Back to His Roots

Toto Schiavone brings the Italian countryside to Blue Bell.

Badolato is a walled village on the Ionian Sea in Southern Italy. It’s also the birthplace of Toto Schiavone, renowned restaurateur and owner of former Locust Street restaurant DiLullo Centro (later reborn as Toto) and the popular Fox Chase eatery Moonstruck (formerly Ristorante DiLullo).

Radice's house-made cannoli with a ricotta-and-limoncello filling.Now, with the help of his wife, Claire DiLullo, and chef Donna Ewanciw (who’s been cooking in his restaurants for close to 30 years), Schiavone has opened a rustic Italian eatery in a strip mall in Blue Bell.

Meaning “root” in Italian, Radice (pronounced ra-DEE-chay) is a homage to Schiavone’s Calabrian birthplace, where his father gathered fresh food from the farm before it was cooked in a wood-burning oven. Perhaps that’s why 80 percent of the dishes at Radice are cooked in the restaurant’s own wood-burning oven. Once you get over the fact that the place is located a little bit farther than the usual Main Line haunts, you’ll no doubt realize that the sophisticated simplicity of the dishes, combined with the use of traditional Italian flavors and ingredients, is well worth a trip up Germantown Pike to Blue Bell.

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The interior of Radice is clean and bright. The walls, countertops, tables and its large central oven are completely white, save for a few apple-green accents and a large mural of the Schiavone’s home village above the bar. The décor is simple, so as not to detract from the true draw: the food.

On any given night, you can see chef Ewanciw preparing dishes behind the large, curved counter of the open kitchen. Just a few steps away is the oven, where crispy pizzas and sizzling clay crocks of assaggi emerge, filling the air with a deliciously homey aroma.

The extensive wine list features mainly varieties from Italy, though diners will find some nice New Zealand whites and California reds. Wine is offered by the glass, bottle or carafe, and a dry Montepulciano or a lighter Argentinian Malbec complement the classic Italian ingredients perfectly.

If you’re used to heaping plates of spaghetti and meatballs or huge portions of chicken parmigiana, you won’t get it at Radice. The dinner menu is divided into three sections: assaggi (tastings of fish, meat and vegetable dishes cooked in small clay crocks meant for sharing, plus smaller pizzas and pasta dishes); minestre and insalate (soup and salad); and pietanze (larger meat and seafood entrées). A meal of three or four assaggi and perhaps a salad are just enough for two hungry diners —if you’d still like to order dessert. But it’s worth a trip back to try an entrée—especially the triglie, perfectly sautéed red mullet fillets straight from the Ionian Sea served over citrusy lentils.

Don’t be misled by the assaggi. The smaller, shareable portions fill you up surprisingly quickly. The melanzana was a perfect way to begin a meal—paper-thin slices of eggplant served in a roasting crock, layered with fresh tomatoes, basil and cheese.

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The meat dishes were also delicious. The fall-off-the-bone tender pork ribs paired well with a crunchy cabbage slaw tossed with a moscato wine reduction. Another standout was the sausage and peppers, served with sweet onions and a bright parsley aioli.

Incredibly fresh and expertly executed, the seafood selections are not to be missed. Typically fried rice balls, the arancini are given a delicate makeover with sweet scallops, butternut squash and erba cipollina. If you prefer an entrée, try the roasted codfish with potato, fennel and thyme, or the grilled, whole Mediterranean bass with a tangy citrus-tomato vinaigrette.

As for the pasta and pizza, the homemade potato ricotta gnocchi could’ve been a touch lighter. But they were beautifully cooked, served piping hot in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce and topped with sage. Also worth a try: tortelloni stuffed with Swiss chard and three cheeses, served with a raw tomato sauce.

The boscaiola pizza was a delicious blend of fresh spinach, garlic, wild mushrooms and fontina, the crust thin and nicely charred from the wood-burning oven. The rustica pizza combined arugula, prosciutto, fresh ricotta and sherry. And there’s a pita pizza topped with broccoletti, sausage, Asiago and grapes(!).

We shared a few desserts, washing them down with hot cappuccino. The classic tiramisu was elegantly transformed into a velvety coffee and chocolate mousse with a creamy roasted banana finish. The mele (roasted apple) was served whole with golden raisins, walnuts, cider caramel sauce and a scoop of sweet vanilla gelato. Ewanciw’s take on cannoli—with its sweet pistachio shell and tangy limoncello and ricotta filling—is a favorite, as are the changing house-made selections of gelato and sorbet.

THE SKINNY:
If you’ve never had a reason to venture to Blue Bell before, you do now. A comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere with friendly, top-notch service makes dining at Radice a pleasure.

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And the food? It speaks for itself. You can go as light or heavy as you wish by sharing a few small plates, or opting for a heftier entrée.

With the pizza oven as the restaurant’s primary cooking vessel, dishes arrive sizzling and fresh. And when paired with an Italian red, you’ve got yourself one fantastic meal.

Prices are reasonable, and two of you can easily walk away having spent less than $80 for a dinner (wine, entrée and dessert included). That said, a meal at Radice may, quite possibly, turn out to be one of the best you’ve had in a while.

RADICE

Location: 722 W. DeKalb Pike at Village Square, Blue Bell; (610) 272-5700, radicerestaurant.com.
Cuisine: Simple, rustic Italian.
Cost: $7-$15 per small plate, pizza or pasta; $19-$29 per entrée.
Attire: Dressy casual (emphasis on the dressy part).
Atmosphere: Bright, open, homey and comfortable.
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Sunday 5-10 p.m.
Extras: A beautiful private room in the back. Outdoor patio seating in warmer months.
 

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