Philacatessen | Restaurant Features Roman Jewish Cuisine

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Gran Caffe L’Aquila, an authentic Italian eatery near Rittenhouse Square, is offering a special menu featuring Jewish cuisine of the Roman ghetto.

Roman Jewish cuisine emerged from innovative “nonnas” who made do with homegrown vegetables, small fish and minimal amounts of meat. Their creativity and skill had a significant impact on Italian cooking and resulted in the development of several iconic dishes commonly served in Italian kitchens the world over.

Let’s start with some background.


The word “ghetto” derives from the Italian word “borghetto”, which means “village.” The Jewish ghetto in Rome was established in 1555 by Pope Paul IV, confining Jews to a low-lying, flood-prone area on the banks of the Tiber River. Despite the oppression they suffered for centuries, Jews developed a unique cuisine using indigenous ingredients and flavors, and adapting local dishes to kosher laws.

Gran Caffe L’Aquila is celebrating this cuisine through Sunday, Oct. 29. I had the good fortune of visiting the restaurant for lunch and sampled several of the featured items.

Suppli are deep-fried rice balls served with marinara sauce. The version we enjoyed was crisp on the outside, and ooey-gooey cheesey on the inside. The marinara sauce was simple and understated, the perfect foil to the richness of the suppli.

Carchofi alla Guiida (literally translated “Jewish artichokes”) were delicious. Crisply fried to perfection, served with some spring greens and a lemon wedge, the simplicity of the dish and its skillful execution made for a toothsome appetizer.

We then split the cacio e pepe con cicoria. This simple twist on the classic — the addition of chicory — was revolutionary. It gave the basic pasta-with-cheese dish a snap of freshness and a bite. The pasta is housemade, cooked al dente and tossed with cheese and lots of fresh ground pepper. The freshness of the greens, which topped the dish, married beautifully with the additional greens underneath that had partially cooked from the heat of the pasta.

Henceforth, I shall toss my cacao e pepe with fresh baby greens like the Roman Jews.

Finally, we enjoyed the ricotta pie. This beautiful dessert, a pie shell layered with sour cherries and ricotta cheese, then baked, was sublime. Served warm with some fresh berries, a scoop of fior di latte gelato, and a generous tower of whipped cream, the pastry delivered a complex array of textures and temperatures — a sensory symphony.

The restaurant also offers regional wine and beer pairings to complement the dishes.

If you go:

Gran Caffe L’Aquila

1716 Chestnut St.

215-568-5600

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