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Slice of the Old Country
Trattoria Giuseppe: a tasteful nod to Southern Italy.

THE SCENE: On a crisp, sun-drenched afternoon or fair summer eve, the patio at Trattoria Giuseppe, Edgemont’s toast to southern Italy, is bustling with servers wielding platters of Ettore Bevelaqua and Charles Boswell’s rustic Italian fare. Tucked into the quietest corner of the Marville Shopping Center, the coveted patio is inviting, with classic black metal tables, green market umbrellas, colorful container gardens and seasonal plantings. A second patio sits directly across the brick walkway waiting to blossom. (So far, though, there are no plans to add additional outdoor tables.)

The main dining room (pictured below) is designed to resemble a rustic piazza, with textured ceramic tile, terra cotta “roofs” above the two service stations, and a wrought iron balcony with cascades of faux greenery. Diners seated closest to the extra-large French doors can look up to a robin’s-egg-blue sky festooned with marshmallow clouds and views of black-and-white awnings. Those sitting further back get a covered-porch sensation with a ceiling of polished logs, beams and lattice.

Granite-topped bistro tables add to the sidewalk café theme, while a handful of comfy-sleek booths lend a modern, city edge to the otherwise-bucolic setting. On nice days, the patio doors are open, creating a lovely connection between the two spaces.

A second dining room, seemingly used for larger parties and overflow, is less whimsical and more refined, with burnt sienna walls, burgundy sheers, white tablecloths and tasteful iron-and-glass sconces. For crowds of 18 to 20, there’s an intimate private room tucked all the way in the rear.

Classical Italian soundtracks, an ethnic staff and a few Italian-speaking regulars join paintings of Italian landscapes and kitschy fruit and wine motifs for a bona fide slice of Southern Italy.

THE FOOD: Trattoria Giuseppe is a dream come true for Giuseppe Musso, who also owns Fellini Café in Newtown Square. Pulling from family recipes, Musso and his staff aim to serve rustic Southern Italian cuisine that’s minimalist in approach. Simplicity and the integrity of individual ingredients are the foundation upon which all dishes are built.

The menu is ambitious, with 39 different pasta dishes, a dozen appetizers and an equal number of salads, panini, 21 types of pizzas and 10 carne offerings. Currently only three of the pastas are homemade—the tagliatelle, paparadelle and ravioli—but Musso plans to increase that number.

Sauces are light, even the non-traditional pesto that, despite a heavy cream base, has a silky bisque quality enhanced by its bold, sweet basil flavor. A limited seafood selection is the menu’s only downside; there’s just one fish of the day, and minimal showings on the appetizer and salad lists. Shellfish is in several of the pasta dishes, including the linguini alle vongole, frutti di mare, alle cozze and agli scampi.

Appetizers are Giuseppe’s strength. The house specialty is roasted artichokes—marinated, grilled whole (stems on), served with sliced prosciutto and green olives, and drizzled with olive oil. The house favorite, calamari alla griglia features supple triangles of grilled, marinated squid and grilled Italian bread topped with golden-brown bits of minced garlic glistening with olive oil—all of it served alongside a handful of spring mix. Sprinkled with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and salt and pepper, the dish is a shining example of Musso’s less-is-more culinary philosophy.

Another notable appetizer, brasaola con arrugola Parmigiano, offers thin slices of cured, aged lean beef fanned out under a hefty pile of peppery arugula and coarsely shredded Parmesan, and dressed with a well-balanced mix of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon.

Portions are large at Trattoria Giuseppe, so take our advice: Split the appetizers and go with the half-portions of pasta. Complimentary bruschetta is a nice touch, but our serving was a bit soggy. Even so, for it being so early in the season, the tomatoes were surprisingly fresh and ripe.

The pasta reigned supreme over the carne, which fell flat the night of our visit. Each of our veal dishes—the saltimbocca alla Sorrentina, Giuseppe and Marsala—had all the right components but arrived overcooked. The Giuseppe—veal rolled with spinach, blue cheese and cream—fared better, proving the tastiest of the trio. The velvety sautéed spinach played well against the sharp blue cheese.

By contrast, the thinly sliced scallopini in the Marsala and saltimbocca were bland and papery, detracting from the mushrooms, eggplant and prosciutto in the respective dishes. The chicken and eggplant parmigiana was satisfying, its modest portion of moist chicken and sweet eggplant served in a fresh tomato sauce and topped with Provolone cheese.

The evening’s special, potato-encrusted salmon, was among the better dishes. The one-inch-thick filet was notably rich and buttery, encased in a thin, crispy crust of browned potatoes and embellished with a tangy lemon-butter-cream sauce and artichoke hearts. (If you’re a garlic lover, request the side of spaghetti aglio olio, with huge golden-hued chunks of garlic cloves swathed in olive oil.)

We also loved the al dente penne Giuseppe—with crispy pancetta, onions and peas in a light cream sauce—and the tagliatelle al profumo di Bosco—light handmade noodles tossed with an earthy combination of shiitake and portabella mushrooms, fresh chopped tomatoes and cream. The cream softened the mushrooms’ bold, musky taste, and the tomatoes added a tangy finish. Cappuccinos here are fantastic. Made truly to order, the superb espresso-to-steamed-milk ratio results in a rich, creamy and balanced cuppa. And the foam tastes like meringue.

THE EXPERIENCE: Service can be a bit slow. On one evening visit, there was an unusually long gap between opening the wine and taking orders, and then again between the starters and entrées. Our concerns about the pacing made us wonder if the continually growing customer base has the kitchen feeling a tad overwhelmed.

For a Tuesday night in the suburbs, the demand for tables was high. But at a far-less-busy recent lunch, a similar lag in service was evident. As a result, our planned one-hour lunch stretched into more than 90 minutes.

Generally, the friendly and enthusiastic wait staff made a sincere effort to take care of customers, providing an effective buffer to the spotty service.

THE SKINNY: Value wise, it’s hard to beat Giuseppe. The prices are surprisingly reasonable—particularly for a BYO. What regulars also seem to appreciate—beyond the quality of the food—is the straightforward, comfortable vibe. Obviously, Giuseppe is filling a need in the area for good, reasonably priced, family-friendly fare.

E-mail comments to associate editor Dawn E. Warden at dwarden@mainlinetoday.com.

DETAILS: Trattoria Giuseppe
Location: 4799 West Chester Pike, Edgemont; (610) 353-4871
Cuisine: Rustic Southern Italian
Prices: $10-$17 for pastas (full order) and entrées; $7.50-$12 for pizzas
Attire: Suburban casual
Atmosphere: Bustling Italian trattoria (byo) with décor reminiscent of an outdoor piazza
Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner seven nights a week, 4:30-10 p.m.
Extras: Outdoor patio, room for large parties, private room for 20