La Porta Ristorante & Wine Bar
Location: 1192 N. Middletown Road, Media.
Contact: (610) 358-5104, laportarestaurant.com.
Cuisine: Regional, seasonal Italian, emphasizing small plates, snacks and brick-oven pizzas.
Cost: Appetizers and small plates $6-$12, entrées and salads $7-$15.
Atmosphere: Rustic and lively. Ideal for families, couples and groups. The bar is a great place to order a pie and watch the game.
Hours: 11:30-2 a.m. daily.
Extras: Takeout available beginning at 11 a.m. Gluten-free options. Pizza kitchen open 10 p.m.-2 a.m., with $2 Peroni beers and half-price pizzas.
Peter McAndrews’ reputation precedes him. With a quartet of stellar Philadelphia restaurants to his name—Modo Mio, Monsú, Paesano’s and, most recently, Popolino—this citified chef is really a Delaware County guy at heart. It’s the place he’s called home for years.
Even so, McAndrews wasn’t necessarily on the hunt for a place in his own neck of the woods—but one look at the old Locust Crest Tavern on Route 352 pretty much sealed the deal. “The spot kind of picked me,” he says, noting the undeniable charm of the place, even before months of massive renovations and disheartening setbacks.
What has emerged is a rustic and unfussy space, thanks to a mishmash of hardware, lumber and doors salvaged from old department stores, a Villanova mansion and even Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
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La Porta is the name of McAndrews’ first non-city venture, paying homage to an original antique door he discovered and repurposed during renovations. More than that, McAndrews hopes his pizzeria will throw open the door to diners’ perceptions about pizza.
Still, he hesitates in calling La Porta a restaurant, saying it’s really more of a place to grab a pie and a glass of wine. But the chef may be selling himself short. While his place is technically a pizzeria, the near-dozen brick-oven pizzas are complemented with a menu of “spuntini” (snacks), “antipizza” (shareable appetizers), a few pasta dishes and salads. With a glass or a bottle from the mostly Italian wine list, diners can enjoy something quickly or linger for hours.
To be sure, La Porta is unlike most local pizzerias, where you’d be hard-pressed to find ingredients like house-made sausage, homemade mozzarella, salt-roasted beets, fried olives or a roast pork loin kebab. McAndrews opted for a basic but interesting theme, so as not to scare away more conservative suburban diners with ingredients or preparations he easily gets away with in the city.
An incredibly tender pork-and-veal meatball didn’t miss the traditional red gravy, thanks to a generous blanket of brightly colored hazelnut pesto sauce, a creamy bed of fonduta and shavings of sharp provolone. Swimming in a fragrant pool of white wine and fresh thyme, the mussels had a nice smokiness from the wood-burning oven. Tangy green olives, slivered almonds, garlic and a few crushed tomatoes provided texture and flavor. You’ll want extra bread to sop up every last drop of the aromatic broth.
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While the pasta selections will satisfy most non-pizza eaters, it’s the lightly charred, thin-crust pies that are La Porta’s signature. “I want to broaden the horizons of what pizza can be,” says McAndrews of the different flavors and combinations.
A standout is the “badly made” Malfatti, a misshapen half-pizza, half-stromboli loaded with salty prosciutto, roasted peppers, a sweet plum-tomato sauce, mozzarella and hand-torn basil. The Barolo is also tasty, the sharpness of the aged sheep’s-milk cheese offset by sweet caramelized onions and figs—though the slices of smoked prosciutto were a little on the thick side.
You’ll find just two desserts on the menu: flourless chocolate torte and a classic panna cotta. La Porta is, after all, a pizzeria.
THE SKINNY: McAndrews’ first suburban excursion is a friendly, low-key spot where parents and children can comfortably comingle with the bar-going crowd. While fairly conservative, its menu offers well-rounded variety, with a focus on where it belongs: the pizza.