Philadelphia’s foodie culture is elitist and Spasso is a hidden gem in its wide range of offerings. Although the city is home to a variety of dining options, it can be difficult to find the time to venture off Penn’s campus and explore. More than that, as college students, it’s hard to find a restaurant that’s both high quality and won’t break the bank. Paying for transportation, meals and tips can quickly add up. At Spasso, that’s not a problem. You get the best restaurant quality without the anxiety or guilt of checking your bank account after you finish enjoying the meal.
Located at 34 South Front Street in the Old Town, Spasso is easily accessible by public transportation. Almost immediately after entering, a chalk board above the kitchen reads “Andiamo a Spasso!” Translating to “Let’s go to Spasso!”, it sets a cheerful tone for the dining experience to come. The main room has a distinct warm feel, with lightly worn wooden floors and weathered brick walls with red accents throughout. There’s a mix of tables and booths, plus shelves with small decorations like potted plants in unique containers, an elephant sculpture, and glassblowing projects.
Spasso started us off with the standard portion of pre-meal bread, but with a bit more oomph. Their bread is topped with a mixture of roasted vegetables drizzled with oil that made me recoil for a few seconds, even after promising that the next piece was really the last. I was almost afraid that I had spoiled my appetite, but after taking the first bite of the main course, that fear immediately dissipated.
Spasso serves home-style Italian cuisine with a unique twist — while there are classics on the menu, like Chicken Parmesan or a NY Strip Steak (which was only $34, compared to the average $50), they also have a variety of special and homemade dishes. Their menu features seafood risotto and scallop positano, as well as veal saltimbocca and pappardelle porcini. These plates are not offered as frequently in other restaurants.
I ordered the asparagus gnocchi, topped with asiago cheese and dressed in truffle oil. The gnocchi are tricky to cook, but they were cooked to perfection that night. It wasn’t too al dente and chewy, but it wasn’t mushy either. The flavors of this meal were exquisite; each bite provided a different mix of seasonings. It only cost $18, very rare for a truffle dish.
Also, Spasso’s portions are huge; many of my friends and I took the leftovers home and enjoyed this meal for the next few days. Food is well reheated, not getting soggy or losing flavor, as leftovers are infamous. Many sophisticated restaurants also charge exorbitant prices for portions barely larger than an apple. Fortunately, Spasso deviates from this trend. Spasso’s prices become even more reasonable when you consider that these meals will last for several days.
The dessert menu includes chocolate mousse cake, cheesecake, and then more traditional Italian dishes, such as profiterole (cream-filled pastry covered in chocolate), tartufo (ice cream covered in chocolate) and spumoni ( layered ice cream with fruit and nuts) – all for $10 or less. The mix of contemporary and traditional ensures that all guests will have something to enjoy.
The atmosphere inside Spasso is also warm and welcoming. While my friends and I were having dinner there was a birthday party for one of the families next to us. The entire restaurant joined in a thunderous rendition of “Happy Birthday,” followed by a round of applause. The guest of honour, who appeared to be the age of a young teenager, looked thrilled that her entourage would join in the celebration. Servers were kind and attentive with fast speed of service and friendly demeanor. They can also accommodate larger parties, making them the perfect place to catch up with a group of friends after a busy week.
If you’re looking for a budget night out downtown at a family-run Italian restaurant (and hoping for leftovers), consider Spasso as your next destination.