FOOD & DRINK > RESTAURANT REVIEWS

Little Nonna’s

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Oct. 10, 2013

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Patrons of the Center City-based Little Nonna’s, which is open for lunch and dinner, can enjoy popular Italian-American dishes in an intimate indoor or outdoor setting.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

Marcella Hazan, who died last month at 89, taught me almost everything I know about Italian food.

“Not everyone in Italy may know how to cook, but nearly everyone knows how to eat,” she wrote in her first book “The Classic Italian Cookbook.”

I was thinking of Hazan during dinner at Little Nonna’s because it was clear executive chef Marcie Turney and her chef de cuisine Aaron Sheppard understand the simplicity of Italian food prepared with the freshest ingredients available.

Italians have a saying, “First you eat with your eyes.” Unfortunately for me, Edward and all the diners at Little Nonna’s, this was impossible to do. The room was so dark, patrons were pulling out their cell phones and turning on the flashlights to read the menu. The print was so light and fine, it took a while to discuss the bill of fare.

That said, we began our journey into Italian-American Philly, specifically Sunday dinner at Nonna’s house.

We ordered a bottle of Dolcetto ($40), which was rich with dark fruit and drank well with our meal.

Wild mushroom arancini ($8) were such a hit, Edward said he could eat eight of them. Arborio rice was turned into crispy risotto, mixed with heady, chopped wild mushrooms, tossed with a bit of buffalo mozzarella and topped with truffle aioli. These Sicilian treats were crisp on the outside and slightly creamy on the inside.

Forget all the wretched eggplant Parmigiana you have been served in Italian-American restaurants. Little Nonna’s version ($12) was a triumph. Japanese eggplants, which are not bitter, were coated in crumbs and crisp on the outside. There was not a soggy lot on the plate. Fresh, light burrata, fragrant fresh basil leaves, a bit of Thai basil pesto and a rich marinara dotted the plate. The eggplant halves were fanned out like long flower petals.

Since an Italian meal is a progression of courses, we wanted to share a pasta. Linguine vongole ($15) is a mainstay in Italian restaurants, but I was intrigued because this classic at Little Nonna’s was prepared with Virginia cherrystones. These clams are large, so I was surprised to find little necks used in this dish. Still, the pasta was freshly made, napped with a light sauce of white wine, garlic and a pinch of hot pepper flakes. Little crispy nuggets of fried pork cheeks added a lovely crunch and salty flavor that made the dish enjoyable. We asked our server to have this course split in the kitchen, but we were fine with being served family style.

Swordfish ($22) can be very tricky even in pricey restaurants. It is, more often than not, overcooked. Sheppard knows how to prepare it. The fish was done oreganata style which means breadcrumbs, lemon and oregano were pounded together and served as a coating for the fish. Some tiny, briny capers and a few golden raisins were added to the piccata sauce along with some cauliflower, which I could not detect.

Lemon chicken “al matone” is a dish I wanted to try. Italians sometimes use a brick to sear or pound ingredients. I found Little Nonna’s chicken ($24) to be a tad overcooked. My entrée consisted of a half Lancaster county chicken simply seared with garlic, lemon and oregano. I missed the crisp skin that results in roasting a chicken, but the dish was flavorful with the addition of grilled baby artichokes, which were a little salty, and fingerling potatoes.

Our dining experience was hampered because it was so dark in the room. Tiny, dim lights hang from the ceiling, and a single votive candle made it difficult to eat with our eyes. Although our server told us the air conditioning was on, it was much too warm in the room.

Service was excellent. There was a fine rhythm to our meal, and even though the restaurant was full, we did not have to wait long between courses.

Little Nonna’s has a garden for those who wish to dine outside. It is open for lunch and dinner, and reservations are a must.

Three tips of the toque to Little Nonna’s. 

Little Nonna’s

1234 Locust St.
215-546-2100
littlenonnas.com

 

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Ang said... on Oct 10, 2013 at 02:13PM

“Another center city establishment. Very frustrating.”

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2. Antonio said... on Oct 10, 2013 at 07:16PM

“Phyllis, here's what your EMPLOYER says about the geography of the South Philly Review:

"South Philly Review is delivered to the doorstep of everyone in South Philly (zip codes 19145, 19147 and 19148). These 60,000 copies provide local residents neighborhood news, circulated free each Thursday in three zones:
1. The Review East, covering the area between Front and Ninth streets, South Street and Pattison Avenue; 20,000 copies
2. The Review West, covering area between Ninth and 17th streets, South Street and Pattison Avenue; 20,000 copies
3. The Review Chronicle, covering area between 17th and 34th streets, Washington and Pattison avenues; 20,000 copies"

Phyllis, please explain to us what relevance you or your reviews have to these zones. For that matter, what relevance does this person named Edward have? Do either of you live in, or hail from, or give a hoot about the zones above?”

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3. Marty Medals said... on Oct 11, 2013 at 07:56AM

“Antonio,
Thank you for taking the time out to explain to Phyllis my long distress with her reviews.
If I was paying to advertise my eating establishment in the SPR and read the reviews of my competition outside of South Philly I would seek other ways to advertise.
Wait, maybe a lot of restaurants have already done this and the owners of the SPR don't care. Either way this paper is losing out as are the people of South Philly.
AS far as the Broad Street Diner is concerned, hon, the salisbury steak is great!

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4. Anonymous said... on Oct 11, 2013 at 10:42AM

“Say what, Marty? This review is of the "competition"?

If a South Philly restaurant owner feels that a 12th & Locust restaurant is close enough to be the "competition", then you can admit it's close enough for residents like you to read about and visit.”

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5. MS said... on Oct 11, 2013 at 10:53AM

“I have been critical of PSN for some time. I find her reviews go off on a tangent and seem quite pompous. Maybe she aspired to wite for the NYT or a gourmet magazine. That stated this review is no different. Her flowery writing style of superfluous use of adjectives leaves me cold. That is my opinion though.

However the restaurant is maybe 1 or 2 miles from what is considered South Philadelphia. I have no issues/problems with this proximity. Additionally if the room was too dark AND the temperature was too warm AND the $24.00 chicken entree wasn't up to her expectations AND the artichokes were salty why 3 toques?

Many of the reviews don't make sense.”

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6. Tony said... on Mar 4, 2014 at 06:28PM

“Oops. I just checked, and Phyllis reviewed Little Nonna's back in October! Sorry. Well, you guys into writing style can compare reviews of this non-south Philly place.

PSN:
http://www.southphillyreview.com/food-and-drink/reviews/Little_Nonna_s-227144441.html

NYT:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/travel/restaurant-report-little-nonnas-in-philadelphia.html?src=rechp&_r=0”

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