Mercato’s grilled lobster and shrimp with spaghetti
My initial impression of restaurateur Alfredo Giannaccari’s culinary foresight involved a gold-splashed Tuscan dining room in Newtown Square, where affluent clientele nibbled on imported cured-meat plates. That was 2008—way before charcuterie was cool. Seven years and three restaurants later, Giannaccari and his wife, Barbara, are banking on a polished new concept in downtown West Chester.
Mercato is a shining example of what the couple has done best at previous restaurants. The soulful, rustic Italian recipes are much like those on the menu at their last venture, Alfredo Italian BYO in Berwyn. You’ll find wholesome Neapolitan pies baked in a brick oven and a well-curated wine list that’ll make any oenophile weak in the knees.
bartender Lesya Franco pours a few fresh glasses
Not surprisingly, the passionate Gian-naccari—a native of Naples, Italy—is the driving force behind Mercato. His knowledge of meat aging and sausage making (procured from his father’s butcher shop), bread baking (from his uncle’s bakery) and hand-pulled mozzarella is executed here with the utmost grace and skill. He’s not trying to complicate things. He’s simply focusing on doing it all well—and with authentic, high-quality ingredients.
Given the Giannaccaris’ reputation in the area, it can be a challenge to secure a table at Mercato, especially on weekends. Reservations help, and a wait at the narrow, granite-topped bar provides a pleasing prelude to dinner—if you’re lucky enough to score one of its 12 seats.
from left: the rustic dining room, Mercato’s Market Street façade
Ample seating is available in the two brick-lined dining rooms and the wine-cellar-like space downstairs (for parties of six or more). The vibe is sleek, with its industrial-meets-rustic accents. The caged pendant lights, vintage barn hooks and tiled white oak are all trendy without appearing too ostentatious.
On a recent Friday night, we scored a table with a nice view of the open kitchen. The bronze-tiled behemoth of a pizza oven blazed in the background, and Giannaccari was on a first-name basis with many patrons. The scene was lively, if a bit loud.
Soaking up the atmosphere, we sliced into our textbook-perfect mortadella meatballs, cloaked in a snappy, grilled Scamorza cheese and wading in a pool of sweet pomodoro sauce. Less impressive was the chunky Chioggia beet salad. Sprinkled with grated pistachios, it was so mild that it was almost bland.
zuppa di pesce, with mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, cod fillet and brodetto
Of the nine pastas made in-house daily, we opted for the paccheri. The al dente sheets were luscious, covered in a fragrant ragu with hunks of braised short rib. (Eat, Pray, Love’s Liz, eat your heart out.)
We ended our evening sharing slices from two pies. The Regina Margherita is a standard Neapolitan, the crust’s exterior slightly charred and crunchy, with an airy, chewy interior. The Amelia was more texturally interesting, its floppy, thin crust layered with red onion, peas, pieces of hard-boiled egg and paper-thin slices of pork belly. A drizzle of white truffle oil brought the whole thing full circle without being overpowering.
Barbara Giannaccari is a true front-of-house professional and an ideal counterpart to her spouse. Dressed in black, the waitstaff was proficient and personable.
Mercato’s Regina Margherita pizza
THE SKINNY: A culinary power couple, the Giannaccaris again draw from authentic recipes for their latest bar-and-restaurant concept, where the exceptional house-made mozzarella and ricotta, brick-oven Neapolitan pizzas and hand-rolled pastas compel diners to hit the repeat button.
MERCATO: 33 W. Market St., West Chester, (610) 701-6326.
Cuisine: Approachable southern Italian.
Attire: Smart casual.
Atmosphere: Comfortable industrial-meets-rustic.
Hours: Lunch: Noon-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Dinner: 5 p.m.-close daily.
Extras: Private dining in a wine-cellar-inspired space; pastry program; catering available.