As I enter Alimentari during its lunch hours, the sight (and smell) of square–cut pizza slices, puffy bread, and tomato sauce reminds me of the heartiness of Italian food and culture.
Alimentari—an Italian cafe and wine bar—opened over a month ago and sits on the second floor of the Di Bruno Bros Italian market near Rittenhouse Square. The restaurant is rustic but sleek, furnished with smooth hardwood floors and geometric hanging lights.
We’re seated at a wooden table in the corner of the restaurant by a waitress who wears a taupe apron over a casual outfit. “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder plays as a few patrons chat quietly over their menus while sipping espresso and wine.
The expansive menu contains too many Italian terms for me to thoroughly understand what each dish actually is, so I ask the server for her recommendations. She tells me the 1730 kale and summer panzanella salads ($12 together), roasted branzino ($13), and asparagus and summer zucchini pizza ($6 per slice) are especially good. Less than 10 minutes pass, and we’re surrounded by food that’s colorful and well–plated.
We first bite into the Roman–style, square–cut asparagus and summer zucchini pizza, and—oh gosh, the textures. The fluffy ricotta and mascarpone cheese, crisp crust, and juicy asparagus and zucchini swirl together in the creamiest way. It’s topped with a little spice from a generous garnish of basil and sharp locatelli cheese. The pizza is light and healthy, but so good that it doesn’t taste like it.
Next, we dive into a small plate of roasted branzino, whose outer skin is crunchy but whose meat tenderly flakes on my knife. The fish swims in a sea of fregola, which has the “al dente” bite that connoisseurs always seem to be searching for. Capers and cranberry raisins embellish the plate, blending salty and sweet, though the roasted lemon and tomatoes are a little too sour for my taste. Overall, the dish is elegant, but a little small for its price and admittedly a downgrade from the pizza.
Counterintuitively, we eat the 1730 kale and summer panzanella salads last. They’re plated together, and the color of the melons in the summer panzanella matches the vibrant green of the kale one. The salads, both of which contain seasonal fruit, are perfumey and light. The ultra–sweet grapes in the kale salad contrast with the salty dressing, but the kale itself is a little too tough.
The summer panzanella, however, is divine. The cantaloupe and watermelon in the salad are juicy but firm enough so they don’t mush together, and the arugula and cool cucumber counter the sweetness of the melon.
Before we leave, the chef surprises us each with an affogato ($7), essentially a scoop of vanilla ice cream doused in espresso. But Alimentari doesn’t stop there. Two waiters soon come out with the cups of ice cream, each topped with a pile of cotton candy. The wispy sugar wilts as our waitress pours espresso coffee over it. It dissolves immediately in my mouth, leaving a bitter, cocoa aftertaste. The ice cream sweetens the rich espresso, making it enjoyable for even the non–coffee drinker. It’s carnival and classy wrapped up in one heavenly dessert.
Less than an hour after we arrived, we scoot out of our chairs, leaving smudges of cocoa powder on the table. We’re moderately full, but completely satisfied with the attentive service, authenticity, and lightness of the meal—though I must admit that Alimentari is a little pricey for its portion sizes. As we near the bottom of the stairs, we disperse into the Di Bruno Bros market, on the lookout for cheese samples and tiramisu squares.
TL;DR: A restaurant that serves up some of the freshest and lightest dishes in Philly.
Don’t miss: Asparagus and summer zucchini pizza (a seasonal dish, so go now!)
Location: 1730 Chestnut St. 2nd Floor
Hours: Monday–Saturday: 11 a.m.–8:30 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
Price range: $$