Thanks to a boom in luxury townhomes, upscale office complexes and retailers, the outskirts of Malvern are buzzing—and that bustle has extended to the dining scene. Among the more recent additions is Avola Kitchen + Bar, from the owners of Stephen’s on State in Media and Twenty9 Restaurant + Bar, also with a Malvern address.
Inspired by the seaside town on the Ionian Coast of southern Sicily for which it’s named, Avola evokes a citified sexiness. Dramatic circular chandeliers suspend from lofty ceilings, matching wall sconces emit soothing amber hues, and a tiered wall of bottles behind the well-stocked bar emits a backlit azure glow. There, mixologists create cocktails with Pennsylvania spirits and offer local wines on tap.
The sun-soaked dining area.
By day, the restaurant sees a quick in-and-out crowd from nearby corporate centers. At night, happy hour revelers mingle with a broad demographic of discerning diners.
In the open kitchen, 30-year-old chef Elizabeth Semprevive is making a name for herself, balancing a well-crafted menu of tempting small plates, house-made pastas and wood-fired pizzas with larger dishes that encourage sharing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Shrimp Saganaki starter, its greatness derived from classic Greek ingredients like olives and feta. A copious meat-and-cheese board threw the spotlight on local cheesemonger Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm and her earthy Red Cat cow’s milk and funky blue varieties.
A wood-fired margheritaâ€¯pizza.
Salted-honey budino (Italian custard) topped with
Pastas also shine. The Gnoccetti Sardi folds tender braised lamb into a rich red-wine-and-caper sauce. The utterly satisfying gemelli combines broccoli rabe, Italian sausage and a walnut pesto. The pizza selection offers interesting options like the Pork Pie: Italian roast pork and all the zesty fixings piled atop a blistered naan-like crust.
Entrées include a fine dry-aged New York strip and the gratifying Branzino. Whatever you opt for, save room for the ricotta doughnuts, dusted with cocoa and cinnamon sugar.
Lemon-herb-stuffed Branzinoâ€¯with charred broccoli rabe, olive tapenade and ladolemono sauce.
Avola offered consistency over several visits, with just two exceptions on the same night. The first involved the meat-and-cheese board, its warm pita stacked in a pool of honey, rather than next to it. And my Lavazza coffee arrived brackish. We also noticed that the dining room’s hard surfaces turn the space into an echo chamber during its busiest times.
Nonetheless, it’s exciting to ponder the prospect of even greater dishes emerging from Sempervive’s kitchen as Avola evolves and matures.
625 N. Morehall Road, Malvern, (484) 328-8584, www.avolakitchenandbar.com.
Cost: Small plates start at $6, large plates average $29.
Attire: Nice casual.
Atmosphere: Mediterranean Euro bar with cosmopolitan flare.
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; limited menu 1-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dinner: 3-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and Sunday; 3-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Extras: A patio in warmer months and live acoustic music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.