There is Italian, and then there is Villa di Roma. Snugly sandwiched in the middle of the Italian market on 9th and Christian, Villa di Roma is one of best places in Philly to get a true Italian meal.
Only seconds after I walked in my nose was overwhelmed with the smell of homemade pasta sauce. Too often in the past I had become accustomed to the banal odors of restaurants like Bucca Di Beppa, The K-mart of Italian food. The Villa will bring you right back to Italy, or at least your Italian Grandma’s kitchen.
The layout is nice and no frills, with a beautiful Italian painting above the bar you’ll notice as soon as you walk in, mostly brick walls with some paneling here and there. It’s a very basic casual atmosphere, not stuffy at all. There really isn’t a host, but a waitress will come and seat you when a table is available.
The laid-back feel was reinforced when our waitress came over, actually rested her hand on my shoulder, and said, “What can I get you to drink, babe.” That’s another thing I noticed immediately about the Villa. The familiar tone of the waitresses made me feel as if I was eating dinner at Aunt Carla’s house rather than being served, cliched as it sounds.
The menu featured Italian classics like lasagna, chicken Parma, baked rigatoni as well as some true signature dishes. The first of these was the Villa Salad: romaine lettuce tossed in a creamy, subtle thousand island-type dressing with baby shrimp, egg, and topped with crumbled bacon bits; it comes in one size, meant for sharing, and it was phenomenal.
The second signature dish is their shrimp scampi, served as an appetizer. The sauce was the perfect mix of garlic and butter, with a secret ingredient thrown in to boot. It was thicker than normal scampi, thus making it ideal for soaking with the table bread.
The entrees were excellent as well. We ordered the Pasta Linguine, which is their signature seafood dish, and the Chicken Parmesan, a more traditional choice. The Pasta Linguine is made with clams, mussels, whole chunks of crabmeat and shrimp simmered in a zesty red sauce that was almost more like a broth. It was a perfect compliment because it didn’t overpower the seafood or the pasta. The Chicken Parma was also great, very soft and tender with a marinara meat sauce that was so fresh it had to be homemade.
We followed dinner with a homemade ricotta cannoli for desert--rich, creamy, and a perfect close to the meal.
And the real icing on the cake at Villa di Roma? When you get the check, there won’t be any pangs of regret. The Villa is great food, and it’s moderately priced, which is even more reason to check it out. So the next time you are down in Center City, track down this hidden treasure in the Italian Market. Your wallet and your stomach will be very happy you did.
Villa di Roma
932/36 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147