Italian Bistro 

By Phyllis Stein-Novack

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Feb. 28, 2013

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Fratelli’s returns to Center City, offering a variety of Italian-American dishes. 

Photo by Greg Bezanis

When the Marathon Grill, 1339 Chestnut St., suddenly closed months ago, I knew someone would open a restaurant at this prime location. 

I was surprised to discover Fratelli’s Italian Bistro as the new tenant because I remember its days at 17th and Spruce streets.

I’m not sure Center City needed another Italian restaurant, especially since Fratelli’s opened across the street from the Olive Garden. Still, I was curious about the menu and wanted to see if a few dishes had what it took to tempt my taste buds.

Edward and I hopped on the bus on a bitterly cold night. At Fratelli’s, two women greeted us at the door, checked our coats and showed us to a roomy booth. The interior has not changed much since its Marathon days. There’s a well-lit bar with two televisions, hanging lights and red leather booths near large windows affording a view of the happening Chestnut Street scene.

We settled in and glanced over the wine list, deciding on a bottle of Santa Christina Sangiovese ($29). Its rich, robust flavor enhanced our Italian fare quite nicely. 

Our server brought us some cool Italian bread and softened butter. Then we began dinner with a Caesar salad and eggplant rolatine ($9.50 each). Bite-size pieces of romaine were crisp and cool, but the salad lacked flavor. A sprinkling of salt and pepper helped it a bit, but this was less than mediocre.

The rolatine consisted of two slices of not-at-all bitter eggplant filled with fresh, creamy ricotta cheese, rolled up and topped with a fresh homemade tomato sauce. This dish imparted a light flavor, but I think a few fresh herbs would have pepped it up. Still, it was tasty and arrived piping hot.

I usually enjoy a pasta appetizer portion when dining in an Italian restaurant. Since Fratelli’s does not offer small pasta portions, Edward and I shared the fettuccine Alfredo ($16.50). It’s important to hit the right balance of butter, cream and Parmesan cheese in this famous Rome creation. Fratelli’s version was OK, but it lacked depth in flavor. I sprinkled on a little grated Parmesan, which added a slightly salty flavor that the pasta needed.

Fratelli’s offers a list of fresh fish that can be either grilled or pan-seared and comes with a choice of sauces. In Italy, grilled fish is topped with a little wine, olive oil and chopped fresh herbs. Fratelli’s is an Italian-American restaurant so sauces, especially for the pasta, run the American gamut of brandy cream to simple fresh tomato.

I chose tuna Livornese ($21.50), a classic dish of seared tuna topped with a rich, slightly chunky tomato sauce and laced with olives and sautéed onions. It was pretty tasty, and the fish was seared medium and not overcooked. A few pencil-thin grilled asparagus and roasted potatoes encrusted with sea salt were fanned out on the plate.

Edward always enjoys a plain veal cutlet. He does not care for sauce or cheese on top because he feels it detracts from the flavor of the veal. His dinner ($22.50) consisted of a slice of veal pounded paper thin, coated in crumbs and quickly fried. I thought it was dry, but he liked it. The aforementioned vegetables also were included in his entrée.

Service was excellent throughout dinner. Our server knew the menu, answered our questions and offered distinct descriptions of several dishes.

However, I was a bit disappointed with the menu. I hoped Fratelli’s would be more upscale, with interesting twists on classic dishes. Italy’s diverse regions offer all sorts of antipasti, pasta and entrées. The bill of fare is run-of-the mill, but if I had a choice between the Olive Garden and Fratelli’s, I would choose the latter.

One-and-a-half tips of the toque to Fratelli’s.

Fratelli’s Italian Bistro

1339 Chestnut St.


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Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. baron davis said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 11:46AM

“If I had to choose between reading Stein-Novack and having a root canal, I'd choose the latter.”

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2. Scrimp said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 12:13PM

“If I didn't enjoy reading someone's columns I would not keep racing to it every Thursday and then defaming the author online. Go read Craig LeBan on Sundays, baron davis, and then practice being nice the rest of the week.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 12:46PM

“So I guess Baron got a root canal.”

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4. Greg Whiting said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 01:22PM

“Phyllis Stein Novack, shame on you !!
While I disagree with most of your review, I acknowledge that everyone has a right to their own opinion. However your facts are incorrect. You are misleading the readers of your column on two very important points.
Fratelli's Italian bistro was never on 17th and Spruce Street, it is run by the operators of the Italian bistro that served Center City for over 20 years at Broad & Walnut Streets. You say that "the interior has not changed much since its Marathon days", The entire space has been renovated, the interior changed and looks nothing like the former restaurant. For example, more dining area and a new restroom were added, counters removed, walls constructed etc.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 02:06PM

“I have to say I am shocked Fratelli's getting a bad review. I have had the food there 3 or 4 times. Every time being outstanding. The steamed muscles in red sauce.juicy with a very nice kick. The chicken buttata my favorite was amazing. The herbs were fresh and fragrant. The crab and Capellini is on another level. The food with the bar scene is a cool place to eat with the family or go and have some food with friends and a few drinks after. The owner was very down to earth and I felt at home. I would absolutely recommend Fratelli's.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 02:20PM

“I love Fratelli’s the food was delicious. Danielle the bartender was very pleasant and made my first experience one to remember.”

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7. Marty Medals said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 03:28PM

“Where to begin?
Center City need all of the help it can get. However, isn't this the South Philly Review?
There is almost nothing happening on Chestnut Street on a bitterly cold night!
The rolatine sounds nice.
I am always amazed that critics always seem to want to improve on what they are presented as if they knew better.

The author Truman Copote once compared critics to eunuchs. He said that they have seen it done a thousands times yet couldn't do it them selves if their life depended upon it!”

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8. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 06:03PM

“There was a Fratelli's on 17th and was years ago but it was there”

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9. Mike Palumbo said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 09:25AM

“Fratelli's is my favorite place for dinner before going to a show. We love the food and the prices are great. We are glad that they are back.”

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10. Stevie T said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 01:32PM

“What a great place to go to in Center City! The pastas are amazing and the tiramisu is the best I have ever had, ever.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 01:47PM

“These comments of praise above are SO-O-O manufactured and unauthentic.”

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12. Stevie P said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 01:50PM

“What a great place to go to in Center City! The urinals are amazing and the toilet paper is the best I have ever used, ever.””

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13. Mac Palumbo said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 09:13PM

“Fratelli's is the worst place for dinner before going to a show. We hate the food and the prices are terrible. We are sorry that they are back.”

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14. Edward said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 09:16PM

“8. Anonymous said... on Feb 28, 2013 at 06:03PM
“There was a Fratelli's on 17th and was years ago but it was there”

Wasn't that Astral Plane?"”

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15. Britney S said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 09:47AM

“Hey Edward, have another martini, you drunk !!”

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16. lord constipane said... on Mar 6, 2013 at 08:53PM

“If I had to choose between reading the comments of baron davis and having an enema, I'd choose the latter.”

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17. Rob said... on Feb 20, 2014 at 05:58PM

“The last time I ate at Fratelli's it was September 1986. I was a freshman in college and my high school gf took me to eat there. A nice view on the second floor. Was the food good? Don't remember it being bad. But bringing along your high school girlfriend MAY enhance the experience. It did for me.”


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