Restaurant: Luigi and Giovanni
Address: 3601 Chapel Rd., Newtown Square, PA 19073
Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★ 1/2
Style: Italian market and prepared foods counter
Atmosphere: European market
Service: Friendly and efficient
Price Range: Inexpensive
Unique Features: Numerous types of Italian staples including olive oil, tomatoes, olives, balsamic vinegar, cheeses, cured meats, pastas and coffee.
Review: Recently I was discussing with a chef the major difference between the way Americans approach food and the way everyone else in the world does. I spoke of eating delicious street food in South Korea and China, the enchanting truck stops and sandwich stands in Italy and roadside tacos in Mexico. He looked at me and replied, "Americans eat for convenience, everyone else eats for enjoyment." I could hear the sound of a nail being hit on its head. Walk into a place like Luigi and Giovanni and you're no longer in America–you feel as though you're in Italy.
The shelves are stocked with endless varieties of olive oil, dry pasta, fresh pasta, porcini mushrooms, San Marzano tomatoes, amaretti, pignoli, tomato paste, freshly baked bread, olives, etc. Gorgeous pieces of cured meat smile back at you from inside the deli counter, fresh mozzarella sits beside its cousin, burrata and some of the thinnest veal cutlets I've ever seen in my life beg to be quickly sauteed in some olive oil.
I took a good 15-minute tour of the store and then settled back at the deli counter and ordered a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich, some meatballs (they asked if I wanted sauce on top–love that!), broccoli rabe, stuffed shells and I grabbed a quarter sheet tray of tomato pie, some dried porcini mushrooms and a bag of amaretti cookies.
The prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich on a sesame seed Liscio's roll was excellent. The salty cured ham was sliced into gossamer sheets, the mozzarella was cool and creamy and the tomatoes and basil were incredibly fresh. The roll also tasted like it had just been baked. This is one of my favorite sandwiches, it is a wonderful interplay of flavors, textures and temperatures. I love a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar to tie it all together but my brother ate his half sans vinegar and loved it just as much.
The meatballs and stuffed shells were bursting with flavor. There was plenty of fat in the meatball so it wasn't dried out. The stuffed shells were filled to the gills with rich ricotta cheese and bathed in a bright multi-dimensional tomato sauce. I heated up two shells and one meatball for each of us and it made a delightful plate. This combo would be ideal for any working parent who didn't have time to make dinner but had time to swing by Luigi and Giovanni.
The side of broccoli rabe could have used a touch more seasoning, so I added my own salt and pepper. Despite the addition, my brother was still not a fan (I understand many people do not care for broccoli rabe because they find it bitter).
The tomato pie was visually appealing but didn't pack the punch that we had been expecting. The focaccia-like dough had risen elegantly and was indeed tasty. The tomato sauce was a bit thin on top. I heated up the portion in a conventional oven and it was dried out when I took it out only minutes later. We remedied the situation by dipping the tomato pie in the leftover tomato sauce from the shells and meatballs and after that adjustment, it was delicious.
The dried porcini mushrooms will wind up in a batch of mushroom risotto later on and the amaretti are my own guilty little pleasure with coffee or crumbled up over a bowl of ice cream (seriously, it's amazing).
The service was efficient and friendly. My order was completed quickly and diligently. The cashier was all smiles and chatted up everyone who crossed his path. There are two locations of Luigi and Giovanni (another one in Downingtown) but unfortunately neither one is all that close to my house. Oh well, driving to both is still cheaper than a ticket to Rome.
Click here for the website.
Click here for the menu.