My husband Edward and I belong to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel. Although the synagogue is located just steps from Rittenhouse Square, our congregants live in all sections of the city.
For the past few months, I've been planning to meet for dinner with Sue and Jerry, two synagogue members who are longtime South Philly residents. Two days before Christmas, we did just that. We wanted to try a new South Philly restaurant and selected Scannicchio's at Broad and Porter.
We were shown to a table and settled in. The dining room was tastefully decorated for Christmas. The lighting was soft, but I could easily read the menu. Christmas music was playing on the sound system and I could see patrons were enjoying themselves, including a group of women with several little girls who were having an early dinner before taking in The Nutcracker.
Tables are covered in crisp white linen with matching napkins. Our waiter, who was courteous and most professional, opened our wine and brought us wineglasses. He recited the specials but did not give us the prices. A dish of roasted peppers and a loaf of fresh warm bread kept us happy as we discussed the menu.
Scannicchio's menu held few surprises. It is classic Italian-American fare, akin to the cucina served at Scannicchio's, its sister restaurant in Atlantic City. Jerry does not eat pork or shellfish, but a number of dishes piqued his interest.
Sue and I were both intrigued by the stuffed artichoke ($6.95) and decided to order one for the table. We received a warm jumbo globe artichoke that had been perfectly steamed and filled with a nicely seasoned Italian bread stuffing. The leaves were opened to form a flower, which made for easy eating. We all gave this antipasto high marks. The stuffing had a creamy texture that I liked.
Jerry began dinner with "insalata mista" ($4.50), which consisted of a generous mound of mesclun topped with cucumber, tomato, black and green olives, walnuts and a sprinkling of raisins tossed in vinaigrette. I thought the salad was slightly overdressed. The ingredients were very fresh and the addition of nuts and raisins made this very Sicilian. Sue ordered "ravioli fritta" ($7.95), which I've not seen on restaurants menus lately. The ravioli were stuffed with ricotta cheese, lightly breaded and fried until golden brown. They were not a bit greasy. The ravioli were placed on a pool of rich homemade marinara. We finished them with ease.
"Cozze vongole Poisitano" ($8.95) was another fine antipasto. I ordered this mix of mussels and clams because Sue never had it. I received a large soup bowl brimming with nicely steamed topneck clams and New Zealand farm-raised mussels. These squeaky clean mollusks were gently simmered in a broth made from the shellfish's natural juices, a bit of white wine, the right touch of garlic, bits of plum tomato and a hint of spice. Our waiter brought us small bowls for the shells.
"These are delicious," said Sue as she helped herself to another mussel. "What took me so long to try them?" They were delicious. When a dish is simply prepared with top-quality ingredients, it always pleases me.
From the entrôes, Jerry chose "pollo Siciliana" ($13.95), Sue decided on flounder florentine ($14.95) and I wanted stuffed calamari ($14.95) since it has been a number of years since I have sampled this classic dish.
"Pollo Siciliana" was prepared with a large boneless chicken breast that had been pounded thin and sautôed in a white wine garlic sauce. The chicken was topped with a mix of sweet peppers, mushrooms, onions and Gaeta olives, which gave the finished dish a pleasant, slightly salty flavor. I thought the chicken was served in too much sauce.
Flounder florentine is a staple of Italian-American restaurants. Fresh spinach was used in this dish and was properly seasoned and prepared. "The flounder is like butter," said Sue. "It's cooked just right." I agreed.
A generous portion of mozzarella had been placed on the fish before it was browned under the broiler. I thought the cheese detracted from the flavor of the fish, but Sue liked it. Both platters came with sides of pasta topped with marinara.
My calamari, made in a white sauce, was disappointing. Although the whole baby squid were stuffed with a creamy seasoned bread stuffing and a good-sized scattering of calamari rings were included, I did not care for the sauce. It was thick and at first, I thought cornstarch was used in the preparation. I tasted the sauce on its own and, to me, it tasted of potato. I thought the sauce used in the mussels and clams antipasto would have been a better choice. The squid were served over linguine, which was overcooked. I also thought our entrôes could have been hotter.
We wanted to sample a dessert or two. The cannoli ($3.50) was filled with a creamy, slightly sweet ricotta with chocolate chips and dusted with superfine sugar. It quickly disappeared. Limoncello is very popular in Italian restaurants. Sometimes it is a homemade liqueur, sometimes it is made into a sorbet. We received a parfait glass filled with limoncello ice ($5), which was cool and refreshing, especially on an evening that was uncommonly balmy. Coffee ($1.25) was a bottomless cup as our waiter thoughtfully placed a carafe on our table.
I've found that many Italian-American restaurants serve fine antipasti but fall short when it comes to entrôes. They arrive lukewarm and contain too much sauce. Often the sauces are thickened with too much butter when a simple classic reduction with wine and fresh herbs would be much tastier. Scannicchio's is the type of place where I could make a meal out of several antipasti and skip the entrôes.
Still, I enjoyed my evening at the restaurant. Service was excellent. Prices are moderate and you can bring your own wine.