Best Secret in South Philly

Review: Carluccio’s

So Jeff and I on yet another evening together decided we’d explore South Philly, and feasting on an Italian dinner at that. And what better place to have an Italian dinner than in South Philly. The original plan was to go for L’Angolo’s, which far and wide is the most well-known family-owned Italian restaurant on Broad and Porter streets, except when I had most recently looked into it (Friday morning), the restaurant was formal and a slight stretch to get to. Namely the latest I could snag was 5:45pm and Jeff was finishing up his medical rotation at the earliest 5pm. We wanted a place a little more laid back, but before I researched, I decided to dart out to Rittenhouse Square and get some errands done.

Ran to Center City’s Philadelphia Runner store, and who do I see, the one and only Sergio. I was trying to pick up some running supplies and such and whilst the salesperson was getting my items from the back room, Sergio had asked me what my plans were for the weekend. I had told him that I was heading out on a date into South Philly for an Italian dinner and I was going to check into something a little more casual yet intimate. At that moment, he suggested Carluccio’s on 10th and Carpenter. I was immediately skeptical of his suggestion, knowing Sergio, while I have all the respect for him as a colleague, friend, and a fellow runner (although I give him a hard time on negative splits, but I’ll save that one for later), I also know him to be one that has an expensive taste for everything. I don’t think any less of him for doing so, that’s how he was raised, and that’s just who he is. As a result, though, I was surprised he’d actually hit up South Philly for Italian as opposed to La Famiglia or any of the other mainstays in Wash West or Rittenhouse.

Sergio had explained that he’d been dragged into South Philly for Italian, and that whilst he wasn’t expecting much, the results at that venue blew him away. If such a place blew him away, I could only imagine what my impression of it could possibly be. Nonetheless, I went home and looked into the reviews, and sure enough, not only the vast majority of reviews were glowing, but looking at Zagat’s menu for it, it was reasonably priced and in comparison to other South Philly venues. I went on ahead, made a 6:15pm reservation and told Jeff about the change in plans.

That evening we took the bus down to South Philly. When we walked in, we were greeted heartily by the owner, likely a family member of the establishment. He promptly seated us and then asked us how we knew about the place; I replied that I’d heard about it through a colleague. The owner also made it a point to address us by name, and even asked what neighbourhoods we were from. Now that’s quite the local approach. He warmly went through the menu options and recommendations, before serving us bread with red peppers and oil, part of the traditional antipasti.

After some deliberation, Jeff and I opted to stay with the traditional pasta dishes, although we started off by ordering a house salad ($9), with various greens layered in, crispy prosciutto, and reggiano cheese shavings on top. (Being vegetarian, I was able to sort out the prosciutto…) Our waiter came in and sprinkled black pepper on top and it was phenomenal. I know he loved the cheese shavings for sure, and heck, so did I.

I won’t speak for Jeff, but in the reviews I’d read, plus Sergio’s two cents, I was going to go for the gnocchi alla sorrentina, or the gnocchi layered with mozzarella cheese in the terra cotta bowl ($15.50). If there was one thing I really wanted to get a whiff of, it was the homemade-style, true Italian way of making gnocchi. And that I got and then some. The dish came out VERY hot, the gnocchi were rolled up very neatly and there was quite a bit of cheese layered in there, all in a basil sauce. He, on the other hand, ordered the lasangna alla bangnolese ($16.50) with minced egg and meatballs, and prosciutto in a red sauce.

Now, as I took in the gnocchi, I watched as Jeff enjoyed his dish. I had initially been nervous on this one as I had called the shot on tonight’s venue based on a recommendation and then some, and I’d have been damned if Jeff wasn’t digging this place. But he had been enjoying the salad and seeing him devour the lasagna only confirmed we were having not only quite the food but quite the experience. The restaurant was small, intimate, the music played over the din quietly, the owner provided for some entertaining and warm conversation and the service was in my opinion, fantastic.

For dessert, we decided to split a serving of tiramisu ($7), and thankfully we did as the tiramisu was a huge serving. To boot, the owner gave us complimentary drinks, namely lemon monticellos. And wow, drinking that and finishing with a bite of tiramisu gave a very wickedly good aftertaste. Just as it blew Sergio away, this taste completely blew me away. I told Jeff to do the same – follow the drink with a bite of dessert, and I think he was just as mesmerized.

All in all, this place truly has to be one of South Philly’s best kept secrets. It opened January 2010, and still doesn’t have its own website. It may be a family restaurant but regardless I don’t recall too many restaurants, large or small where I’ve had that sort of exceptional service. I definitely would like to go back for sure, at least consider taking my family back if they are down for some South Philly Italian.

Restaurant Info:

Carluccio’s | 932 South 10th Street | Philadelphia, PA 19147 | 215.574.5000

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