L’Angolo-West Review

The front of L'Angolo-West, courtesy of its website

The front of L’Angolo-West, courtesy of its website

In November 2016, the Inky’s famed restaurant reviewer Craig LaBan named L’Angolo in South Philadelphia as one of his favorite Italian BYOBs. We, the mom and pop proprietors here at TownieHQ, had yet to try out it’s H-Town sister, L’Angolo-West. LaBan said the South Philly restaurant was a “gem … for garlicky artichokes, grilled seafood, and braised duck pappardelle.” We were excited to try our local versions. Friday night, June 22, we headed over to celebrate our 20th year of marriage.

The problem, which if one is truly Italian isn’t a problem at all, was that we couldn’t get a reservation until 9pm. 9pm is the early crowd in Italy. We’ve been to Italy. The only people dining out before 9pm are the Americans.

Mr. TownieHQ’s meal, with fresh Parmesan cheese

No worries. The weather was holding, so we walked over to Crossbar to have a beer while we waited. We said hello to people we knew sitting under the umbrellas at Crossbar. We went in and found seats at the counter. On our right, we met a nice young man in fatigues, tattoos and a jarhead haircut who recommended Jai Alai beer (can). He said it was a popular beer akin to Sierra Nevada that he serves a lot in his bartending job. (The conversation went by quickly so we didn’t catch the establishment where he works.) On our left was a young couple who are expecting their first child in September. They are moving to Htown from Roxborough, mostly for the schools and the easier commutes. Sounds just like us, but back in 2000. We welcomed them and told them to look for community groups on Facebook to join.

9 pm rolled around. We walked up to Eagle past the Oakmont Pub. L’Angolo’s was hopping, with most of the outdoor seating occupied. We opted to sit inside. We were greeted warmly by Loraine, the hostess, at her tiny stand right by the door. The entrance to L’Angelo-West is a double doorway with a ramp in between the doors. The entrance seems like it could be redesigned to add for more waiting area. We were the last stragglers of the evening though; Loraine seated us quickly and handed us our menus.

Inside, the decor is pure Italian, right down to the air conditioners. If you’ve been to Rome you’d have noticed the white oblong wall units mounted high to the ceiling. If the L’Angolo crew was going for authentic, they definitely got that detail right. We had a good chuckle from our reminiscence over that.

One wall is beautiful exposed brick with decorative wood cornices, and the other and back wall are painted in a calm terra cotta color, popular for the interior and exterior of buildings in Italy. The artwork consists of a few upcycled Tudor-style windows, mirrors and other framed pieces. It adds up to a simple room full of texture and interest that’s still very understated. We have a similar terra cotta color on the walls of TownieHQ’s living room and barely any artwork, so we felt right at home.

The tables and chairs are simple structures but comfortable. Some of the longer tables have old church pews along the walls, which, again, is 100% an Italian thing. White tablecloths are topped with a subtle white butcher paper which I was grateful for later when I dripped olive oil off my plate.

We hadn’t BYOB’ed, but magically we found a little red wine to share. We sipped our water and wine while we listened to an Italian waiter tell us the specials from memory. The noise level in the small restaurant is substantial; hearing and understanding him was more of a challenge than I expected. Being a Celiac Disease sufferer, I had some questions about the specials. The server didn’t blink an eye, although he did need to lean down to hear me well. Demonstrating his thorough knowledge of the restaurant’s cooking methods, he told me how the two dishes I was deciding upon were prepared. He also said he would double check, but he was sure an accommodation could be made. That kind of academic attention to detail is part of fine dining, and the staff continued to display it throughout the night.

I ordered the brazzini special, white fish with lemon and thyme (in a white wine sauté, perhaps? I’m no expert!), with buttered broccoli and potato wedges. I couldn’t quite catch the fancy description of the dish but what I ate was simultaneously joyful, stimulating and comforting the way fine dining meals can be. The lemon and thyme tastes were delicately infused into the tender fish, always present but never intrusive.

The restroom is clean, well-appointed and roomy.

Mr. TownieHQ went with his standard, the chicken parmesan from the regular menu. He reported that the sauce was good, but too sweet to remind him of Rome’s red sauces. American jarred sauces, for example, are of the cloyingly sweet variety. This sauce was a fresh bright tomato red but he said the taste was just a bit too sweet. This could be blamed on the tomatoes, of course. Italy’s tomatoes are the best in the world and we can’t match that here. We hope the sweetness wasn’t a supplication to American palettes but instead reflects the tastes of the Pugliese region (the basis of L’Angolo creator Davide Faenza’s dishes). For a moment I recalled the movie Big Night with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub in which a pair of brothers attempt to run an authentic Italian restaurant when 1950s American cretins only wanted Ragu and canned raviolis. I don’t want L’Angolo to sublimate real food for the fooled palettes of us Townies. I want Townies to rise to meet typical European tastes. Thankfully there were no other kinks in the dinner. The berry sorbet they brought out snapped me right back to a little restaurant in Rome called Costanza’s that fed me “scavenged” berries from the woods of Tuscany. Punchy and creamy sorbet with tiny berries throughout. Delightful.

I’m not the best food photographer. It looked and tasted divine, I promise!

Coffee followed. It was about 10:30pm and the wait staff was clearing up and the kitchen was closing down. Loraine pulled a little closed the drapes that flanked the open doorway to the kitchen. It was time to go. Still, the staff offered a little limoncello to top off the evening. We passed this time, but knowing that it’s there waiting is something to look forward to next visit. Funny story: My of-Italian-descent father had a litmus test he did on every new Italian restaurant. He’d ask the waiter if the establishment had anisette, an anise-flavored liqueur that, in his mind, only truly European owners would serve. If the restaurant did indeed serve anisette, my father would try the red sauce. If not, he’d order a dish without it. I didn’t ask the L’Angolo staff if they had anisette but the offer of the limoncello after a meal pulled me again right back to Rome. Feeling like you’ve been transported to a country halfway around the world is the reason why you seek out fine dining experiences. L’Angolo-West is the real deal. We’re fortunate to have what indeed is a straight-from-Italy gem here in H-Town.


L’Angelo-West on Yelp
L’Angelo-West Website

Craig LaBan’s Best Italian BYOBs

The Big Night movie on IMDB