An oft-overlooked gastronomic wonder lies on the outskirts of Philadelphia’s Old City, near the corner of Chestnut and Front Street. From a block where you can see the Ben Franklin Bridge towering over the Delaware River—a true picture of Philadelphia—a long black awning spells out its name in gold block lettering: Spasso Italian Grill.
The word spasso means “stroll” in Italian, and the name pays homage to the popular cultural tradition of taking an evening stroll about town. The restaurant was opened with the intention to invite city-dwellers to dine after a stroll through lovely Old City. Spasso’s owner, Claudio, welcomes diners as if it were his very own home.
There is outdoor seating under the awning, making Penn’s Landing visible to those who dine al fresco and—courtesy of glass-plate windows—a few who dine inside as well. We enter through a small entranceway, and enjoy a glance around the small, yet curiously spacious main dining room. The place feels familiar and home-like, and we are impressed by its authentic décor. The walls are lined with large, semi-circular booths and the middle of the room is filled with dark wooden tables and chairs. Simple, incandescent light bulbs hang from the ceiling via rustic chains and fill the room with a soft light. Green houseplants droop down from a set of shelves in the center of the room, just as they would decorate someone’s home. The back of the room is dominated by the kitchen—an open area that allows diners to see where and how Spasso’s staff of talented chefs create a plethora of culinary masterpieces.
It is the walls that seem the most authentic. One holds a mural that stretches the length of the main dining room, depicting a scene from an old-world Italian street. Finely crafted, it casts a realistic feeling—as if you are dining in Italian village. The opposite side of the room displays a wall of worn brick, alluding to the exposed side of an aging building straight out of the mural. The feel is natural and is enhanced all the more by the faint tune of Italian music circulating throughout the room.
We follow rustic tiling around the corner, where another dining room, furnished in dark wood and deep colors, sits to the left. This dining area holds tables for larger parties. Another room to the right serves as Spasso’s banquet and private party room. Its overall household, yet elegant, appeal would make guests feel at home for a holiday party or perhaps an anniversary, shower, or a small rehearsal dinner. Spasso’s accommodating spirit is sure to provide a memorable occasion in this private room, and the special banquet menu is sure to fill guests with Italian food that exceeds expectations.
The sounds are soft and the room is calm as we are lead to a plush booth to enjoy our meal. Ice cold glasses of water and a basket of fresh, warm bread arrives to us promptly. A medley of roasted peppers, onion, tomato, and other vegetables combine in a thick relish to accompany the bread for dipping. We munch on the bread, careful not to fill up although we are tempted by the warm, doughy freshness of it. We notice that the authenticity of the decor is reflected in the menu as we browse through a selection of dishes and decide what to enjoy. The accompanying wine and drink list is short and sweet, offering only the basics. Should our thirsty palates crave something fancier, the bartender is geared up to make anything we request.
To start, we select the Tomato Bruschetta. A bed of cool, fresh chopped tomatoes coated in oil lies on a thick, warm, crunchy slice of bread flavored with garlic. It is salted and spiced to perfection and is toasted just right. It crunches and melts in the mouth all at the same time and is a wonderful start. By far, Spasso’s bruschetta is one of the best we have tasted.
The crisp and fresh Caesar salad precedes the main course and is a wonderful and refreshing intermission between the appetizer and entrees. The dressing is what stands out the most in this dish, it is very light and unlike most goopy, bulky Caesar dressings—yet it does not lack in a creamy flavor. There is a flavorful balance in its smooth, light texture. The crisp, cool romaine lettuce, combined with thin slices of fresh Parmesan cheese and crispy garlic croutons, tastes great when paired with a light glass of Chardonnay.
Seafood dominates the menu, so of course one of us must try the salmon. The Salmon Caesar is a copious cut of fresh salmon over a bed of Caesar salad—crisp lettuce, fresh Parmesan and garlic croutons. The salmon is tender and delicate; dipped in that delicious Caesar dressing it is a flavorful dream. It is a delightful main course.
For those diners who may not be so keen on fish fare, there is quite a selection of meats to choose from. The Involtine Di Manzo is a succulent beef tenderloin wrapped around layers of prosciutto, mozzarella and spinach all amidst a savory rosemary and mushroom sauce. The layers of meats and cheese all intertwine to make moist, tender rolls of heaven that are jam-packed with juicy flavors. Steamed vegetables garnish the side of the plate and, dipped in the leftover mushroom sauce, taste savory and quite satisfying. A glass of house Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with the beef’s juicy flavors.
As advised by the staff, we made sure to save room for dessert, which based on our earlier courses, we suspect will be a scrumptious treat. The Crème Brûlée is an undeniably flavorsome and fresh dessert made fresh on Spasso’s premises. The dish comes out still warm from just being broiled to flawlessness. The thick, sweet custard blends together smoothly with the crunchy top and is a delightful and satisfying treat for the taste buds. Little dabs of raspberry sauce ornament both sides of the plate and make for a tasty and inventive twist on this classic dessert. A double shot of espresso goes well to contrast the dish’s serious sweetness. As the dessert slowly but surely disappears from sight, we agree that it is by far one of the best crème brûlée dishes any of us have had,
Yet, not even the tremendous sweetness and perfection of the Crème Brûlée could downplay our helping of Tiramisu. It arrives in a long rectangular dish that is almost overwhelming in size. It is composed of a soft bed of coffee-soaked ladyfingers and creamy mascarpone cheese. All of it is topped with a generous helping of cocoa powder and tastes like a delightful cloud of creamy sweetness. Paired with a cappuccino, it is a wonderful end to a wonderful meal.
We are plenty sated and satisfied after our meal, and we sit back in the comfy booth and try to take-in the entirety of feast we just encountered. The servers don’t rush us out, allowing us to bask in the splendor of it all—the food, the ambiance, the lights glowing off of the bridge outside. If you ever find yourself on a leisurely walk through Philadelphia’s Old City, why not make it a perfect evening by strolling into Spasso’s? You won’t leave without giving your compliments to the chef. We leave with the impression that Spasso Italian Grill offers some of the best Italian food we’ve found in this city. We will most definitely be back.