Villa Di Roma

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Nov. 7, 2013

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Bella Vista-based Villa Di Roma serves a variety of classic Italian-American dishes.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

Changes in weather often affect my appetite. It was quite warm last Saturday when suddenly, overnight, the temperature dropped and I immediately wanted warm, comforting food.

While watching the Eagles game on Sunday, I tweeted “I am craving meatballs and gravy.” Chef Kevin Sbraga, whose restaurant is one of my favorites in the city, tweeted a photo of a pot simmering on his stove at his home: “No meatballs but gravy with sweet sausage, lamb neck and pepperoni.”

Since it was too late for me to buy the beef, pork and veal necessary to make them at home, I wracked my brain to discover the next best thing.

Villa Di Roma immediately came to mind. I have not been there in many years. It was one of the first restaurants I reviewed when I became the restaurant critic for the paper. I clearly recall a cold December evening two weeks before Christmas when I first experienced the warm family atmosphere that is a hallmark of Villa Di Roma. Snow was falling on the Christmas trees that were for sale in the Italian Market.

Edward and I made it to the restaurant just in time to watch the Eagles big win. The place was packed, and it seemed half the populations of Washington Township, N.J., and South Philly were tucking into plates of pasta, or enjoying a beer or glass of wine at the bar while waiting for their table.

Villa Di Roma has been a Ninth-Street staple for almost 50 years. There are two well-lit dining rooms separated by the bar with a photo of Rocky running through the Italian Market. Suffice to say, everyone was in a dandy mood.

What I like about the cash-only establishment is the no frills, simple and hearty Italian-American fare. No fuss, no muss.

There are moderately priced wines by the glass and bottle. Edward and I decided on a Montepulciano ($7 a glass, $28 by the bottle), which we have enjoyed on numerous occasions at home.

Edward and I nibbled on a loaf of fresh Italian bread with a good crust as we discussed the menu. From the antipasti, we ordered shrimp scampi ($9.95) and mussels in red sauce ($10.95).

Six medium-size shrimp arrived in a round, metal dish nestled in a sauce of melted butter and lemon juice. Although perfectly cooked, they imparted a bit of a tinny flavor. I would have liked more garlic in the sauce, but we enjoyed it nevertheless as we dipped bread into it.

The mussels were clean and totally free of sand and grit. I found the red sauce a bit thin and oily, but the flavor was OK. I would have preferred more garlic and some chopped parsley here, but every chef has his or her recipe for this classic. Most of the mussels were plump and not a bit overcooked.

My meatball craving was satisfied when I dove into ravioli with meatballs ($16.95). The gravy was gosh darn delicious. It was rich and satisfying and obviously simmered at Villa Di Roma. The pockets were filled with ricotta and flecks of chopped parsley. I doubt they were homemade, but I know the meatballs were. I received two of these well-seasoned beauties, a little smaller than a baseball. They imparted an almost pâté-like texture inside that I particularly liked. Half my dinner was packed to go for lunch the next day.

Edward’s sausage cacciatore ($15.95) was a simple straight forward homestyle dish which he relished. One can order it served on pasta, but he prefers it right on the plate. Sweet Italian sausages were sautéed with peppers and onions, napped in the aforementioned homemade gravy. He ate every bit of his dinner.

Service was friendly and attentive. Several of the waitresses doted on a little girl who, with her parents, are regulars.

Villa Di Roma serves the classics that Italian-Americans have savored for Sunday dinner for many years. The meatballs and gravy were the stars here and certainly satisfied my cravings on a chilly autumn evening.

Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to Villa Di Roma. 

Villa Di Roma

932 S. Ninth St.

Contact the South Philly Review at

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Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. Fran said... on Nov 7, 2013 at 03:38PM

“One more sentence is needed here, describing the type of furnishing and flooring. "Well lit" almost did the job, but the reader also needs to know that not only is the food "no frills", but so is the decor. Harsh fluorescent lighting, linoleum tiles, and rectangular tables without linen, all lined up in a row, help give the room more of a kitchen feel than a "dining room". This turns some people off, especially when the prices are not particularly inexpensive. But the main point of the article is well taken: good classic Italian food in a friendly environment.”

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2. Marty Medals said... on Nov 8, 2013 at 09:03AM

“Thank you Phyllis for reviewing what I believe is the best resturant in the Itialian Market.
While it has been there for over fifty years their menu also reflects the chief that worked there in the early seventies, Cous(RIP).
For everyone who goes please consider trying two items that were not in this review.
Start with the Villa Salad,warm shrimp & bacon with romaine mixed with a great dressing..
Second, the best representation of Cous' genius, Veal Bella Buca. It has to be experienced to understand the complexity of flavors.

When you walk in, be sure to reserve one of the Isgro connolies for each member of your party before they are all gone.

Say hi to Pepe for me.”

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3. Tony said... on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:06AM

“Please follow up this review with a visit to Ralph's. Same neighborhood, similar type food. I have my opinion, but I'd like to hear yours.”

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4. Marty Medals said... on Nov 8, 2013 at 01:04PM

“Ralph's is the oldest family owned resayrant in America.
They have great food.
I find thier gravey a little too on the burnt side, but lots of people like it.
Compared to Villa, Ralphs is a very good second choice, but Villa has some very special menu selections.

Please note niether place brings anything in a ramiken.

Rob Roys are good in both.”

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5. Timmy C said... on Nov 8, 2013 at 06:51PM

“No need to review Italian places in South Philly. They are all amazing in their own ways!

God I miss living in the Republic of South Philadelphia...”

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6. Tony said... on Nov 8, 2013 at 08:01PM

“I ate at Villa di Roma tonight. The floor is tiled, not linoleum. The lights are incandescent, not harsh flourescent. The walls are brick with pastel-colored paintings of the Italian Market. There is an drop ceiling (ugh). 17 tables lined up in three rows, difficult to navigate by with a coat on. Linen table cloths and paper napkins. Bottom line: it's like a typical Italian restaurant and NOT like a kitchen. Staff was friendly and greeted everyone. Service is informal.

A glass of San Antonio Chianti ($6.00) was unremarkable. I tried the Marty Medals Menu. A small Villa Salad ($6.95) was as described and good. The dressing is like 1000 island. Bread came from Abruzzi but I found out later also from Sarcones, which I would have preferred. The Veal Bella Bucca ($19.95 - ouch!) was quite tasty. Thin slice of veal, slice of deli ham, slice of cheese all pressed together, breaded and fried, covered in a savory light brown gravy laden with spinach. I ate 1/2 of the salad and entree and took the other halves home. Desserts include cannoli, cheesecake, spumoni, etc. I had tortoni (almond-flavored vanilla ice cream in a paper cup) ($5.00). Yum.

All tables were filled by 6:30 (Friday). The check including tax came to $41.05. I didn't see a notice anywhere, but it's cash or check only. Bummer. They have an ATM. Two and 1/2 ramekins out of four.”

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7. Tony said... on Nov 9, 2013 at 11:49AM

“There have been a lot of comments about Phyllis the person here lately, as opposed to the restaurants she reviews. Yes people wonder: Why the flashlight? Who's Cousin Carl? Why New York Times prose? What's with the Rob Roy martinis? Is Edward really funny?

Who is this Phyllis? Here's a link to a City Paper interview with her, in case you missed it:”


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