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Downingtown Restaurant Review: Stella Rossa’s Italian Flair

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The Fru Fru pizza, with grilled chicken, basil pesto, roasted peppers and mozzarella. (Photo by Steve Legato)

The Fru Fru pizza, with grilled chicken, basil pesto, roasted peppers and mozzarella. (Photo by Steve Legato)

Location • 20 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown
Contact •  (610) 269-6000, stellarossaristorante.com
Cuisine • Italian
Cost • Appetizers $5-$15, entrées $12-$30.
Attire • Smart casual.
Atmosphere • Comfortable, energized, stylish.
Hours • 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Extras • Seasonal outdoor dining, large party seating for up to 18, private room for special events, takeout, kids’ menu.


 

Dave Magrogan is at it again. The seemingly unstoppable 40-year-old  restaurateur responsible for 16 eateries—soon to be 17, come late fall—has now added a provocative Italian concept to his collection. Stella Rossa occupies a refurbished, 200-year-old Downingtown mill that used to house Firecreek Restaurant.

Magrogan wanted to stay local for this new venture, close enough to Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House and Kildare’s Irish Pub, both in West Chester. Also not far, in Glen Mills, is Harvest Seasonal Grill, the first in his series of health-conscious farm-to-table spots, which has since expanded to both Philadelphia and North Wales.

Magrogan’s newest spot is a structural behemoth along the east branch of the Brandywine River. Its vast rustic-meets-Vegas dining room and ample al fresco seating cover an impressive 7,000 square feet. Cosmetic updates like white stone walls, barn-wood divisions and red hardwood floors add a contemporary touch.

An open kitchen outlined in white tiles whets the appetite with its signature Neapolitan pizzas blazing away inside. The white, marble-topped bar encourages small-party dining, while burgundy leather booths and thick wood high-tops beckon large groups—especially the Frank Sinatra table, with its fun and flashy  “Stella Rossa” marquee.

Magrogan had been pursuing the mill building for three years, but he still needed a theme and the right person to execute it. Then he met Anthony DiPascale (Brasserie Perrier, McCormick & Schmidt’s). Just three months into DiPascale’s stint as executive chef at Harvest Seasonal Grill in University City, Magrogan floated the idea to him. Born into an Italian family with its own butcher shop on 9th Street in South Philadelphia, DiPascale jumped at the chance. The Italian menu he conceived stresses seasonality and is even somewhat health-conscious. “I’ve made better choices with Stella Rossa because of my time spent at Harvest,” he admits. “Our goal is for guests to enjoy an entrée and, on their way to it, split a pizza, cheeses and olives.”

True to DiPascale’s vision, Stella Rossa specializes in shareable, unpretentious Italian fare that doesn’t fixate on any particular region. “It’s Italian as Americans have interpreted it,” says Magrogan. “[We’re] having fun with it, making it sexy.”

We, too, were tempted to start throwing around the word “sexy” as we devoured our sweet-and-salty assortment of Cerignola, Gaeta and Picholine olives sourced from Di Bruno Bros. As we ate, we watched a fire-engine-red Berkel slicer shaving off slices of Di Parma, Bresola and Coppa for cured meat plates. It was dinner as entertainment, with the $8,000 machine as the headliner.

The rest of our meal continued to reflect the surroundings—rustic and comfortable, with touches of sultry innovation. The house bruschetta benefited from heartier-than-normal chunks of fresh bread, generous smears of whipped ricotta, oven-roasted tomatoes and thinly sliced prosciutto—sweet and savory done remarkably well.

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DiPascale’s house Neapolitan dough is crafted with a light touch that’s evident even when piled with sauce, cheese and an assortment of meats and veggies. The margherita excels mostly due to the aforementioned crust—crunchy and charred on the exterior, airy and chewy inside. The more elaborate Meta e Meta couples a fresh mozzarella pie with a stromboli, so diners can tackle both in one thick slice.

Stella Rossa’s beverage program also complements serendipitous scene. The extensive wine selections are available in four- and seven-ounce pours, and also by half-carafe or bottle. The cocktail list hooked us with wine-infused creations that have no rival locally. Our Vino Negroni arrived sweet yet balanced, laced with riesling, aperol and vermouth. The Italian Ice Martini tweaks the senses with an introductory splash of limoncello. As its cherry ice cube melts, new flavors provide a between-bite respite.

Slow at times, service comes mostly by way of fresh-faced 20-somethings wearing black T-shirts with playful teasers like “Italian Stallion” or “Did It All for the Gnocchi.” At the staff’s urging, we sampled the chef’s crab linguine, fresh linguine coming from the family-run Severino Pasta of Westmont, N.J. Tossed with Samuels and Sons-sourced hunks of fresh seafood and ample chunks of
tomato, this uncomplicated dish is one of the heartier options on the menu—aside from the gnocchi Bolognese.

It’s not all pasta and pizza at Stella Rossa. DiPascale flaunts his kitchen chops with two exceptional fish entrées: a French-cut branzino with capers, olives and tomatoes, and a salmon Toscana that makes the most of a lusciously thick cut by roasting it in a lemon-and-white-wine sauce. And, of course, what would a promising Italian kitchen be without a strong Old World finish? DiPascale rallies around the standard Magrogan Group practice of offering two-ounce, 150-calorie dessert shots, focusing on traditional Italian favorites like tiramisu and cannoli.

In creating an inviting day-to-day dining atmosphere, Magrogan has captured an all-ages Italian niche. So it should come as no surprise that, just a few months after opening his first Stella Rossa, he’s debuted a second in Center City. Will this guy ever slow down?

The Skinny: Successfully catering to one and all with its provocative and fresh Italian concept, Stella Rossa is dependable, affordable and adventurous enough to keep you coming back.

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