February 23, 2014

Little Nonna's

One of the hardest-to-get reservations these days is at Little Nonna's, Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran's latest 13th Street food establishment.  With only 40 seats, the cozy Italian-American spot has some tough competition with long-time South Philadelphia Italian classics like Villa di Roma and Ralph's.  However, the duo do a little updating to the classics, bringing us 21st century Italian food.  Since our visit was over a month ago, we'll review some of our favorite dishes in mostly (heavily filtered iPhone) pics.

on the specials menu: soup of the day
insanely large veal porterhouse-- that leafy thing on the left is actually an enormous oyster mushroom ($26)
another dish off the specials: grilled lancaster vegetables, including leeks, onions, carrots, radishes, and beets ($6)
One of the small complaints we had was that bread isn't brought to the table gratis.  Usually we'd be fine with that, but at an Italian restaurant, bread is king.  Plus, you need a little extra something to mop up every delicious sauce!  We recommend splurging an extra $5 for an order of the garlic bread for the table- with a roasted bulb of garlic to squeeze and spread onto the grilled Sarcone's loaf.

garlic bread goodness
The pasta dishes at Little Nonna's are not to be missed.  These dishes will fill you up and save you a few dollars compared to the higher priced entrees.  We didn't get the spaghetti and meatballs but the table next to us had a couple of orders and man did it look epic.

linguine vongole: fresh pasta in a spicy white wine sauce with plenty of cherrystone clams ($16)
pan seared potato gnocchi ($14): soft but crisp, with soppressata, olives, tomato and arugula
The desserts are also quite nice, if not a little bit on the pricy side compared to the rest of Little Nonna's menu.  The apple crostata was picture perfect, and kicked up a few notches with cinnamon spiced caramel, surprisingly bright vanilla-thyme ice cream, and a little shaved pecorino for kicks ($9).

apple crostata
We also recommend the house made "water ice" (and gelato-- see above), with seasonal flavors that will blow your mind.  I really appreciated the addition of fresh herbs in many of the options.

concord grape-prosecco.. and sage? ($6)
We loved our dinner at Little Nonna's, and think its a very solid addition to the Turney-Safran conglomeration.  Keep it up, ladies!

Little Nonna's
1234 Locust Street

February 13, 2014

Pizzeria Vetri

Oh, hey there. It's been awhile. *Insert lame excuse about how cold temps, ice, and snow impede blogging motivation*  Regardless, we're still making a few eating-related excursions from time to time.  One such adventure involved dining at Pizzeria Vetri, a casual pizza-focused restaurant opened last fall by well-known Philly chef Marc Vetri.  But you probably already deduced those details based on the name.

I stopped in with a friend on a Thursday evening, and thankfully we had several seating options available. Word on the street is that it can get busy with a wait of an hour or more. We smartly bypassed the communal table with several children (quite family friendly!) and grabbed seats at the "pizza bar"- essentially a counter overlooking the action.  The space is pretty large, open, and bright- not the intimate atmosphere that Vetri typically gravitates towards.

I came in with some preconcieved notions about the menu. Namely, that I NEEDED the rotolo ($3.50 each).  What's a rotolo? Think savory sticky bun, with pizza dough rolled around mortadella (thinly-sliced, cured sausage) and creamy ricotta cheese, and topped with a crunchy pistachio pesto. The layers of dough mean you get some of the crispy edges along with plenty of steamy, fluffy, doughy goodness on the inside. Add salty meat and cheese and you've got an incredible little treat to start your meal.

I really needed to balance a ton of salt and carbs with something remotely healthy, so we split the arugula salad ($8). A bed of fresh, peppery greens supports chunks of smoky roasted potatoes, an extra herby and chunky pesto dressing, and a good dose of small red olives. Simple, with the right balance of winter-y heartiness and refreshing crispness.

Now onto the real deal- the pizza. There are all kinds of options, including a really odd concept of tuna, onion, and pepperoncini. Our view of the prep station reflected the huge popularity of this pizza, but we weren't so brave. The salsiccia ($16) was more up our alley, with fennel sausage, roasted fennel, mozzarella, and a chunky tomato sauce.  The fennel game is upped even further with sprigs of fennel fronds scattered post-baking. Six hearty slices were far more than enough to share.  I'm a big fan of a fat crust, so this pizza didn't disappoint, but if you prefer something thinner, the central part of the crust was fairly thin. A fair compromise- enjoy the toppings without a mouthful of dough, but then finish your slice with some fluffy goodness.

I definitely loved all the components of this pizza- crust, sauce, sausage, all of the fennel action.  But I can't definitively say it's better than my other favorites- Nomad and Pitruco. But right on par? Yes, sir.

I was wayy too full for anything too heavy for dessert (like the fried pizza dough or Nutella marshmallow pizza...), but I love me some Italian baked goods, so we split the cookie jar ($5). More like a cookie bag (why can't they actually serve this in a mini jar?), enclosing two pieces each of four different cookies. My all-time favorite are almond cookies (the powdered sugar coated cookies)- with a dense sweetness thanks to plenty of almond paste. The soft pistachio "gnocchi" put a little Vetri spin on the bag- otherwise, you could get these at your favorite South Philly bakery. Which I'm not complaining about- that's a bit of a hike for me! A perfect sweet treat to complete the meal.

Overall, the meal was a real success. Was it anything earth shatttering? No. Was everything super solid from start to finish, mmmm-inducing, and worth returning for? You bet.  Great service and a fun view of the pizza generation added memorable touches to the experience.

Pizzeria Vetri
1939 Callowhill