1247 S. 13th Street
Don’t miss: Artichoke hearts
Skip: Farfalle pasta
Maryann Brancaccio and Maria Vanni’s partnership thrives both in and out of the kitchen. Over 10 years ago, the couple opened up August, a quaint bistro in South Philly that serves up Italian cuisine with a modern flair. Named for the month in which they met, August owes its culinary expertise to Brancaccio, a professional chef, and its warm, eclectic design to Vanni. Soft lighting and earthy tones make the small space feel even more intimate, as does the large open kitchen in the back.
We started our meal with two delicious appetizers. The first was a bowl of artichoke hearts ($10), sauteed with sundried tomatoes, white beans, spinach and just the right amount of olive oil. Colorful, tangy
and light, it was a great opening dish for what we assumed would be a heavy Italian meal. As only a recent seafood enthusiast, I was nervous to try our second dish, the pan–seared scallops ($12), but after the first savory bite, I was hooked. The scallops, served on a bed of leafy greens, packed a slight crunch on the outside but were tender and juicy on the inside.
As our waitress refilled our wine glasses, Vanni brought us our entrees from the open kitchen. Satisfied with our scallops, I passed on the seafood–heavy pasta dishes and opted for the roasted chicken ($17). The presentation of the chicken, served alongside a soft white pile of mashed potatoes and a heap of sauteed zucchini, was gorgeous; Brancaccio even pointed out the best angle for my photographs. Unfortunately, the dish lacked a punching flavor, and I found myself neglecting the chicken for the more palatable sides. Similarly, my date’s farfalle pasta ($20) fell flat in the taste department. The dish’s jumbo lump crab, sundried tomatoes and porcini mushrooms were dominated by a rather tasteless heavy cream sauce. We were also disappointed to find out that, despite its authentic Italian cooking methods, August does not offer homemade pasta.
On the owners’ recommendation, we tried the homemade banana bread pudding ($7.50) for dessert. Served in a warm ramekin with a healthy helping of vanilla ice cream, the pudding was sweet and savory, offering a decadent mix of banana, chocolate chips and crispy Italian bread. We washed it down with a shooter of ginger liquor, gifted to us and the other diners by Brancaccio in honor of her upcoming 65th birthday.
South Philly is lucky to have a neighborhood bistro like August, where the ingredients are fresh and the atmosphere is warm. But if you’re north of Pine Street and across the Schuylkill, it may not be worth the schlep.