l’Angolo

l’Angolo is one of those places akin to Mr. Martino’s that we have been going to for years. Before I even knew the charm of the neighborhood, my family and I celebrated special occasions at these two places. Since moving to the neighborhood, it has become a special place for my husband and me. In fact, we often give it top honors as our “favorite” restaurant in Philadelphia. Why? The food is simple and authentic with rich flavors and no pretension in service. Besides, it’s BYO so we can bring a bottle or two of our favorite wine.

When we got married a few years back, some of our favorite gifts were restaurants gift certificates, of which we received many. We used our l’Angolo one quickly but had $18 remaining and decided to tuck it away for later use. Fast forward three years and it was still hanging out in our gift card file. As we decided where to celebrate the end of my school year, we figured it had been too long since we’d eaten at l’Angolo, despite our proximity. We called on a steamy Tuesday afternoon and were able to get a reservation for that evening (don’t try that on the weekend, folks.)

We walked the eight blocks to the tiny restaurant on the corner of Porter and Rosewood (between Broad and 15th.) As we stepped in, we were greeted by the friendly staff, but both us were drawn to the open kitchen where they were sliding a pan of pappardelle onto a plate. Mmm… Although we were early for our reservation, they were more than able to accommodate us.

Something to be said about l’Angolo is that it is a place where anyone can feel at home. As we sat down, two burly, older men to our left were having a conversation about cell phones (“I don’t really check my text messages,” said the man who later discovered he had 59 unread messages.) In the back was a large party celebrating a birthday next to a very tattooed table of four. As we got ready to leave, a younger couple arrived who appeared to be on a first date. Most interesting, however, was the Italian couple next to us. Our waiter obviously knew them and the three babbled away in a thick regional accent–or so I say, I could barely translate a word or two of their conversation.

Onto the food. Why is it that it always takes me so long to get to the food?

l’Angolo starts each meal with a simple bread basket with a sun-dried tomato pesto. I could, of course, eat it by the spoonful and I may or may not have eaten about 3 slices of bread loaded with this tasty topping.

Some time ago, I heard ago l’Angolo’s grilled baby artichoke hearts (carciofi.) They’re not on the menu but if you ask, they’re happy to make them for you. Ever since, I’ve been ordering them. They have a fantastic char and are swimming in garlicky olive oil.

Since we’re both suckers for grilled food, we also got an order of the lemony calamari grigliati (grilled calamari.) Simple, fresh flavors with a great grill flavor.

Be sure to rescue some bread from that killer sun dried tomato so you’ll have a couple pieces left to sop up the juices from both of these dishes.

When the waiter shared the specials with us, two dishes jumped out. One was a homemade pappardelle with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu. This was what we saw the chef preparing when we walked in. My husband had his eyes on a veal chop that someone at the table behind us had ordered. However, I had a strange hankering for something simple and the spaghetti al pomodoro con ricotta salata jumped out at me. When we learned that we could do pastas in half orders, I cheered with delight! We opted for a half order of the pappardelle special, he got the veal chop special and I went with my gut.

The papparedelle came out and boy were we pleased.

The homemade noodles were chewy ribbons that corralled the ragu perfectly. The ragu, on the other hand, was rich and tender with a mellow tomatoey sauce. We quickly licked our bowl clean.

At this point, I was full. Yup, didn’t even get my entree yet and I was full. Of course our entrees arrived.

The spaghetti was tossed with oven roasted tomatoes and lots and lots of garlic, topped with a healthy shaving of ricotta salata.

You can’t see it in the picture but HELLO GARLIC. There must have been one full head of garlic in the spaghetti. MY KIND OF DISH, although I’m glad I wasn’t on a first date. OK, maybe I wasn’t completely full. Maybe I had just a lil room left.

Meanwhile, my husband was attacking this monster.

The chop was from Esposito’s and topped with an umami mixture of wild mushrooms in a sumptuous gravy, perched atop a mountain of extra buttery mashed potatoes. You pretty much can’t get any better than that. Oh yeah, add a side of broccoli rabe. The meat was a perfect medium rare and the best bite involved a little bit of everything. Ohh, that gravy…

We decided to forgo dessert (being as how I was full before we even hit the entrees,) although I kicked myself for not bringing one of the many bottles of homemade ‘cello in our freezer. Instead, we packed up our leftovers and walked off our lavish Italian meal (which came to under $100, including tip.) We both had our leftovers for breakfast the next day. They were just as good.

