owns the spot with entrepreneur David Duprey (of the Narrow Lounge). The building used to house the street’s fabled Juicy Fried Chicken, and the duo has set out to serve up comfort foods without any processed ingredients. That means the mayo, gravy, and ketchup are all made in-house and all the meat is natural and hormone-free.
“We wanted to have everybody’s comfort food, but we wanted the healthiest version of them,” Zottenberg explains later over the phone. “It’s something you’re aware was made with love—like when your grandma made you mashed potatoes and they were always the best mashed potatoes.”
It was Zottenberg’s mom, however, who suggested the name Rumpus Room. The mix of bric-a-brac started with the old couches, and from there, Zottenberg commissioned a psychedelic black-light She-Ra–inspired painting for the bathroom, and her team gathered the rest of the kitschy wares from trips to second-hand havens south of the border.
All of which brings us back to the menu that Zottenberg helped develop with her chefs—one definitely not directed at those who count Michelin stars. On the evening menu, the Rumpus Room vibe is typified by—what else?—gravy-doused meatloaf and mashed potatoes, as well as vegan ratatouille. Check out the Ghetto Cheese Plate that looks like something your mom might have carried down to you while you played Twister in the basement: tongue-in-cheek hits of Laughing Cow and Babybel mixed with more gourmet slabs of blue cheese and Brie, with tangy apple-cranberry chutney on the side.
As for the house’s most eccentric dish—deep-fried pickles—they’re an acquired, though surprisingly nonoily taste, served standing bolt upright in a cup with homemade tartar sauce.
On this day, however, we headed down to the Rumpus Room for what the spot lovingly refers to as Daily Blunch. In an added, playfully anachronistic detail, the good, strong (but fittingly, nothing fancy) coffee comes in personal French press pots. We opted for the fried chicken and waffles ($12), a dish that sounds like the kind of greasy grub you’d find in an Alabama trucker stop. But it actually plays out, as Zottenberg and the gang intended, more light and healthy. The boneless chicken has been marinated in a mild-tasting buttermilk batter, and aside from the crunch, you’d never guess it met with a deep-frier. Your run-of-the-mill waffle is raised above the average by the homemade applesauce, with its hint of cinnamon.
For more artery-petrifying goodness, check out the breakfast poutine ($10), a sinful pile of hand-cut fries drizzled in housemade veal gravy, and topped with real cheese curds, two fried eggs, and a couple slabs of maple-smoked bacon. Rumpus fries—crucially—are killer: thick crispy wedges with a good dose of seasoning.
True to its name, the Rumpus Room is a good place to bring kids (hello, Hungry Hippo), and ours dove into a hefty hot dog ($9) that had a deliciously sweet but slightly spicy homemade ketchup and a Mount Everest o’ fries on the side.
Prices are Main Street–friendly, mostly ranging around or below 10 bucks for a main dish.
But the experience here is as much about soaking in the ’70s-heavy atmosphere as it is about gorging yourself. By the time we pulled ourselves off the couch, Napoleon Dynamite had started up on the big screen, and it could not have been more appropriate: there was a scrawny, mouth-breathing Jon Heder, hanging in a rumpus room replete with brown-shag rug, wood-panelling, and a truly hideous floral couch.