While Philly is sandwiched between two great rivers, we tend to spend most of our time closer to the Schuylkill. The dining scene in Old City isn't really our style (with a few exceptions), plus it's a bit of a hike. However, there have been a few recent additions to the Philly food family which have pulled us closer to the Delaware- all on the same little strip near Front and Fitzwater. We've tried out Catahoula and Kennett, and next on our list was Village Belle. We were just invited to join Savored, a discounted restaurant reservation site, which includes Village Belle. Thirty percent off my meal? You know I'm there.
The restaurant is located right on the water, and is incredibly spacious. Significant outdoor seating is available, as well as several partitioned indoor spots- a long, swanky bar (with free snacks!), a small back room, several long tables for large groups, and a raised platform near the front of the room. It was pretty much empty upon our early arrival, but the quiet didn't last too long.
The restaurant seems to represent both Mediterranean and Italian flavors and cooking techniques- a mix which blends particularly well. By reading past reviews of the place, we decided to stick with the appetizer and pasta portions of the menu- but the entrees certainly LOOK enticing.
After making fairly speedy decisions, my friend and I (J was in Boston.. as always) chatted for more than twenty minutes before realizing that our waiter had seemingly forgotten about us. With the staff to customer ratio hovering around 1 at this point, I found this blunder rather unacceptable- and semi-scolded our server when he FINALLY arrived (he seemed rather defensive, so I let it go, but I like to think we got extra good service for the rest of the meal to make up for it). After placing our order, we were immediately given bread service- light, fluffy strips of focaccia with an olive oil/herb blend. I appreciate a bit of originality in the bread service- a good time to set the tone for the meal.
I started with a salad- figured I'd get some greens while sampling from a different part of the menu. My quest for health fell flat though, as I selected the Country salad ($9)- light green frisee carefully tossed in a not-too-heavy-handed bleu cheese dressing and topped with chunks of thick-cut bacon (sorry, lardons). Thankfully, the flavors and textures made up for it- three simple ingredients still made a very satisfying starter.
I also split an order of the Gravy Meatball Sliders with my dining date ($9). These came with rave reviews across the board, so I knew we had to try them- and they stood up to their lofty reputation. This appetizer could easily make a meal, as a single little meatball sandwich was more than enough to satisfy me. The meatball to bread ratio is quite large, giving each bite a huge hunk of soft, juicy meat (a mix of beef, pork, and veal). The "gravy," or red sauce for those non-Italian among us, was just the icing on the cake, with bright tomato flavor that balanced the rich meat. The bun had a faint flavor of Asiago, but honestly just enclosed the little ball of delight without competing or falling apart- just as it should.
I wanted to order all of the pasta dishes (all are homemade, which makes more than a slight difference). However, two of them in particular caught our eye- oddly enough, both of which were complemented with their own amazing red sauce. My friend chose the small portion of Spaghetti, which is served in a beautiful swirling heap with "crab gravy," a mix of their delicious tomato base and large chunks of lump crab meat ($13). Each component on its own was fabulous, but together, the dish as a whole seemed to be missing something.. or perhaps just somehow incongruous. Thankfully, the small portion was easily tackled (half portions are available for most of the pastas!) and we moved on to our main course.
I don't always take professional food critics word for truth, but when Craig LaBan declared Village Belle's Crespelle the "most soulful dish," I knew I had to try it (the professional photo of the dish didn't hurt either). For $17, it's more than I'd typically shell out for a plate of pasta, but the quantity, quality, and yes, soul, of the food made it all worth it (oh, yeah, and I was getting 30% off). The plate starts with a base of the delicious, tangy tomato sauce, and is then layered with small crepes, made from thin sheets of pasta. Inside each palm-sized triangle is a mix of smooth ricotta and crunchy pine nuts, and then somehow cooked (baked? boiled? both?) so that the tips of the triangles are al dente and the edges are ever so slightly crisp. The whole dish is topped with a sprinkle of basil for additional freshness.
After the salad and sliders, I had to call it quits after just a few of the crespelle- thankfully they made for a delicious lunch as leftovers. Avoiding sugar the night before a long run, I skipped dessert and enjoyed a delightful (decaf) cappuccino. However, next time I'm not skipping the third course- the dessert menu looked divine, and my friend's choice was beyond all expectations. A mix of fresh peaches, cooked just until their juices began to release, a creamy, sweet ricotta soup and an adorable soft shortbread "spoon" was beautifully arranged and even more beautiful to eat (yes, I tried a bite!). We were very happy that our waiter recommended this dessert- we decided he completely redeemed himself.
When our bill came, I was even more delighted- somehow I made out with a $35 bill (including tax and tip). Savored.com, thank you (and no, I'm not a sponsored endorser of the website). Even at full price though, Village Belle makes a lovely date spot, but was also enjoyed by a huge group seated nearby. Despite its location being quite far away from us, I might intrude the neighborhood more often to enjoy a little quality Italian.
757 S. Front Street (at Fitzwater)