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Scannicchio’s

Last week, my father’s best friend of 40+ years came to visit Philadelphia with his daughter, Emily, for a whirlwind visit to the region’s top colleges. It’s always so much fun when Pat visits. We eat a lot and drink a lot and my dad is very happy. I saw Pat and Emily, twice during the week. The first night we ate in with a massive amount of Pat’s famous grilled paella (to be blogged at a later date.) On Friday night, however, Emily wanted to visit an authentic Italian-American restaurant. It was immediately a battle between Villa di Roma and Scannicchio’s in my mind, although Scannicchio’s won out for two reasons: proximity to my house and its BYOB status. For some reason, I didn’t think Pat would be a fan of Villa’s jug of house red served in juice glasses, although it’s never bothered me. When in Rome, right? Pun intended.  Scannicchio’s it was and no one was disappointed. We first visited it with my parents a couple of years ago for some sort of family birthday or going away celebration. We can’t remember why we were there but everyone had a great time.

Pat and Emily got to our house about an hour or so before our reservations. Emily wanted a cup of coffee so I sent my husband and Pat off to the “Fine Wine and Good Spirits” store to pick up some wines for dinner while Emily and I set out in search of caffeine. Although I wanted to take her for a stroll along the avenue, I thought Ultimo Coffee on 15th and Mifflin, which also has the distinction of being attached to Brew, a boutique bottle shop. How cool is that??? I quickly eschewed my plan for peppermint tea and Emily got a chai latte while I settled for a little taste of the past.

My brother studied abroad in London and we all drank many a canned Strongbow during a chilly December visit. In fact, last time I was at Brew, I requested that they add Strongbow to their offerings so I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was available. Talk about customer service!

We arrived at Scannicchio’s just in time for our 6:30pm reservation and were seated by the owner’s friendly fiancee. As they dropped off the complimentary bread and roasted peppers, we opened my first ever rich, raisiny Amarone.

Our waiter came over to recite the specials and all of the appetizers sounded fantastic. They had my absolutely favorite arancini (which I pretty much have to get when they’re on a menu) so I was pumped! For appetizers, we ended up with two orders of the aranicini (they called them rice balls) and sausage and figs for the table while Emily got a salad of mixed greens and Pat got the special grilled romaine heart with strawberries.

The arancini were, not surprisingly, amazing. They were crunchy on the outside and soft, cheesy and gooey on the inside. As an added bonus, they came with a small serving of greens as well. While each order only had three balls, each one was pretty sizable, making sharing an option–not like you’d want to share this bite of deliciousness.

The sausage and figs was a surpringly good combination, although the darkness of the dish makes for a terrible picture. It was very sweet but the soft figs and chewy sausage provided a great textural combination along with a kick of syrupy balsamic. I would have liked for the dish to have a little more sausage though, as it seemed to be a bit fig heavy.

Pat’s salad could have easily been split between a few people as the romaine heart was generous. Pat believes it was grilled with the outer layer of leaves were removed in order to maintain the smoky grill flavor without the char of the leaves. The strawberry dressing and blue cheese were a perfect marriage for the crisp, clean bite of the romaine. What a refreshing dish.

We opened up another bottle of wine as the entrees came out. I didn’t really taste many of the entrees as I was busy focusing on my heart attack on a plate. I love fettucine alfredo. As much as I enjoy trying different things, I can be counted on to get fettucine alfredo at just about any Italian restaurant (Marra’s, Villa di Roma and Ralph’s come to mind.)  In my very unofficial search for the best fettucine alfredo in Philadelphia, Scannicchio’s is officially leading the way. The sauce was thick, flavorful and creamy. All it required was a quick twist of the pepper grinder and some parmesan for the added texture and it was perfetto!

Look at that thick, white sauce! The fact that I got two meals worth of food for $14.95 doesn’t hurt either.

It was around this time that they noticed me taking pictures and said “I hope you’re going to put them on the internet!” I assured them that I would.

I only tried two of the other entrees. My mom’s pork chop and Emily’s veal chop special. The pork chop was incredibly moist and chock full of flavor.

My husband’s white fish special.

My father and Pat both got clams with white sauce. One of them had fettucine and the other had linguine. About halfway through they realized they were eating the other’s dish. Whoops.

My dad got a side of escarole with white beans. I didn’t eat too much because my dish was more than enough, but the few bites I had were homestyle Italian perfection in the brothy dish.

Last up was dessert.  We had no need for dessert with the amount of food we had just consumed, yet everyone wanted to hear the options. We ended up  with three orders of blood orange sorbet (or was it gelato?), some other fruity gelato–maybe dried cherry and some crazy dessert of nutella ice cream sandwiched by two pizzelles for my mom.

The blood orange gelato was a little too fruity for my taste and I only had a few bites. Blood oranges are EVERYWHERE lately (including my house, where a batch of blood orange-cello was, ironically, straining through a coffee filter as we dined)

Oh whoops, did I forget to take a picture of the complimentary pina colada-cello that came with dessert? I guess we enjoyed them a little too quickly for that! Overall, Scannicchio’s is an amazing place to go with a group of hungry friends or family. While we enjoyed nicer libations, a group walked in with a cooler of Miller Lite and boxed wine as we were finishing up and they were welcomed just the same. Scannicchio’s welcomes all sorts of diners with open arms.