Once the home of Firecreek, Barra Rossa and, most recently, Milito’s, Downingtown’s historic paper mill location has seen some turnover. But Julian Mene was banking on success for La Sponda, his new Italian eatery along the East Branch of the Brandywine River. Then, in September of last year, over 10 inches of rain from Hurricane Ida inundated the borough, causing close to $10 million in damage. La Sponda (Italian for river bank) wasn’t spared. “It was pretty much a total loss,” says Mene, former general manager at Chadds Ford’s Antica Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar. “It’s one of those things—like COVID restrictions—that we just pushed through to get this place to where we want it to be.”
Emerging from two weeks of closure and cleanup, the restaurant looks better than ever. Facing the open kitchen, the bar anchors an interior punctuated by iron chandeliers hanging from the raftered ceiling. Glimpses of Lancaster Avenue can be had from the plush booths in the back, and floor-to-ceiling windows provide scenic views of the outdoor deck overlooking the river.
The signature dishes at La Sponda ring true. Standouts include the fritto misto (cornmeal-dusted shrimp, calamari, cod and fennel), braised short ribs, chicken and veal Parmesan, eggplant rollatini, and hearty pasta plates like wild mushroom pappardelle, linguini primavera, and the unique Mason Jar Carbonara (with caramelized pork belly).
Sides are à la carte, with sauteed broccoli rabe, roasted cauliflower and a savory eggplant tapenade among the highlights. Catering to the active lunch crowd, an express lunch special offers a soup, salad and sandwich of the day.
La Sponda’s lively happy hour emphasizes classic cocktails. We found it odd that there were no local beers on tap, though they do serve a diverse selection of wines by the glass or bottle. And don’t leave the building without indulging in the Limoncello Tiramisu, topped with soft piped cream and served in a coffee cup. Work off dessert with a stroll in nearby Kerr Park.
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