The Couple Behind Melograno Opens Bryn Mawr’s Fraschetta

Bryn Mawr finds room for its own version of one of Center City’s finest Italian eateries.

Polpo alla romana, with octopus, sweet peas, tomatoes and fresh mint. (Photo by Steve Legato)
Location •
816 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr
Contact • (610) 525-1007
Cuisine • Roman “peasant” fare
Cost • $22-$32
Attire • Smart casual
Atmosphere • Intimate and energized, especially during prime time
Hours • Lunch: 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday
Extras • BYOB; reservations highly recommended

Space, as the old adage suggests, is limited. Few restaurateurs grasp this quandary like Gianluca Demontis and Rosemarie Tran, the husband-and-wife duo behind Melograno in Center City.

When the couple got started 10 years ago on the corner of 22nd and Spruce streets, theirs was a speck of a trattoria (just 30 seats), serving inspired Roman-style cuisine. The diminutive gem became exceedingly popular—too well liked, in fact. Foodies lined up in droves pining for chef Demontis’ rustic, homey offerings.

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Soon enough, Melograno became one of the hardest tables to score in town, and the couple relocated to a larger space on 20th Street, where it remains one of Philly’s best BYOB bets.

So it’s really no surprise that Main Liners have wholly embraced Demontis and Tran’s new Bryn Mawr venture, dubbed Fraschetta in homage to the open-air food marketplaces along the Roman countryside. From the moment it opened in late June, the cozy Lancaster Avenue space has been teeming with happy customers. It’s like Melograno all over again.

The restaurant’s interior is sparse but tasteful. Reclaimed wood panels from a Lancaster County barn line one side of the narrow room; brickwork runs along the other. A large mirror, a mounted pig’s head, family photographs and wooden beams overhead all work together to create an inviting atmosphere with a decidedly neighborhood feel.

The Roman-born Demontis lives just down the road, and he now spends much of his time in the kitchen at Fraschetta, where his output is spectacularly haute yet stunningly simple. His Mario Batali-like culinary prowess belies an innate feel for uncomplicated authenticity.

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The menu is comprised of eight classic cold and hot antipasti, five primi and six secondi dishes, plus a small selection of house-made desserts. For starters, there’s the cured salumi platter, or try the tender octopus, swimming in a bowl of garlicky sweet-pea stew. The bucatini all’amatriciana’s squiggled pasta strands are served in a zesty tomato sauce with house-cured Berkshire pork pancetta for a rich, smoky complement. It’s Demontis’ favorite item on the menu for a reason.

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Among the main plates, my tender balsamic-brushed grilled swordfish arrived atop a mound of cannellini beans and baby arugula. The polpette al sugo—meatballs and buttery ricotta gnocchi in an earthy tomato sauce—was also satisfying, if a bit pricey. (“Twenty-two dollars for four meatballs?” my companion posed.)

The dessert menu is similar to Fraschetta’s older downtown sibling. The brief list includes a dense, flourless disk of chocolaty crème caramel and another in-house specialty, fluffy tiramisu.

In a post-visit interview, I commented to chef Demontis on his restaurant’s acoustics, which can go from a buzzing din to a full-on cacophony as the evening progresses. “Rose is looking to buy carpet to deaden the sound,” he said, while adding another bit of good news. “We’re opening the second floor. By October, it should be up and running.”

The upstairs area will add 40 or so seats and allow for larger parties.

So space really isn’t so limited, after all.

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The Skinny: With its homey Italian cuisine, upstairs expansion and lunch service coming at any moment, this more suburban take on one of Center City’s most popular BYOBs is fast becoming one of the better options on the Main Line, as well.

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