Ralph’s of South Philly Opens in Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel

As it turns out, there’s room for more than two high-profile Italian restaurants in King of Prussia, especially when the contender is this good and this old-school charming.

Ralph’s spicy Sicilian calamari, with sautéed sweet and hot peppers, capers, pimento, and olives. (Photo by Steve Legato)

Location: 480 N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia
Contact: (484) 238-1990, ralphsofsouthphilly.com
Cuisine: Homemade Italian
Cost: Lunch $7-$16.50, dinner $17.50-$39.95
Attire: Casual, contemporary
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Extras: Happy hour Monday-Friday, 5-7 p.m., with half-off appetizers. Live entertainment Thursday nights. Back dining room available for private functions.

Last year, when the owners of the spectacularly renovated Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel announced that they were joining forces with the famed famiglia behind Ralph’s, the 113-year-old South Philadelphia dining institution, the pairing seemed less than impressive. After all, King of Prussia already has two popular Italian dining spots in Maggiano’s Little Italy and Viviano at the Valley Forge Casino. Do we really need another?

“It made sense,” says Ryan Rubino, Ralph’s 25-year-old co-owner, general manager and fifth-generation scion. “We saw it as a chance to serve the community while having 180 potential guests continuously over our heads. And, after all, this area has never had anything like Ralph’s of South Philly.”

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Rubino isn’t just blowing smoke. Since its October 2012 debut, Ralph’s has been going gangbusters. Happy hour crowds spill into the Sheraton’s luxurious lobby, and weekend nights are a frenzy of dining activity. Apparently, there is room for Ralph’s.

Visually, the restaurant barely resembles the circa-1900-rowhome original, aside from the black-and-white photos of Ralph’s founder, Francesco, and his son, Raphael (aka Ralph), lining the walls. This version is a contemporary 70-seat enclave where whiffs of garlic and Rat Pack lore mingle with 21st-century modernity. Indeed, Ralph’s looks more like an upscale steak-house than an old-style Italian joint. Yet, despite the polished cherrywood tables, flying-saucer-like lighting fixtures and the amber glows from the backlit wine cellar and sexy bar, its soul remains true to its South Philly roots.

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The menu offers a carefully pared-down selection from the Ninth Street restaurant, with classics like calamari, spaghetti and meatballs, shrimp scampi, chicken Parmesan, and pork chops. Executive chef Anthony Barone omitted the sweetbreads, chicken livers and escargot beloved by the downtown crowd, as they probably wouldn’t fly with most suburbanites and hotel guests.

My Caprese salad was a refreshing tower of vine-ripened tomatoes, creamy buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves and an aged balsamic dressing. I love mussels, but often worry about grit, unopened shells and too much garlic. Ralph’s tangy version in red sauce remains a reliable bet, as was the shrimp cocktail—four plump prawns in an icy martini glass.

As for the entrées, the spinach- and prosciutto-layered veal saltimbocca was a standout, the tenderized medallions made velvety by oozes of mozzarella and a soak in marsala wine. Served with spinach gnocchi and a rich Gorgonzola sauce, the sausage had a nice fennel bite. And my dining partner couldn’t get enough of her baked manicotti—until she finally did. Let’s just say there were plenty of leftovers to spare.

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Not everything met rigorous Ralph’s standards. The veal chop al fresca was meaty and tender but dry, lacking any hint of white wine or juicy pan drippings. A filet mignon suffered from under-seasoning, and its pre-cooked eight ounces had shrunk too drastically to merit its $35 cost.

A perfect finisher, the terrific tiramisu was defined by its fluffy cloud of cream throughout. Also good were the mint-chocolate-chip gelato and a sinful “Dark Side of the Moon” chocolate cake.

It’s worth noting that the wait staff moved efficiently throughout the room. Our young server, though a bit inexperienced (no wine list presented, long lapses between visits), was friendly and caring, and he obviously grew up eating in an Italian kitchen. (“The galamad [calamari] is always good,” “You’ll love the managut [manicotti].”)

And Rubino is the consummate host, shaking hands, kissing cheeks and greeting regulars while making new ones. He’s a chip off the old block—literally. Rubino’s father, James, manages the Philadelphia Ralph’s with the same aplomb.

Lunch at Ralph’s is more subdued, with a manageable array of soups, salads, pastas, and several chicken entrées. The menus also boasts the best two-fisted sandwiches in KOP, including slow-roasted pork, meatballs with Provolone, and an over-stuffed veggie hoagie.

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The Skinny: Ralph’s founders Francesco and Catherine Dispigno would be proud of their great, great grandson, Ryan, and his swinging lunch and dinner spot in the burbs. Overall, this worthy addition to the area’s burgeoning Italian dining scene is an enjoyable place to drink, eat and celebrate.

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